James Harvey divides his study into three parts--"The Lubitsch Era, 1929-1933,” “The Romantic Comedy: Directors and Stars, 1934-1939,” and “The Sturges Era, 1940-1948,"--and appends an interview with Irene Dunne, the star of so many of the films he discusses. This structure allows Harvey to give full credit to all the different elements that went into the so-called screwball comedies of the 1930’s and 1940’s.
Harvey’s definition of romantic comedy is comprehensive and generous, for he is dealing with an inclusive form of comedy, one that was both romantic and down-to-earth. It is this delightfully contradictory set of qualities that Harvey is so good at revealing. He shows, for example, how Cary Grant was able to remain a glamorous star and yet act a remarkable number of roles that called upon him to appear awkward and foolish.
When directors seem to dominate the field, determining the form of the romantic comedy, Harvey gives their careers full play. Thus Ernst Lubitsch’s career in Europe and in the United States is amply documented and explored for the roots of romantic comedy, and Preston Sturges’ remarkable comedies are given the full attention they deserve.
Nearly two hundred black-and-white films stills contribute enormously to what can be enjoyed and studied in this book. An index will help readers looking for treatments of their favorite films, but scholars will have to look elsewhere for an up-to-date bibliography.