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Comedy Through the Decades

There are classic and hilarious comedies from the early decades of film comedy. If you’re looking to broaden your comedy horizons read on for popular comedies from the 1920s through the 1950s.


Sherlock, Jr. is a 1924 silent film that stars and is directed by Buster Keaton. He plays a movie projectionist and janitor who is trying to become a detective. He falls in love with a girl (Kathryn McGuire) but another man is also interested in her (Ward Crane). Keaton is accused of stealing of the girl’s father’s watch and falls asleep on his job where he dreams of solving a case a la Sherlock Holmes.

It was ranked number 62 in AFI’s funniest films of all time. It only runs 44 minutes long due to editing and is shorter than most of Keaton’s other films.


A Night at the Opera (1935) stars Groucho, Chico and Harpo Marx. Otis Driftwood (Groucho Marx) is hired by Mrs. Claypool (Margaret Dumont) to help her break into the high society. At an opera performance, Otis meets Fiorello (Chico Marx). He is manager and best friend of Ricardo (Allan Jones) who wants his big break as an opera singer and the girl he’s in love with (Kitty Carlisle).

Other classic 1930s comedies include Duck Soup, Sons of the Desert and Bringing Up Baby.


Arsenic and Old Lace was made in 1944 and directed by Frank Capra. Mortimer Brewster (Cary Grant) marries the girl next door, Elaine Harper (Priscilla Lane). Before the honeymoon, Mortimer visits his aunts. He soon learns that they have dead bodies buried in their basement. They are all lonely old men who have been lured to their home and served Elderberry Wine spiked with arsenic. After his deranged brother shows up, it’s clear that insanity runs in the family.

Arsenic is considered a screwball comedy; a style of comedy that involves slapstick humor, marriage or remarriage and other qualities.


Singin’ in the Rain (1952) is a musical film about the end of the silent film era. Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) is a successful actor who has been aided by his friend Cosmo (Donald O‘Connor). He has formed a famous on-screen romantic pair with Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen). She mistakes the on-screen love for the real thing. When their film is transformed into a musical, Don discovers that Lina’s voice is less than desirable. Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds), an aspiring actress, is hired to her voice and Don soon falls in love with her.

This is one of the most famous musicals of all time. Classic songs in the movie include “Singin’ in the Rain”, “Make ‘Em Laugh” and “Good Morning”

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