When comedy is good, it is amazing, and when comedy is bad, it is excruciating to witness. There are only so many times a person can say “that joke was not funny” or “that gag did not land” before wanting to turn off the television and throw the movie at the wall. In other words, it is evident comedic successes are challenging to create, but magnificent when they fully form and appear in front of spectators. Luckily, this list is here to analyze the comedic cinematic endeavors that are pleasing to sit through rather than painful.
Without further ado, here is a list recognizing the unsung heroes of classic comedy that deserve to have their achievements revisited.
1. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
While Abbott and Costello have met many universal monsters including the Mummy and the Invisible Man, the duo struck comedy gold with their meeting of Frankenstein. In the film, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello portray railway baggage handlers. When some crates belonging to a house of horrors museum are ruined by Wilbur (Lou Costello), Mr. MacDougal (Frank Ferguson) demands Lou and his friend, Chick (Bud Abbott), deliver them personally for insurance purposes. However, Wilbur and Chick soon realize this is no ordinary delivery.
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein provides audiences with a multitude of laughs and reverence for the iconic movie monsters depicted. First, the interplay between Abbott and Costello cannot be matched and are ingrained in pop culture. Their routines are also clever and witty thanks to their chemistry and quick-paced jokes.
In particular, there is a great exchange between Lon Chaney as the Wolfman and Costello:
Chaney: “You don’t understand, every night when the moon is full, I turn into a wolf!’
Costello: ‘Yeah, you and thirty million other guys!’
The film’s humor also works surprisingly well in its horror setting. Rather than cruelly mock the monsters and turn them into a hallow shell of their former selves, the movie still leaves them frightening with impressive special effect and makeup. As a result, the humor comes from the interactions seen in the film and not the transformation of horror legends into stereotypical buffoons. It is especially nice to see Bella Lugosi’s acting talent shine in a quality production of his later career instead of seeing him meet a Brooklyn gorilla or make an appearance in an Ed Wood flop.
Abbot and Castello Meet Frankenstein is a wonderful combination of macabre and farce that will make both horror fans and comedy fans smile.
2. The Freshman (1990)
The Freshman’s Marlon Brando and the sincerity of its sweet humor permit the film to be a valuable and worthwhile watch. The Freshman presents the story of Clark Kellogg (Matthew Broderick) as he moves from Vermont to New York City to attend film school. Immediately, Clark gets robbed, so when he sees his mugger again, he confronts him. To get out of trouble, the man promises to return Clark’s belongings and get him a job with his mafia-boss uncle, Carmine Sabatini (Marlon Brando). Clark ends up forming an unlikely friendship with Sabatini and discovers a complex but amusing world where not everything is what it seems.
The Freshman has many qualities that make the film a fun viewing. None are more obvious than Marlon Brando as the reincarnation of The Godfather’s Don Vito Corleone known as Carmine Sabatini, aka Jimmy the Toucan. It is outstanding to see Brando walk the tightrope between comical homage and stale rehash to one of his most iconic characters of all time. Thanks to Brando’s brilliance, he never once falls on the latter side of this rope. Credit for Brando’s success must also be given to writer and director, Andrew Bergman. Bergman’s gags and references to The Godfather could have been a death sentence for this movie. However, Bergman strikes an amazing balance due to his subtlety, nuance, and grace with the material.
As a result, The Freshman provides one of the most hilarious running jokes of the movie that evokes laughter every time. From the beginning, Clark enters Sabatini’s restaurant and instantly sees Corleone in the flesh, to which Clark can only respond “God almighty”. Later on, the witty joke evolves as every time someone is about to fully make the comparison, he or she is cut off before he or she can ever utter the words The Godfather or Corleone. Brando and Bergman take a gamble by revisiting the role that solidified Brando’s legendary status in the film industry, and it pays off immensely.
With the performance of Marlon Brandon along with Bergman’s solid direction and comedic dialogue, The Freshman becomes a pleasurable film that is impossible to hate.
