I have always been a fan of romantic comedies. I can appreciate a good drama, mystery or even tragedy, but it is the romantic comedy which I found myself drawn to over and over again. Perhaps it’s because in a world of uncertainty and chaos, I love escaping into a film that can make me smile. I love knowing the ending will always be happy, even if real life isn’t.
Many classic film fans are familiar with some of the more famous examples of this genre. Titles like Bringing Up Baby, The Lady Eve, Pillow Talk, My Man Godfrey, His Girl Friday, It Happened One Night are instantly recognizable and re-watchable. But being a fan of classic rom-coms means I’m always on the lookout for unheralded, but just as enjoyable films. It’s always a risk watching a film I’ve not heard of before, but definitely well worth it when I discover a new favorite. I’d like to share some under-rated and lesser known classic rom-com films.
TWENTY UNDER-RATED CLASSIC ROMANTIC COMEDIES
- Easy Living -Jean Arthur is one of the queens of romantic comedies and I’m a huge fan. Easy Living sees her as a working girl who unexpectedly finds herself mistaken for the mistress of a Wall Street tycoon. Respected writer and eventual director Preston Sturges gave her a great story to display all of her best skills. There is a scene in an automat that makes me giggle every time I see it.
- Trouble in Paradise -This Lubitsch gem is probably better known than most of the films on my list. I love it so much I just had to include it. Starring Miriam Hopkins, Herbert Marshall and Kay Francis, Hopkins and Marshall are two thieves romantically involved who decide to run a con on the wealthy Francis only to find themselves caught in a love triangle! Lubitsch is a well known film genius and he displays his subtle humor well here. My Review
- It Happened to Jane -I’m a huge fan of Doris Day comedies. But I only recently found this little gem which partners her with Jack Lemmon. Doris Day plays a lobster farmer, of all things! It’s a David and Goliath tale, with Doris taking on a railroad magnate. Lemmon is a faithful family friend who can’t seem to confess that he is in love with her. Lemmon also gets the chance to make a magnificent little speech about the responsibilities of good citizenship and the privileges of Americans.
- Midnight -Overall, I can’t say Claudette Colbert is a personal favorite even though she appeared in several great screwball comedies. I like her best in this one as a broke but glamorous showgirl. This likeable gold-digger falls for a poor cabbie, but takes a job pretending to be the wealthy mistress of a man who wants to make his wife jealous. Colbert’s performance is only outshone by her gorgeous shimmering liquid gold dress. My Review
- Yes, My Darling Daughter -This story of the generational clash between mother and daughter features a fabulous cast of supporting actors. Priscilla Lane is sweet as the young woman putting her mother’s feminist ideals to the test. But it is the rest of the cast including Fay Bainter, May Robson, Roland Young, Ian Hunter and Genevieve Tobin who really bring the laughs. My Review
- Never Say Goodbye -A recently discovered new favorite, Eleanor Parker and Errol Flynn sparkle in this story about a young girl who wants her parents to reunite almost as much as they do! Parker and Flynn looks flawlessly beautiful and display their underutilized comedic talents. S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall is also welcome addition to the cast. My Review
- Hands Across the Table –My Man Godfrey is one of the most famous examples of screwball comedy. It’s also one of Carole Lombard’s best known films. But I prefer this little gem co-starring Fred MacMurray. Lombard is a manicurist who must choose between a wealthy client and MacMurray’s charming loafer. I’m one of the rare few who prefer Lombard as a dramatic actress, but I adore her in this rom-com.
- The Mating Game -I’ve only known Tony Randall as the third wheel. But in this film, he is the romantic lead. An IRS investigator who falls for the daughter (Debbie Reynolds) of the family he is sent to look into. This comedy and (Randall’s performance) gets better every time I watch it.
- Penelope -Natalie Wood is utterly charming as a kleptomaniac who steals in an attempt to get her busy husband’s attention. Of course all the men in the film, including police investigator Peter Falk, are in love with her. Plus, Wood gets to wear some really great clothes and wigs.
- Million Dollar Baby -Another Priscilla Lane comedy which finds her unexpectedly becoming an heiress. May Robson is an older woman who as her secret benefactress also becomes her friend. This was my first time seeing Ronald Reagan on screen. He blew me away as Lane’s cynical boyfriend who refuses to marry her once she becomes rich.
- Pillow to Post -I’ve not seen Ida Lupino in many films, and never in a comedy. But she delighted me in this story about a young woman who enters into a marriage of convenience with a stranger. The soldier who marries her (rather unwillingly) then sees his life descend into chaos and his career put on the line. My Review
- She Couldn’t Say No -Robert Mitchum and Jean Simmons are not names that come to mind when I think of comedies. But they make this little film so entertaining. Simmons is an heiress who wishes to anonymously pay back the town which saved her life. Only all of her efforts lead to chaos. Mitchum is the wise and practical town doctor who warns her about the results of her do-gooding.
- That Wonderful Urge -Look, you can’t lose when Tyrone Power and Gene Tierney are partnered on screen. They are not only physically stunning but rather funny in this movie about a wealthy heiress who decides to wreak revenge on the reporter investigating her by claiming that they are married. In my opinion, Tierney has always been under-rated not only as a dramatic actress but also as a comedienne.
- Turnabout -Can I first just mention Carole Landis is a knockout! I also found her rather funny in this movie about a husband and wife who accidentally switch bodies and then experience what it is like to be the other. It is hilarious to see such a feminine, beautiful woman portraying a man.
- Romance in Manhattan -One of Ginger Rogers’ films which deserves to be better known. The sole supporter of her younger brother, she offers shelter to an illegal immigrant in love with America. His devotion to her and his new country is just the sweetest. My Review
- The Goose and the Gander -I fell in love with this story about an woman who is trying to catch her ex-husband’s new wife in an affair. Kay Francis and George Brent display sizzling chemistry as they flirt and drop clever one-liners.
- Honeymoon Machine -The only comedy Steve McQueen ever made, which is a shame, if you ask me. McQueen is a navy man who convinces his civilian best friend to help him use a new computing machine to break the bank at a Venetian casino. But he must do it covertly as the Navy’s top brass are also staying at the same hotel. To make matters more complicated, he falls for the daughter of his Admiral.
- Star of Midnight -Look, I love William Powell and Myrna Loy’s partnership as much as the next classic film fan. But I also think he is well matched with Ginger Rogers in this missing persons mystery which plays out a lot like a Thin Man film. Rogers is an heiress in love with Powell’s confirmed bachelor who keeps interfering in his investigations. My Review
- Platinum Blonde -A pre-code film starring both Loretta Young and Jean Harlow. But the real star of the show is Robert Williams as a reporter who marries the wealthy Harlow only to realize he misses his job and his fellow reporter played by Young. One can only guess what Williams might have accomplished if he hadn’t died after this film wrapped. His talent is undeniable in a role which calls for both dramatic and comedic skills.
- The Mad Miss Manton-Though it can’t compare to the more famous pairing of Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda in The Lady Eve, this zippy little film displayed their magic for the first time. Stanywck is a zany, wealthy heiress who works with a group of girlfriends to solve a crime. Fonda is the newspaper editor who slanders her good intentions in his paper before falling in love with her.
Have you seen any of these comedies? Do you have any favorites? What are some lesser known classic rom-coms that you enjoy?
This post has been another contribution to the Month of Classics Blog Party hosted at Write On, Cordy!