Forgotten Laughs: Comic gems that few remember

You probably already know and love Some Like It Hot, Groundhog Day, City Lights, Annie Hall, The General, and Duck Soup. They’re classics. But an awful lot of great comedies never reached that status. Some were wrong for their time. Others were hits, but were largely forgotten over the decades. Some are just acquired tastes.

Here are six very funny movies that have been largely forgotten, but are begging to be rediscovered. Add your own choices in the comments section below.

Intolerable Cruelty (2003)

The Coen Brothers dragged the ’40s screwball comedy into the 21st century, added a darkly comic mean streak, and created one of their funniest farces. George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones marry, divorce, fight, and con each other in one crazy plot twist after another, and all of it very, very funny. Classic screwball combined romantic comedy, class warfare, and glamorous movie stars acting like slapstick comedians; Intolerable Cruelty fits that bill better than anything else made in the last 60 years.

Soapdish (1991)

This broad farce set in the world of TV soap operas isn’t as thoughtful as Tootsie, but it has a hell of a lot more laughs. Sally Field, at her funniest, plays a soap opera diva who suspects (rightly) that her producer (Robert Downey Jr.) wants her off the show. How will he get her to quit? Bring back an old flame of hers, played by Kevin Kline in another great comic performance. The cast also includes an angelic Elisabeth Shue, a brilliantly funny Cathy Moriarty, and Whoopi Goldberg as Rose Schwartz.

The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe (1972)

The great French comedian Yves Robert stars as a classical violinist who unknowingly becomes the target of rival spy networks. The violinist has his own problems – his best friend’s wife is stuck on him – but things get more complicated as serious-looking men bug and examine his apartment, assuming every eccentricity as the brilliant work of a master spy. The movie was a big enough hit to spawn both a sequel and an American remake, but despite the movie’s still current theme of government surveillance, and the considerable laughs, it’s been largely forgotten.

The President’s Analyst (1967)

Yet another spy comedy that deals with some very 21st-century issues – if only in the final act. The White House hires a psychiatrist (James Coburn) to help the president deal with his emotional burden. Soon spies from every country on Earth converge to kidnap the unfortunate doctor (and stop other spies from kidnapping him). True, the movie’s swinging ’60s visuals and music are way out of date, but it’s still a very funny movie.

A Slight Case of Murder (1938)

We don’t think of Edward G. Robinson as a comedian, but he knew how to get a laugh. Here he plays a former bootlegger going broke because, years after legalization, he’s still selling prohibition-quality beer. He retreats to his country home, where dead bodies keep popping up. Other problems include an annoying orphan and a future son-in-law who happens to be a cop.

Seven Chances (1925)

I went back and forth on including this gem; nothing Buster Keaton made in the 1920s is really forgotten. But Seven Chances deserves classic status, simply because it’s one of the most efficient feature-length laugh machines ever made. Watch it with an audience, and you seldom get a chance not to laugh. But be warned: By today’s standards, Seven Chances contains racist jokes that are no longer acceptable. Read my blu-ray review.