Hailed by W. C. Fields as “the second funniest man in America,” Gregory La Cava (1892–1952) was responsible for some of the most caustic screwball comedies and political satires of the Great Depression. This comprehensive retrospective features the writer-director’s pioneering animation and nearly all his surviving fiction films, which combine wit and pathos in startling measure. La Cava’s depictions of class warfare and sexual subversion are populated by a rogue’s gallery of fast-talking, pie-eyed schemers. His treatment of prostitution, mental illness, and immigrant life was ahead of its time. So was his peculiar sort of feminism: his male characters tend to be shameless, boorish, or spineless, while his women, even the gold diggers and dipsomaniacs, are far more cunning and strong-willed, discovering that they can have it all: careers, affairs, and female companionship. A hard-drinking iconoclast (alcohol was the ruin of him), La Cava demanded full autonomy from studio heads and seldom used a prepared script, instead inventing ingenious gags, dialogue, and plot turns while in the thick of production. Actors like Carole Lombard, Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, and William Powell thrilled to the prospect of working without a net, and gave him the performances of their careers.
Organized by Joshua Siegel, Assistant Curator, Department of Film and Media.