Comedy of remarriage
The comedy of remarriage is a sub-genre of American comedy films of the 1930s and 1940s. At the time, the Production Code, also known as the Hays Code, banned any explicit references to or attempts to justify adultery and illicit sex. The comedy of remarriage enabled filmmakers to evade this provision of the Code. The protagonists divorced, flirted with strangers without risking the wrath of censorship, and then got back together.
The genre was given its name by the philosopher Stanley Cavell in a series of academic articles that later became a book, Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage. Cavell argues that the genre represented Hollywood's crowning achievement, and that beneath all the slapstick and innuendo is a serious effort to create a new basis for marriage centered on mutual love – religious and economic necessity no longer applying for much of the American middle class.
In response to Cavell's article, scholar David R. Shumway claims it is possible "to make too much of the remarriage 'genre.'" He points out that "only two of Cavell's seven comedies deal with characters who we actually see interacting as husband and wife for any length of time..." and points out that all seven films fit into the screwball comedy genre.
Notable comedies of remarriage
(Bold text denotes inclusion in Pursuits of Happiness)
- It Happened One Night (1934), directed by Frank Capra, starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert
- The Awful Truth (1937), directed by Leo McCarey, starring Cary Grant and Irene Dunne
- Bringing Up Baby (1938), directed by Howard Hawks, starring Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn
- The Philadelphia Story (1940), directed by George Cukor, starring Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn
- His Girl Friday (1940), directed by Howard Hawks, starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell
- My Favorite Wife (1940), directed by Garson Kanin, starring Cary Grant and Irene Dunne
- The Lady Eve (1941), directed by Preston Sturges, starring Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda
- That Uncertain Feeling (1942), directed by Ernst Lubitsch, starring Melvyn Douglas and Merle Oberon
- Woman of the Year (1942), directed by George Stevens, starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn
- Adam's Rib (1949), directed by George Cukor, starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn
- Phffft! (1954), directed by Mark Robson, starring Judy Holliday and Jack Lemmon
- Shumway, David R. "Screwball Comedies: Constructing Romance, Mystifying Marriage." Film Genre Reader III. Grant, Barry Keith, Ed. University of Texas Press, 2003.
- Edelstein, David. "Forget Me Not: The genius of Charlie Kaufman's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" Slate (March 18, 2004)
- Scott, A.O. "Charlie Kaufman's Critique of Pure Comedy" New York Times (April 4, 2004)
- Cavell, Stanley. Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage Harvard Film Studies, 1981.