This article is part of the Addicted to Screwball Blogathon, hosted by Pfeiffer Films and Meg Movies: https://pfeifferfilmsandmegmovies.wordpress.com/the-addicted-to-screwball-blogathon/
What makes a movie a screwball comedy? Firstly, a screwball comedy has to be jumbled, confusing, and crazy, (or should I say screwy?) since the word screwball means lunatic. Secondly, I like to think of a screwball comedy as a film that relies heavily on comedy in dialogue and situation rather than action; slapstick comedies are more physical, visual, and goofy than the intelligent, often satirical films called screwball. Finally, I like to think of true screwball comedies as those made in the pre-War Code era, namely between 1934 and 1942; even though many people, including our host for this blogathon, consider screwball comedies to have been made during many decades, I prefer to only consider films made during the specialized time which I call “the Golden Era of Screwball Comedy.” Beyond these vague guidelines I have created for the genre of a screwball comedy, true classification is a matter of the film’s feeling and the viewer’s opinion. I have discovered the feeling of screwball comedy in Remember?, an MGM film from 1939 with Robert Taylor, Greer Garson, and Lew Ayres, so I have chosen it as my topic for the Screwball Blogathon at Pfeiffer Films and Meg Movies. I will review Remember? in terms of its plot, comical elements, and acting to see whether it is a true screwball comedy.
A screwball comedy must have a plot that is confusing, jumbled, and, most importantly, screwy; Remember? certainly qualifies in this context. When the film begins, Sky Ames has just returned from his vacation, and he is anxious to let everyone know that he is engaged to a girl he met during his trip.
He takes his best friend and business partner, Jeff Holland, to lunch; before he can even introduce him to Linda Bronson, Jeff has taken a fancy to the pretty young woman. Even after Sky introduces her as his fiancée, Jeff persistently flirts with her.
Before they have even ordered their lunch, Jeff has joked about eloping to Niagara Falls with her. He coerces Sky into leaving for his office, and he and Linda spend the whole afternoon together. Sky never suspects his two favorite people, whom he always toasts as “my best pal, my best gal.”
They arrive late to her engagement party that evening, and Linda insensitively asks Jeff to stay over for the fox hunt the next day. Sky is justifiably jealous, since his fiancée is “running around with his best friend” before their engagement has even been announced. At the fox hunt, Jeff wears Mr. Bronson’s new suit, but he is a horrible rider.
He and Linda fall into a mud puddle, so they go to an old barn to dry off.
The whole hunting party soon finds them dripping and kissing; Sky, at the front, looks heartbroken. His theory is that, if you want to forget something, you must think about it, since if you try to forget it, you never can. On this theory, he encourages Linda to see Jeff again so she can forget him. They have a date, and they impulsively plan to elope.
The next day, though, Jeff has forgotten their wild plans, so Linda storms off. He catches her and apologizes, but as soon as she forgives him, he gets called away on some quick business. When one minute turns into half an hour, Linda stops waiting for the romantic but unreliable swain.
He pursues her in a high-speed cab chase which ends in a motorcycle cop chasing them to a screeching halt at a train crossing. To avoid arrest, they say they are going to get married in Greenwich; the policeman escorts them to the judge’s house.
A few weeks later, Sky sullenly visits them, brings Linda flowers, and says goodbye. Linda tries to cheer him up, though, saying that they are the three best friends they’ve got. As their marriage continues, Sky proves that he would have made a better husband, since he is always there to keep Linda company when Jeff is compulsively working.
Sky always plays cards with her and brings her flowers, but Jeff never has time for anything except pleasing his advertising clients. When Jeff ruins their honeymoon plans for the third time by literally missing the boat, Linda starts divorce procedures.
After they are miserably divorced, Sky knows that they can only be happy together, so he decides to eliminate their memories of marital strife by slipping them a memory drug in their cocktails. The results are what make this film a true screwball comedy. Jeff has forgotten what has happened for exactly six months, so he is mentally reliving the first day of the film, namely, the day he met Linda. Everyone in Jeff’s office is bewildered by his strange orders, but he thinks everyone else is crazy. He and Sky go to the same restaurant as in the beginning of the film, and Linda is waiting there for Sky, since she too is living six months in the past.
