By Evelyn C. McDonald
Arts & Culture Reporter
June 11, 2020

Perhaps you’re like me. I say to myself, “Maybe I’ll watch a movie.” I check my DVDs, then see what I’ve recorded, and finally turn to Amazon Prime. Then my mind blanks out. I can’t recall what I’ve just looked at and am overwhelmed by choices. I realized I needed a better plan; some sort of organizing principle to avoid brain freeze.

I thought about comedies, figuring if ever we need a laugh, it was now. I decided to group my favorites by decade and then realized that comedies have changed over the years. In my criteria, I focused on comedies I thought were great and that illustrated changing times. The result is my list of six comedies. The three types I defined are social commentary, satires, and off the wall.
In 1966 at the height of the Red Scare, a movie called “The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming” was released. It told the story of a Russian submarine commander who wanted to see America. In the process his ship ran aground. The movie follows the efforts of the crew to get a power boat to rescue the ship and the reactions of the townspeople to what they think is a Russian invasion. If you watch, pay attention to the background music which is often part of the humor.

Four years later, the movie “Mash” was released. The TV show was on for so many years that we forget there was a movie first. The movie was spot on depicting the way humor can ease a horrific situation. The horrors were the results of war visited on the people who see it most closely – the doctors and nurses in field hospitals.

Move to the 1970s and satires reigned. The king of the satires, in my opinion, is Mel Brooks. He put out three movies that decade. He skewered Westerns with “Blazing Saddles.” Who could forget the campfire scene or the fastest draw in the West? Brooks had Alfred Hitchcock in his sights with “High Anxiety” where he satirized “Psycho” and “The Birds” and “Vertigo.”

The 1980s produced two madcap comedies – “Airplane” and “Weekend at Bernie’s.” “Airplane” was inspired silliness that messed with the dramatic airplane disaster genre. And left us with the line, “Surely you can’t be serious.” and the response, “Yes, I am and don’t call me Shirley.” My top candidate for the best physical comedy of the century is “Weekend at Bernie’s.” I was in tears laughing at one scene involving a boat, a body and channel buoys.

You may notice I stopped with the 1980s and didn’t include romantic comedies. There are many other great movies in which comedy is a supporting actor, not the main show. Hope you enjoy.

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