6. Hobson’s Choice (1954)
Hobson’s Choice is a charming comedy that boasts riveting performances from its main cast. In the movie, Henry Hobson (Charles Laughton) is a British widower and the domineering proprietor of a shoe shop. His three daughters – Alice (Daphne Anderson), Vicky (Prunella Scales) and Maggie (Brenda De Banzie) — work for him and all desire to focus on their own lives away from their father and his business. When Maggie reveals she will marry Henry’s top employee, Will (John Mills), Henry and Maggie begin to fight. Maggie then decides not only to start a rival business, but also help her sisters distant themselves of their overbearing father.
This is a film that remains superb thanks to the performances of its fine actors. Laughton’s characterization of Henry is something so much more than a large pompous grump. He has made the character dynamic despite his flaws and bossy attitude. Every scene performed by Laughton has memorable moments. When he is lordly and mean in his domain, he is broad but brutal. When he is bragging and shameless with his buddies, he is speckled with hints of duplicity. And when he is taking refuge in spiritous alcohols, he is full of funny lowbrow comedy. Miss de Banzie is also stellar as Henry’s eldest daughter. She depicts a fascinatingly strong woman with sensitivity and shrewd awareness of the secrets of women intuition that easily captivates audiences.
Henry Hobson is a solid romantic comedy that any moviegoer will appreciate and enjoy.
7. High Anxiety (1977)
While not the most famous film in is repertoire, High Anxiety is still a massive win for the comedy legend known as Mel Brooks. In the film, the new director of the Psychoneurotic Institute for the Very, Very Nervous, Dr. Richard H. Thorndyke (Mel Brooks), experiences an array of mysterious events. When his colleagues that include a bellicose and mustachioed Nurse Diesel (Cloris Leachman) become wary of his concerns and questions, they accuse him of homicide. As Thorndyke’s own mental stability comes into question, the struggle for Thorndyke to clear his name becomes increasingly difficult.
The major element that makes High Anxiety work is its comedic ability to transcend and reach many generations of movie-goers. The works of Hitchcock have become embedded in pop culture and the director’s cinematic skills have inspired a multitude of directors and actors within the entertainment industry. With so much admiration for Hitchcock, Brooks chooses a perfect subject matter that blends magnificently with his knowledge of parody and hijinks. Hilarious timing and clear attention to the filmmaking style of Hitchcock develops over the movie’s runtime that inspires both a lovely sense of nostalgia and pure cackles from spectators.
In addition to his direction, Brooks also deserves credit for his performance. Brooks as Thorndyke truly differs from his past acting debuts. Rather than a visible wink at the camera, Brooks plays Thorndyke so incredibly straight that just the recollection of one of his famous stares and sneers is funny.
High Anxiety is as film that scores genuine laughs with the whole family.
8. Murder By Death (1976)
Murder By Death is a comedic romp that inserts fantastic humor into the murder mystery formula. In this movie, five infamous detectives, which include Sam Diamond (Peter Falk), Sidney Wang (Peter Sellers), and Jessica Marbles (Elsa Lanchester), are invited to a mysterious castle owned by a man named Lionel Twain for a party. Once at the party, Twain tells the group of sleuths that he planned an unsolvable murder at midnight. Twain also plans to give the detective who can solve the case 1 million dollars. But when Twain’s butler, Bensonmum (Alec Guinness), dies way before midnight, murder stops becoming a game.
The hilarious writing by Neil Simon does a terrific job of parodying the well-known, quirky, and beloved detectives of the murder mystery genre. Send ups are given to the likes of Charlie Chan, Nick and Nora Charles, and Hercule Poirot. The movie also knows to lovingly mock the sometimes questionable misdirections employed by Dashiell Hammett or Agatha Christie to conceal the big reveal until the end. By reveling in the genre’s tropes and archetypal characters, the movie both invites people to explore the fun of the murder mystery genre and presents highly entertaining, memorable jokes.
Lastly, it must be said that the ensemble cast that represent an assortment of characters is handled well. With a large number of suspects and sleuths needed to add complexity to the mystery and allow audiences to play along, it is impressive that the movie easily maintains a quick-witted pace and logical flow.
Murder by Death is a hysterical look at the murder mystery setup.
9. The Women (1939)
The claws are out and venomous wit comes alive in The Women. The plot follows a group of high-society women whose days are spent gossiping at the salon and attending premier fashion shows. Within the group, the sweet Mary Haines (Norma Shearer) believes she is happily married. Unfortunately, bad news strikes when Mary learns of an affair occurring between her husband and a shop girl named Crystal Allen (Joan Crawford).
Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, and Rosalind Russell are wickedly clever and mercilessly fashioned in this film. The women’s astounding dialogue and acid-tongued remarks are not only funny, but through their performances, each actress brings a sense of sophisticated viciousness and dark humor that is delightful to watch. There is also clear chemistry between the cast that enhances every scene. Even with the many iconic divas on set, George Cukor directs confidently, and the actresses play off each other well.
Another interesting point of this movie is the way men are portrayed in the plot. While the 133 minute film does not depict men in any shape or form, they are the main topic of conversation. This leads into the territory of depicting a bunch of caddy women’s dependence on men, and while this aspect of the film is out of date now, this does not mean the movie is doomed to fail. Viewers can enjoy the carefully constructed story that drags the vapid rich and provides some of the best unapologetic one-liners ever uttered on screen. As Crystal so assertively states in the movie’s final shot, “There’s a name for you ladies, but it isn’t used in high society…outside of a kennel.”
The Women is a film that any fan of classic comedy will cherish.
10. The Ladykillers (1955)
The Ladykillers is a classic gallows humor tour-de-force. The plot centers around five oddball criminals who rent rooms in an isolated house from an octogenarian widow, Mrs. Wilberforce. The gang’s leader, Professor Marcus (Alec Guinness), tells the widow that they musicians renting the rooms to enhance their skills, but when the widow discovers who they really are and their plans to rob a bank, the criminals decide one of them needs to kill her. However, Mrs. Wilberforce proves to be much more resilient than they assumed.
Acting as one of the Ealing studio’s finest films, this crime caper is more than insignificant entertainment. The movie is a sly, understated examination of the psychology of the reputable, antiquated middle classes, portrayed by the scene stealing Katie Johnson as the formidable Mrs. Wilberforce. The gradual development of Mrs. Wilberforce is perfect and the gags in the film are not only amusing but they build a connection with viewers that keeps them enthralled.
The Ladykillers is a career highlight for Ealing Studios.