Sky watches the scene play out almost exactly as it did six months ago. Sky has the unenviable position of being the only one to know that Jeff and Linda have already met, married, and divorced even though they are just meeting. This time he purposely leaves them alone, and they again spend the afternoon together.
They make a date for that evening, but they are embarrassed when Sky is there. He waits downstairs as Jeff shows Linda his apartment, but they again decide to elope behind his back.
As they speed toward the judge’s house, the same policeman stops them, but they don’t remember him, so they are surprised when he acts like this has happened before. He thinks they are trying to fool him, so he watches the wedding ceremony before the same, slightly confused judge. When they get back to the apartment, Sky is asleep on the couch.
Now Jeff seems to be able to stand up to his client more, since he says he is leaving on his honeymoon; surprisingly, the gruff old businessman, Mr. McIntyre, doesn’t mind at all.
Just as they are drinking their cocktails, Linda shocks both men by casually saying she is going to have a baby.
Jeff drops his martini, and Sky dumps the rest of the memory drug into his cocktail, drinks it in a gulp, and turns to the camera with a screwy look on his face for the final shot.
To really be a screwball comedy, a film must have more than a likely plot; it has to contain comical elements which are singular to this genre. Remember? is screwy for its entire running time of eighty-three minutes. It is not always funny, but it is almost always insane. Some of the scenarios, lines, and elements are so screwy, I can scarcely believe that someone actually wrote them. It begins with Sky exiting an elevator in a crowded New York office building. He quickly produces a large diamond engagement ring from his pocket, admires it, and places it on his left ring finger.
He walks over to an office door with names on it, which he reads and promptly puts into a silly little jingle which involves singing, rhyming, and squeaking. Further silliness results when he walks through the office, singing and showing all the secretaries the engagement ring. Some very humorous dialogue is delivered by the two men at lunch as Jeff tries to fascinate Linda and Sky tries to point out all his friend’s faults. Jeff gets Linda to stare into his eyes by saying that he can make them change color.
At the engagement party that evening, Sky tries to embarrass Jeff by telling everyone he can change his eye color. Linda’s crazy mother, who delivers some hilariously screwy lines, says, “How do we know when it happens? Do they make a noise or something?”
The fox race the next day contains some humorous complications, since Jeff is wearing Mr. Bronson’s new riding outfit. When Jeff’s hat falls on the ground and his horse steps in it, he says, “You better tell your father he has a horse in his hat.” When he tries to get down and pick it up, Mr. Bronson says, “Get up off my knees!”
After Jeff and Linda have gotten married the first time, Sky and Jeff are sadly standing next to Linda, since they know this has hurt their twenty-one year friendship. She takes them by the arms and faces them toward where they were standing. She then tells them to look at their faces as though they are still over there and asks them if they would like to be she standing between faces like that! I know she is joking, but that must be the screwiest line in the whole movie. Before they try to go on their honeymoon for the third time, Jeff and Linda are waiting in an empty room at her parents’ house. They don’t realize that a surprise party is about to start, so all her parents’ friends are hiding behind the furniture.
Jeff flippantly insults every family member and guest present. His expression is hilarious when he sees that everyone, including his viciously insulted father-in-law, heard what he said. The screwiest elements happen after Sky has given his friends the memory drug. I think he put too much of the stuff in their martinis, since he didn’t mean to erase that much of their memories. It would have been easier for him if he had taken some of it, too, since he is in the horrible position of having to see his defeat take place all over again. He takes Jeff to the same restaurant, but he is shocked to see that Linda is waiting for him there.
The dialogue in this scene is almost identical to that in their first meeting. Sky is practically burying his head in his hands as he has to watch his best friend steal his fiancee all over again. At this point, I’m sure Sky is tempted to act differently and fight harder so he can win Linda, but he is too honorable for that. He knows that the two people whom he loves most love each other, so he wants them to be happy together.