3. Galaxy Quest (1999)
Arriving to theaters in 1999, this 22-year-old film maybe be the newest on this list but it absolutely qualifies as a comedy classic. The film follows that stars of a 1970s sci-fi show. They are now washed up and making a living through re-runs and conventions. However, the stars mundane lives change when they are beamed up onto a ship from aliens. The aliens believe the cast’s heroic on-screen adventures are historical real accounts of events, and they ask the d-list celebrities for aid in their mission to triumph over the oppressive regime in their solar system.
For the entire cast and crew, it is game on. No one is afraid of complete ridiculousness and utter silliness. Instead, they embrace it wholeheartedly and with this attitude comes a hysterically smart saturation of belove sci-fi television. By pointing out the irrational elements and clichés of sci-fi, the movie succeeds and evokes plenty of laughter. Some amazing gags include the premise of the “away mission” and a bit-part crewman (Sam Rockwell) fully convinced he will be the first one to die since his character on the show was expendable and undeserving of a last name. The performances, the direction from Dean Parisot, and the writing from Robert Gordon and David Howard all come together beautifully to create a sharp comedy that clearly respects the source materials it is parodying.
Galaxy Quest is a wildly entertaining film that pokes just the right amount of fun at the sci-fi genre.
4. Heaven Can Wait (1978)
While Heaven Can Wait contains the same premise from 1941’s Here Comes Mr. Jordan, this remake allows for the application of both innocence and unique satirical bite that the original lacks. The plot centers around Joe Pendleton (Warren Beatty), quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams. He is killed in a car accident, but in the afterlife, Joe finds that his guardian angel (Buck Henry) took him from his body too early. Therefore, Joe is owed more years back on earth. Joe’s guardian angel sends him back to earth, but not in his original body. Instead, Joe takes the form of selfish multimillionaire, Leo Farnsworth. In this new body, Joe tries to return to football and in the process, develops a relationship with environmental activist Betty Logan (Julie Christie).
This is the type of delightful screwball comedy that lets compelling storytelling and striking talent both in front of the camera and behind the camera from Warren Beatty come alive. Starting with the screenplay, writers Elaine May, Warren Beatty, and Robert Towne handle the humor well, and it never feels like they are hitting viewers over the head with overly aggressive and stale comedy. The writers, along with direction from Beatty and Buck Henry, also do a perfect job of balancing a sincere sweetness to the subject matter while also adding a bit of sarcastic edge to the dialogue. This balance makes the film humorous and heartwarming rather than nauseatingly corny, and in the end, Heaven Can Wait includes some nice jabs at materialism, corporate politics, religion, infidelity, betrayal, and the jocks of professional football.
While Heaven Can Wait had help from its predecessor, it is this remake that deserves a spot on this list.
5. Bananas (1971)
Woody Allen stars as Fielding Mellish, a luckless product-testing New Yorker wanting desperately to impress a young social activist named Nancy (Louise Lasser). When Mellish travels to the unstable country of San Marcos, he becomes aligned with resistance fighters and eventually becomes drafted as their leader. This position of authority gives Mellish his goal of Nancy’s affections, but now he must deal with the repercussions of being a revolutionary leader.
Bananas highlights what Woody Allen does best. The film demonstrates his ability to effectively exhibit humor while never undermining the relevant and intelligent societal critiques present. The commentary on America’s tendency to belittle everything such as major political stories for mindless mass consumerism is palpable. However, the social commentary does not stop there. In Bananas, Allen also examines the dissemblance in a civilization in which nothing lives up to the hype and promises are always made to be broken.
According to Allen, a revolution that promises real social change can very well amount to underwear changes and the adoption of Swedish as the official language. While the thought-provoking assessment of societal structure exists, it is also surrounded by enjoyable and well-executed comedic antics that are clearly inspired from slapstick and physical comedy icons such as the Marx Brothers, Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd. Slapstick comedy and political satire may seem worlds apart, but it appears Allen has found a way to make them work wonderfully together.
Bananas is a successful early entry in the long spanning filmography of Woody Allen.