Looking for comedy under 'P'.

Author:Gehring, Wes D.

THE GOLDEN AGE of the American studio system ran from the mid 1920s to the early 1950s, before television made everything go topsy-turvy. However, the ultimate movie decade was the 1930s, peaking with the industry's acclaimed 1939--with such iconic classics as "Gone With the Wind," "The Wizard of Oz," "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," and "Stagecoach."

Ironically, as a child of the 1950s, the medium (TV) which derailed the system made me a 1930s comedy movie junkie. Paralleling the development of early television came the birth of the "auteur theory." This meant studying a film based upon the director as the dominant person in a collaborative process. That is, one was an auteur if there was a consistent discemable pattern of themes and visual imagery from movie to movie. For instance, saying one has just seen an Alfred Hitchcock film speaks auteur volumes.

The auteur concept can be applied to studios as well--for example, those of the 1930s. For instance, I would become excited when Paramount's mountain logo appeared on-screen because I love comedies. Naturally, all studios made comedies, from Frank Capra's populism putting Columbia on the movie map to the wonderful "crater-mouthed" films of Joe E. Brown at Warner Bros. Still, if pressed, a student of moviemaking would have said Paramount meant comedy;

Warner Bros, was the gangster studio; Universal was equated with Frankenstein and Dracula horror pictures; RKO meant escapist Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musicals; and MGM was just too big--"more stars than in the heavens"--to key upon one genre.

So, why would the Paramount mountain symbol, as opposed to, say, the Warner Bros, badge insignia say comedy--at least to me? Simply, my favorite comedians, then and now, did their best work at Paramount, including the Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields, and Mae West. (United Artists' Charlie Chaplin only did two pictures during the 1930s, "City Lights," 1931, and "Modern Times," 1936, neither of which were available to 1950s TV.)

The seminal Marx Brothers outings were their early Paramount pictures, particularly the final three: "Monkey Business" (1931, as stowaways on an ocean liner), "Horse Feathers" (1932, with Groucho president of a college), and "Duck Soup" (1933, in which Groucho is the leader of the country). One might footnote the latter picture's pedigree by noting the American Film Institute credited "Soup" with being one of the five best comedies ever made. Regardless, Paramount was famous for...

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