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Good Comedy Movies (1970-75): Making Us Laugh (and Think!)

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Michael A. Smith itcherThe 1970s were very good to film comedies. Always a popular staple, the genre seemed to grow in stature during the decade. It was the decade of Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Neil Simon and other writers whose names, often included in the film title, were selling points. It was also the decade of “black” comedy, with films like ‘Catch 22’ (1970) or ‘Network’ (1976) tackling serious subjects with great humor. ~ Michael A. Smith

Critical Acclaim in the ‘Me’ Decade

That these films were written, respectively, by Buck Henry and Paddy Chayefsky – two of Hollywood’s best ever – not only helped make the genre popular but earned great critical acclaim.

In fact, ‘Network’ became the 11th film to earn Academy Award nominations in all four acting categories (the film actually earned five acting nods, with both William Holden and winning actor Peter Finch nominated in the Best Actor category). In the four decades since, only four other films have achieved that honor.

Here are, in my opinion, five of the overlooked comedies from the first half of the “ME” decade.


Humorous Comedy Movie Recommendations

‘Lovers and Other Strangers’ (Cy Howard, 1970)

We’re all strangers. But after a while you get used to it. You become deeper strangers. That’s a sort of love…

The 1970s began with a film that is remembered more for its Academy Award-winning song, ‘For All We Know,’ then its laughs.

Based on the play by husband and wife writers/performers, Joseph Bologna and Renee Taylor, the film boasted a virtual “who’s who” of comedic talent.

With Oscar winner, Gig Young, and Tony award nominee, Anne Jackson – who sadly just passed away at the age of 90 – reprising their stage roles, the film included such popular performers as Bea Arthur, Harry Gaurdino and Anne Meara, as well as uncredited appearances by Meara’s husband, Jerry Stiller, and their 8-year old daughter, Amy.

The movie also featured some up and coming talent, including Bonnie Bedelia, Cloris Leachman and, in her film debut, Diane Keaton.

As a bonus, if you look closely during the wedding scenes, you’ll spot 24-year-old Sylvester Stallone among the guests.

‘Harold and Maude’ (Hal Ashby, 1971)

It’s best not to be too moral. You cheat yourself out of too much *life.* Aim above morality. If you apply that to life, then you’re bound to live life fully…

A true “black” comedy, ‘Harold and Maude’ tells the story of rich and neurotic teenager, Harold (Bud Cort) and his unlikely romance with a woman almost four times his age (Ruth Gordon).

The fact that Harold likes to simulate suicide attempts and that he met Maude while “crashing” a funeral should tell you all you need to know about this film.

I also give it extra points for a scene which includes my current optometrist as a background extra. This is one of those “name” films which everyone claims to have seen but no one has.

‘Support Your Local Gunfighter’ (Burt Kennedy, 1971)

Don’t take offense, lad. But after all, you’ve never killed anybody outside of this county. You’re just local stuff…

This is one of the clean, funny “family” comedies that slowly began to disappear during the decade.

In this film, a handsome, charming con-man – played by the always handsome and charming James Garner – comes into a new town and pretends he’s a gunfighter. As they used to say, “hijinx ensue.”

Same director and cast (mostly) of 1969’s ‘Support Your Local Sheriff,’ though the films aren’t related story-wise. By the end of the decade, the only films similar in themes to this one were courtesy of Disney and often featured Tim Conway or Don Knotts.

‘The Groove Tube’ (Ken Shapiro, 1974)

I’m in the driver’s seat! I’m runnin’ the show!

One of the first comedies to consist solely of short vignettes, the film was co-written and directed by Ken Shapiro, who also starred in several parts. Shapiro also wrote and directed 1981’s Chevy Chase vehicle, ‘Modern Problems.’

Though not a classic, Shapiro did prove that he had a good eye for talent, with the film featuring such upcoming talents as the aforementioned Chevy Chase, Richard Belzer, and Martin Kove.

‘The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother’ (Gene Wilder, 1975)

Sigerson is my younger brother. And he has spent the past thirty years getting hopelessly twisted in my shadow…

After earning an Oscar nomination for his role in Mel Brooks’ ‘The Producers’ (1967) and starring in the Brooks’ classics ‘Blazing Saddles’ (1973) and ‘Young Frankenstein’ (1974), Gene Wilder went behind the camera for this hilarious look at what would happen if Sherlock Holmes’ brother, Sigerson, tackled the elusive Moriarty.

With a supporting cast that includes fellow Brooks regulars, Madeline Kahn and Marty Feldman, the laughs here are full and plentiful. In fact, right now I’m about to go do the Kangaroo Hop!


Hollywood Moved in Another Direction

As 1975 ended, when all the public talked about was ‘Jaws’ and the upcoming American Bicentennial Celebration, Hollywood began to move in another direction where comedy films were concerned.

Established theater writers like Neil Simon were not only adapting their plays into screenplays but given the chance to write exclusively for the big screen. In fact, Simon boasts eleven films in theatres during the decade!

Tune in for more.

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