No Time For Comedy

No Time For Comedy
In a 1955 letter to the Drama Editor of the New York Times, a local citizen expressed concern about the overuse of comedic themes during turbulent times. The letter pointed out that, while humor had its place, playwrights and theatre producers had a responsibility to reflect the somber realities playing out on the real-world stage.

In other words, in serious times, the theatre should produce serious plays; this was no time for comedy.

As if in possession of a crystal ball, playwright S. N. Behrman had addressed this very issue in 1939, but not with a serious drama. Instead, it was with his satirical comedy – most appropriately titled – No Time for Comedy.

Behrman was considered a genius when it came to writing comedies, and his play was a resounding success, especially since it featured Katherine Cornell in the leading role.

The play was adapted for film in 1940 and starred James Stewart, Rosalind Russell, Genevieve Tobin, and Louise Beavers.

No Time for Comedy tells the story of famous stage actress, Linda Paige (Russell), whose playwright husband, Gaylord Esterbrook (Stewart), is lured away from her by a wealthy socialite named Amanda Swift (Genevieve Tobin).

Mrs. Swift’s purpose in life is to find unwitting proteges and turn them into great artists. When she meets Esterbrook, she convinces him that he could be a truly eminent playwright, if he’d only give up writing comedies.

You see, Swift feels that comedy is trivial, and only hard-core drama has any redemptive or artistic value.

Sound familiar?

As Esterbrook mistakes Swift’s flattery as truth, his ego builds and his gratitude for her increases, mistaking it for love.

Watching Paige and Swift fight for the affections of a bumbling playwright plagued with self-doubt could be quite funny, but when Warner Bros. produced the film, the writers shifted the main focus of the story to Esterbrook, rather than keeping the focus on the actress, like it was in the stage play.

In doing so, a lot of the potential laughs in the second half are sacrificed.

Still, all is not lost. Louise Beavers plays Clementine, an actress who also works as a housekeeper when she isn’t working on the stage. She does both of her jobs with aplomb, and is clearly a woman who can stand toe-to-toe with her employer, regardless if it is the man of the house or a theatrical director.

Even though the film isn’t as hilarious as the play reportedly was, it is still enjoyable. Stewart – especially in the first half of the film – is endearingly awkward and funny as the novice playwright from Minnesota. Rosalind Russell is always strong and a pleasure to watch as the devoted actress/wife. One only wishes her role offered more opportunities for those great zingers Russell could deliver so well.

NOTE: I screened this film at my own expense and not at the request of any outside company or service. Free-to-view versions might be available digitally. This film may also be available for purchase or through subscription-based services.

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