Carole Lombard (née Jane Alice Peters) is very often forgotten today, but in 1930s she was a star extraordinaire, the highest paid actress in Hollywood, and the queen of the screwball comedy. Already a seasoned veteran of noir and drama, she was Howard Hawks' choice to play the lead in Twentieth Century, his classic screwball comedy, and her status as a great comedian was assured. When she married Clark Gable in 1939, it seemed as though she was on top of the world, until her untimely death in a plane crash while promoting war bonds in 1942. But her star continues to shine in this five film series featuring some of the funniest performances you will ever see, from one of the greatest actresses ever to grace the silver screen.
Though she starred primarily in dramas, Howard Hawks saw something in Lombard, and paired her with the histrionic thespian John Barrymore in this insane comedy. Broadway producer Oscar Jaffe (Barrymore) takes a risk and casts lingerie model Mildred Plotka (Lombard) in his newest play. With her new name, Lily Garland, the play is a resounding success, as are their next three pairings. But Jaffe is obsessed, and won't stop controlling Lily, who hightails it to Hollywood, where she becomes a star. Desperate to get her back, Jaffe boards the Twentieth Century Limited, the cross country train carrying superstar Lily Garland, and schemes to get her to sign a contract. Sparks fly, shins are kicked, and the rapid-fire dialogue will leave you laughing and gasping for air in this amazing comedy.
35mm Print courtesy Sony Pictures
When down-on-his-luck bum Godfrey Smith (William Powell) agrees to be a "forgotten man in a scavenger hunt put on by wealthy socialite Irene (Lombard), they both get more than they bargained for. After angrily exposing the stupidity of the hunt in front of a stunned crowd, Irene's father hires Godfrey to be the family butler. But this isn't your usual family, and soon Godfrey is dealing with crazed daughters, angry maids, a ditzy mother the usual assortment of lunatic upper-crust New Yorkers. A classic by any standard, My Man Godfrey is widely considered the nonpareil of screwball comedy.
35mm print courtesy Universal Pictures
This bizarre and entertaining movie is part noir, part screwball, and all fun. Lombard and Fred MacMurray are Ken and Helen Bartlett, whose fortunes dip during the Depression. He's a lawyer finding few cases, and she's a writer with few leads. Through a series of mishaps, Helen is accused of murder, and her husband has a hard time believing she didn't do it. John Barrymore is back as a drunk who knows too much, though the chemistry between MacMurray and Lombard throws sparks into this turbulent and ribald plot.
35mm print courtesy Universal Pictures.
Less a comedy and more a romance, In Name Only features Cary Grant and Lombard as the perfect couple, kept apart because of his loveless marriage to a scheming social climber. A big hit in its day, through rarely seen today, In Name Only shows off Lombard's tremendous range, as she hits every note and will bring tears of laughter, joy, and melancholy to your eyes.
35mm print courtesy Warner Bros.
Lombard's last film, and, some argue, her best. Paired with director Ernst Lubitsch, Lombard put in a performance of surprising complexity in this story of a Polish acting troupe trying to outwit the invading Nazis. Lombard and Jack Benny lead the troupe, and their work together is nothing short of brilliant. The complex plot and the comedic take on the Nazi threat may have turned off audiences, as the film wasn't a hit nor critically praised in its day, but is now regarded as a classic.
35mm print courtesy The Library of Congress