Top 50 greatest comedy films

JEP film critic Tom Ogg selects his top 50 favourite comedy films

Oliver Hardy and Stan Laurel in Sons of the Desert (28824569)
Oliver Hardy and Stan Laurel in Sons of the Desert (28824569)

ONLINE streaming sites like Netflix and Amazon UK have made it easier than ever to access thousands of films with the click of a few buttons.

And with the Covid-19 lockdown ongoing, and Cineworld Jersey temporarily closed (although hopefully due to reopen ASAP), there has never been a better time to indulge in watching films in the comfort of your own home.

As such, I’ve been running a series on the JEP's weekly film pages in which, every Saturday, I pick my top 50 must-see films from a particular genre – not necessarily the greatest ever made (although many of them certainly qualify as such), but the ones that I personally most recommend watching.

To date, I have covered crime, comedy, sci-fi, war, romance, horror, action/adventure, film noir, drama, westerns, children’s films and even so-bad-they're-good films, and you can read my Top 50 Comedy Films list below.

For reasons more to do with OCD than anything else, I never allow the same film to appear in more than one list, thus ET is absent from my top 50 children's films list because it already appears in my top 50 sci-fi films list, and so on.

All films are listed in order of personal preference, and all feedback is welcome, regardless of whether you agree or disagree with my choices: togg@jerseyeveningpost.com

TOP 50 COMEDY FILMS

(first published 25 April 2020)

1. Sons of the Desert (1933, William A Seiter)

STAN Laurel and Oliver Hardy are, of course, the funniest comedy duo ever to have walked the Earth, and Sons of the Desert is – in the opinion of this uber-fan – the funniest of their many big-screen outings.

The feature-length film sees Oliver feigning illness to his domineering wife in order that he and Stan can attend the annual convention of a fraternal society of which they are members. Suffice to say, all does not go according to plan...

As always, the actual storyline is entirely secondary to the witty wordplay, comic pratfalls and exasperated looks to camera, with the scene in which the pair hide from their suspicious wives in the attic a particular highlight (cue a misplaced klaxon and Stan and Ollie sharing an ill-sized mattress ‘like two peas in a pot’).

The official directing credit may well read William A Seiter, and the writing credit Frank Craven, but with all due respect to Seiter and Craven, everyone knows that it was really Arthur Stanley Jefferson – aka Stan Laurel – who was the real driving force and comic mastermind behind the pair’s greatest work, and such was the case with Sons of the Desert.

Film fact: So popular is Sons of the Desert among fans that the official Laurel and Hardy fan club is titled Sons of the Desert: The International Laurel and Hardy Society (visit sonsofthedesertinfo. com for more details).

Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy and Charley Chase in Sons of the Desert (28837181)

2. Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964, Stanley Kubrick)

CONSIDERING Stanley Kubrick is often characterised as being among the most serious-minded and methodical filmmakers in cinema, it’s notable just how funny so many of his films are – hell, even The Shining and A Clockwork Orange have their fair share of laughs between the tidal waves of blood and ‘ultra-violence’.

But never was a Kubrick film funnier than Dr Strangelove – or Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb to give it its full title.

Based on author Peter George’s non-comedic 1958 novel Red Alert, the jet-black satire depicts events leading up to a global nuclear apocalypse, which admittedly doesn’t sound overly amusing on paper.

The resultant film, however, is among the funniest ever made, thanks to an endlessly quotable screenplay written by Kubrick, George and Terry ‘Easy Rider’ Southern (‘Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the war room’), wildly OTT supporting turns from the likes of George C Scott and Sterling Hayden, and – above all – a trio of pitch-perfect performances by Oscar-nominated Peter Sellers (the actor plays uptight RAF officer Lionel Mandrake, out-of-his-depth US President Merkin Muffley and, of course, the wheelchair-bound, Nazi-saluting Dr Strangelove himself).

Film fact: In addition to the three roles he plays in the finished film, Peter Sellers was also originally due to play Southern fighter pilot Major T J ‘King’ Kong, but a strained ankle left the actor unable to take on the role. According to biographer Roger Lewis, this injury was a scam put on by the notoriously temperamental Sellers because he resented being asked to take on a fourth role. Either way, it was probably for the best, because Slim Pickens – who was instead cast as Kong – is sheer perfection.

