Top Ten Classic Comedies Patti’s Funniest Classic Films

DINNER AT EIGHT (1933) the “talkies” grew up with this adaptation of a Broadway hit by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber. Under George Cukor’s canny direction John and Lionel Barrymore, sex goddess Jean Harlow, and comedians Marie Dressler and Wallace Beery enliven the sophisticated dialogue, revolving around the lives of financial predators, actors on the rocks, hatcheck girls on the way up and millionaires on the way down, all set against the background of a glittering Manhattan dinner party.
THE THIN MAN (1934) William Powell and Myrna Loy play Dashiell Hammett’s married sleuths, Nick and Nora Charles. Notorious wisecrackers and party-goers (the film was shot during Prohibition), the Charleses solve mysteries between drinks: Nora: “What hit me?” Nick: “The last martini.” The pair had such on-screen chemistry they went on to play in 13 other movies, including five more Nick and Noras, but none equals this one. Directed with panache by W. S. Van Dyke, and augmented by Asta, a dog with almost as much appeal as his owners.
IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934) A cynical newspaperman (Clark Gable) and a pampered heiress (Claudette Colbert) collide on an overcrowded bus headed from Miami to New York. It’s hate at first sight as they share the last remaining seat. “Remember me?” Gable demands the next morning. “I’m the fellow you slept on last night.” Predictably they fall in love, but not before a series of tight situations and colorful arguments. Director Frank Capra’s screwball comedy remains fresh after six decades.
MY MAN GODFREY (1936) A spoiled-rotten heiress (Carole Lombard) hires a shabby-looking bum (William Powell) and learns about life. Many a subsequent comedy was influenced by Gregory La Cava’s rambunctious screwball farce.
THE AWFUL TRUTH (1937) Director Leo McCarey had a lot of help from Cary Grant and Irene Dunne. But this story of a divorced couple who try to ruin each other’s new romances owes its accelerated pace and high polish to him. Ralph Bellamy and Mary Forbes supply the straight lines.
HOLIDAY (1938) Cary Grant is engaged to the daughter of a wealthy industrialist. Trouble is, she and her father expect him to become a faceless bureaucrat, and the young man is far too lively for that. Only one person in the family understands him–his fiancĂ©e’s younger sister, Katharine Hepburn. A wise and sparkling Philip Barry script, enlivened by two performers at their peak. Lew Ayres was notable as Hepburn’s hapless brother. Another George Cukor triumph, often overlooked.
ADAM’S RIB (1949) Of the nine films Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn made together, none tops this pairing. They play married lawyers who represent opposite sides in a divorce case–thereby giving scenarists Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin opportunities to provide the stars with effective salvos in this stylish battle of the sexes. Judy Holliday and Tom Ewell co-star as the pair in Splitsville.
FATHER OF THE BRIDE (1950) Spencer Tracy takes the title role in this family comedy, and shows how to take an everyday event and make it into art. The bride is Elizabeth Taylor at her most radiant; the groom is Don Taylor at his most self-effacing. Billie Burke and Leo G. Carroll are relatively hilarious. Vincente Minnelli directed.
BORN YESTERDAY (1951) Garson Kanin’s famous play about an uncouth racketeer (Broderick Crawford) who hires a tutor (William Holden) for his girlfriend (Judy Holliday). Naturally, teacher and pupil fall in love. With George Cukor at the helm, everything–eventually–goes right.
SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (1952) It’s the end of the 1920s, and the beginning of the end for silent movies. All very well for the mellifluous Gene Kelly, not so good for the adenoidal Jean Hagen. Young Debbie Reynolds is hired to supply the diva’s offscreen voice, and thereby hangs the tale of the funniest musical ever made. Donald O’Connor’s “Make ‘Em Laugh” is a gem; Kelly’s title song became his trademark. Adolf Green and Betty Comden wrote the knowing scenario; Stanley Donen, a former hoofer, directed nimbly.

Patti Wood, MA, Certified Speaking Professional - The Body Language Expert. For more body language insights go to her website at Check out Patti's website for her new book "SNAP, Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language and Charisma" at Also check out Patti's YouTube channel at