Also, I believe that, in accordance with Code principles, Sky would not want to marry a divorced woman. Even though she thinks she is still a completely unattached maiden, he knows she is not! In the last scene, Sky repeats a line which was said in the first meeting in the restaurant, “X marks our barrel,” and this seems to trigger Linda’s memory. Her expression noticeably changes, and she almost mischievously spills the news that she is with child. One could spend thousands of words hypothesizing about when she remembers. She may have realized her condition earlier in the day, and perhaps that triggered her memory. Her doctor may even have telephoned her with the joyous news which brought back her memories. Maybe she was only pretending to not remember in the last scenes. It is also possible that she suddenly remembered everything when Sky said that phrase, and she no longer realized that she hadn’t remembered. I am inclined to think the last possibility is true, but it is merely a matter of conjecture. What do you think happened? Anyway, it is an ending of which Billy Wilder would have been proud.
Not every good actor can be a screwball comedian, but many actors who were known for their serious roles were very funny in little known comical parts. Robert Taylor appeared in some comedies, but he also was known for his dramatic roles. As usual, he plays a dashing, romantic role, but he has an unexpectedly funny side.
He delivers hilarious lines at a rapid pace. His natural way of acting and speaking reminds me a little of Jimmy Stewart, but Mr. Stewart would never play such a conniving man. He does some humorous physical comedy in the fox hunting scene, including imitating a cowboy, trying to climb onto a horse, riding very badly, and falling off the horse into a mud puddle. Greer Garson had made just one film before this, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, but she soon became acclaimed for her dramatic talents.
In this film, she is very natural and humorous in a refined, unpretentious way. She does not seem to be trying to be funny, but she delivers comical lines well. Lew Ayres is not remembered for much of anything, but those who know him think of his second role, Paul Baumer in All Quiet on the Western Front, and his most famous role, Dr. Kildare in the MGM movie series of the same name.
Few people know, however, that he could be very funny. This was probably because his first roles were very dramatic ones. In most of his films, though, he says his lines in a witty way which is charmingly humorous though not intentionally comical. This must be the craziest role in which I have seen him. His role in The Golden Fleecing from the next year is the only film in which he is funnier, but that is more physical, goofy comedy; Sky Ames is much screwier.
His screwiest moment must be the very beginning, when he enters the office singing crazily, unless it is the end, when he takes all the memory drug. One can only wonder what will happen to him from this. My sister, Rebekah, says that he probably won’t remember anything since he was five years old. The effects may not be that extreme, but that much of the drug must wipe out years of memory. I hope the German scientist who invented it finds an antidote soon. There are some funny supporting actors, including Linda’s lunatic, shrill-voiced mother, her perpetually irritated father, her immature aunt, and Jeff’s deaf employer, Mr. Piper. He wears a hearing-aid, but he still can’t hear.
Most of his lines are “What did you say, Mr. McIntyre?” He always repeats what someone has said right after he has said it. The policeman who “pinches” Jeff and Linda twice is also very funny.
Having reviewed Remember? by considering its plot, comical elements, and the acting displayed in it, I think it is obvious that this film is as screwy as any famous screwball comedy. The plot is very confusing and slightly absurd; imagine the idea of giving your divorced friends a memory drug to get them back together but making them forget they ever were married! The dialogue, actions, and scenarios add the fiber which makes this film as good an example of screwball comedy as any. Although these actors were not known for being in comedy, I doubt this film would have been any better with famous screwball comedians. Watch this film soon, and then we’ll see if it is something that you couldn’t forget even if you tried.
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Jeff Holland: The impulsive but romantic advertising man who steals his best friend’s girl; played by Robert Taylor.
Linda Bronson: The beautiful young woman who comes between two best friends when she loves both; played by Greer Garson.
Sky Ames: The devoted advertising man who watches his fiancee be stolen by his best friend but continues to love them both; played by Lew Ayres.
Mr. Bronson: Linda’s disagreeable, wealthy father who adores horses; played by Reginald Owen.
Mrs. Bronson: Linda’s foolish, stupid mother who lives in a fairy world for a five year old; played by Billie Burke.
Mr. Piper: Jeff and Sky’s deaf employer; played by Richard Carle.
Judge Milliken: The “potato-faced” justice of the peace and friend of Linda’s family who marries Linda and Jeff twice; played by Henry Travers.
Miss Wilson: Jeff’s concerned, patient secretary; played by Sara Haden.
Mr. McIntyre: The gruff client whose advertising business is worth a million dollars to Jeff’s firm; played by George Barbier.
Policeman: The bewildered officer who stops the eloping couple twice and gets the same story both times; played by Paul Hurst.