Peter Sellers as Dr Strangelove (28824585)

3. Airplane! (1980, David and Jerry Zucker)

WITH an estimated 178 gags packed into its 87-minute running time, Airplane! is surely the single most joke-filled film in cinema history.

Watched today, it’s incredible just how well the vast majority of the gags – both verbal and physical – remain laugh-out-loud funny, with only a small handful of references to then-relevant politicians failing to hit the mark (and even these were probably hilarious at the time).

In addition to the pun-filled screenplay, Airplane! also raises laughs with its cast, which largely consists of old-school Hollywood actors who would typically be found in serious dramas (Lloyd Bridges, Peter Graves, Robert Stack), and who all play it (mostly) straight, which in turn only makes the jokes even funnier.

In particular, Leslie Nielsen – then best known as the lead in sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet – proved so adept at maintaining a deadpan expression in the face of slapstick mayhem that he subsequently forged a latter-day career as a comic actor, with starring roles in Police Squad!, The Naked Gun series and Mel Brooks’ Dracula: Dead and Loving It, among others.

Film fact: Jonathan Banks – who will be familiar to many as Mike Ehrmantraut in Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul – has a small role as air traffic controller Gunderson.

Otto the autopilot, Leslie Nielsen and Robert Hays in Airplane! (28824775)

4. The Man with Two Brains (1983, Carl Reiner)

LONG before he focused his career on starring in schmaltzy rom-coms and recording bluegrass banjo albums, Steve Martin appeared in a series of comedy films – all released in the late 1970s and early- to mid-1980s, and all directed by Carl Reiner – that remain among the craziest, most surreal and flat-out funniest ever made.

All of the Martin-Reiner collaborations have much to recommend them, but for me the funniest film – indeed, the funniest film of Martin’s entire career – is 1983’s The Man with Two Brains.

Co-written by Martin, Reiner and George Gipe, the madcap movie stars Martin as Dr Michael Hfuhruhurr (‘It sounds just the way it’s spelled’), a brilliant brain surgeon and the pioneer of cranial ‘screw-top’ surgery.

Grieving over the loss of his wife, Dr Hfuhruhurr unwisely marries scheming gold-digger Dolores Benedict (Kathleen Turner, thoroughly enjoying sending up her smouldering screen image), but things grow complicated when the good doctor finds himself simultaneously falling in love with Anne Uumellmahaye, a disembodied brain residing in the laboratory of David Warner’s mad scientist.

The film is, if anything, even more bonkers than that synopsis makes it sound, but it is also wickedly clever, with more one-liners and wild physical comedy in single scenes than some comedies manage across two hours.

Oh, and it also features arguably the finest poem ever written, Pointy Birds: ‘Oh pointy birds, oh pointy pointy/Anoint my head, anointy-nointy’.

Film fact: An uncredited Sissy Spacek (Badlands, Carrie) voices Anne Uumellmahaye.

Steve Martin in The Man with Two Brains (28824588)

5. The Music Box (1932, James Parrott)

6. Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979, Terry Jones)

7. Four Lions (2010, Chris Morris)

8. The Naked Gun (1988, David Zucker)

9. The Odd Couple (1968, Gene Saks)

10. Some Like It Hot (1959, Billy Wilder)

WHILE it may be true that nobody’s perfect (except me, obviously), some films certainly are – and Some Like it Hot is one of them.

Directed by Billy Wilder, this classic cross-dressing comedy features career-best turns from all involved, including Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and a never-more-alluring Marilyn Monroe.

It also concludes with arguably the most famous final line in film history, as drag-wearing double-bass player Jerry (Lemmon) finally reveals to smitten multimillionaire Osgood Fielding III (Joe E Brown) that he’s a bloke. 'Well, nobody's perfect,' replies Fielding III.

Of course, if Some Like it Hot were made today, it would have to end with Jerry angrily demanding ‘Did you just assume my gender?’ to avoid accusations of transphobia in the Guardian.

Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in Some Like It Hot (28824600)

11. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975, Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones)

12. Withnail and I (1987, Bruce Robinson)

13. Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987, John Hughes)

14. The Big Lebowski (1998, Joel and Ethan Coen)

15. Blazing Saddles (1974, Mel Brooks)

16. Groundhog Day (1993, Harold Ramis)

17. Way Out West (1937, James W Horne)

18. Bowfinger (1999, Frank Oz)

19. This Is Spinal Tap (1984, Rob Reiner)

20. Bedazzled (1967, Stanley Donen)

NO, not that lacklustre 2000 remake with Elizabeth Hurley in it, but rather the classic original starring Peter Cook and Dudley Moore.

Based on a typically quick-witted screenplay by Cook, Bedazzled is among the very sharpest and smartest of British comedies, with Moore playing Stanley Moon, a fast-food chef who makes a pact with the devil (Cook) in the hope of winning the heart of working-class waitress Margaret Spencer (Eleanor Bron).

Ever multi-talented, cuddly Dudley – who excels as the lovestruck Moon – also wrote the film’s excellent soundtrack, which includes a spot-on spoof of 1960s-era psychedelic bands in the form of Drimble Wedge and the Vegetation. ‘I don’t want you/I don’t need you/I don’t love you,’ drones Cook, as teenage girls scream in Beatlemania-like ecstasy. ‘Leave me alone/You fill me with inertia.’

Among the cameo appearances in Bedazzled are Barry ‘Dame Edna’ Humphries as a very camp Envy and Raquel Welch as a supremely alluring Lust.

Dudley Moore and Raquel Welsh in Bedazzled (28836922)

21. The ‘Burbs (1989, Joe Dante)

22. Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983, Terry Jones)

23. Carry On Up the Khyber (1968, Gerald Thomas)

24. Ghostbusters (1984, Ivan Reitman)

25. Bringing Up Baby (1938, Howard Hawks)

26. Block-Heads (1938, John G Blystone)

27. The Producers (1967, Mel Brooks)

28. The Jerk (1979, Carl Reiner)

29. The Lavender Hill Mob (1951, Charles Crichton)

30. Sleeper (1973, Woody Allen)

31. Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (1985, Tim Burton)

32. I’m All Right, Jack (1959, John and Roy Boulting)

33. Derek and Clive Get the Horn (1979, Russell Mulcahy)

34. Trading Places (1983, John Landis)

35. Elf (2003, Jon Favreau)

36. Brats (1930, James Parrott)

37. Team America: World Police (2004, Trey Parker)

38. Carry On Screaming! (1966, Gerard Thomas)

39. The Battle of the Sexes (1959, Charles Crichton)

40. Duck Soup (1933, Leo McCarey)

41. The Birdcage (1996, Mike Nichols)

FOR my money, this remake of Édouard Molinaro’s 1978 French-Italian comedy La Cage aux Folles sees the late, great Robin Williams giving the funniest performance of his career.

Life partners Armand and Albert Goldman (Williams and Nathan Lane) are due to meet the parents of Armand’s son’s fiancée, Barbara (played by a pre-fame Calista Flockhart).

There is a problem, however, which is that Barbara’s parents are Republican Senator Kevin Keeley (Gene Hackman) and his wife, Louise (Diane Wiest), both of whom are uptight ultra-conservatives and thus unlikely to approve of the Goldman’s openly gay lifestyle and their running of a local drag club. The solution to this predicament proves more outlandish than you could possibly imagine, but is never less than uproarious fun.

Williams is actually more reserved than usual, but is all the funnier for it, often raising laughs simply with a muttered aside or browbeaten facial expression. This leaves co-star Nathan Lane to overact in fantastically flamboyant fashion, giving a no-holds-barred performance that is matched only by Hank ‘The Simpsons’ Azaria, who is equally hilarious as half-naked male housemaid Agador Spartacus (‘Come in, as usual... or for ze first time’).

Robin Williams and Nathan Lane in The Birdcage (28837185)

42. Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask) (1972, Woody Allen)

43. It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963, Stanley Kramer)

44. Clockwise (1986, Christopher Morahan)

45. A Shot in the Dark (1964, Blake Edwards)

46. Top Secret (1984, Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker)

47. In Bruges (2008, Martin McDonagh)

48. Father Goose (1964, Ralph Nelson)

49. Drop Dead Fred (1991, Ate de Jong)

50. Stir Crazy (1980, Sidney Poitier)

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