Ten Movie Comedy Legends Unloved By Empire Magazine Readers

June 19, 2012 by Simon Kinnear in Opinion with 2 Comments

M Hulot's Holiday Jacques TatiEmpire Magazine readers have been polled on their 50 Funniest Movies and – as is always the case with these things – modern movies hog a huge amount of the list. There’s not actually a lot left for old-school comedy once you’ve cut through the credits of Judd Apatow, Ben Stiller, the Farrelly Brothers and, while we’re on the subject, Old School.

That means that a handful of great directors are only represented by a single film: the Coen brothers’ The Big Lebowski, Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot, Woody Allen’s Annie Hall and Howard Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby have to suffice as examples of extraordinary careers.

But the following ten* comedy legends have nothing at all.  Here are several stars, directors, characters or (in one case) an entire studio, who deserve their place in comedy’s hall of fame, but are apparently unloved or – more probably – unseen by the voters.

Charlie Chaplin

The most famous movie star there’s ever been, Chaplin is so iconic as a figure of Hollywood it’s easy to forget that he actually made a bunch of films which pretty much invented film comedy.

Ones to Watch: Gag for gag, probably Modern Times… but for a lesson in how Chaplin pushed back the boundaries of the genre, romantic comedy-drama City Lights.

Buster Keaton

The yin to Chaplin’s yang, Keaton was the deadpan maestro who remained unbowed in the face of technological and romantic upheaval. As a director, Keaton set a bar for life-threatening stuntwork that only a few have attempted to vault.

Ones To Watch: The most jaw-dropping set-pieces take place in The General and Steamboat Bill, Jr but film fans will get a kick out of cinematic love letter Sherlock Jr. It’s only 44 minutes long and you can watch it on YouTube: what are you waiting for?

Laurel & Hardy

aka the tall, thin one and the short, fat one. Every other big-screen double act lives in their lopsided shadow.

Ones To Watch: Their justly celebrated short The Music Box is the best know, but it’s so oft copied so you might feel you’ve been there, done that. Western spoof Way Out West, complete with charming musical interlude ‘The Trail Of The Lonesome Pine’, will win you over.

Preston Sturges

Hollywood comedy’s first great writer-turned-director (Billy Wilder quickly followed), Sturges took control of his own scripts because nobody else could cope with their manic pace or elaborate wordplay.

One To Watch: Sturges’ early 1940s run is one long sustained blast of brilliance. They all have their fans, but I’m a sucker for divorce/chase movie The Palm Beach Story.

Ealing Studios

The jewel in British comedy’s crown. Ealing wasn’t just about laughter (WWII thriller Went The Day Well? and horror anthology Dead Of Night are superb examples of other genres) but directors Robert Hamer, Alexander MacKendrick and Charles Crichton, along with stars like Alec Guinness, put London on the comedy map.

Ones To Watch: A toss-up between Kind Hearts And Coronets and The Ladykillers – the blackest, bleakest laughs lurking beneath old-fashioned English courtesy.

Jacques Tati

Avuncular Frenchman besotted with silent comedy who created international buffoon Monsieur Hulot.  Rowan Atkinson ripped off his act wholesale with Mr Bean but don’t hold that against him.

Ones To Watch: The laidback, loveable M. Hulot’s Holiday is the best place to start, but it’s worth following up with Playtime, one of the biggest, most intricate comedies ever devised.

Carry On

Thanks to clip-shows and cable channel marathons, the Carry On films tend to blur into a single big one (naughty) so it’s not surprising that no single entry (careful now) saw the team rise to the occasion (ooh, Matron).

Ones To Watch: Pick any at random to get the gist, but follow-up with Carry On Up The Khyber Pass to realise the underappreciated level of technical craft and satirical intelligence in the films.

Inspector Clouseau

Peter Sellers deservedly makes the Empire list with Dr Strangelove, but his long-running role as fumbling, bumbling Inspector Clouseau in Blake Edwards’ Pink Panther films remains his most iconic contribution to film comedy.

Ones To Watch: Skip The Pink Panther (in which Sellers’ role is really just a cameo) and head straight for the first proper Clouseau film, A Shot In The Dark, before enjoying the piece de resistance, the barking mad The Pink Panther Strikes Again.

Luis Bunuel

Most people get as far as the eyeball-slicing in Un Chien Andalou and decide surrealist master Bunuel isn’t for them. A shame, because his later satirical attacks on religious hypocrisy, sexual repression and middle-class conformity comprise one of the strangest comedy careers around.

One To Watch: His Oscar-winning classic The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie, about a constantly interrupted meal, is re-released in cinemas next Friday, so there’s no excuse. But make sure you eat first.

Wes Anderson

You’re probably already aware of Anderson – and arguably he was absent from Empire’s list because he’s as loathed as he is loved – but there’s no denying Wes’ whimsical world is one of the most creative comedic visions around these days.

Ones To Watch: His latest, Moonrise Kingdom, isn’t a bad starting point to the uninitiated.  But this writer swears by the underrated The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, my personal choice for a Friday night giggle.


* And yes, I’m aware my own list isn’t exhaustive. Harold Lloyd, Ernst Lubitsch and Jerry Lewis, especially, can feel hard done by. That’s the trouble with numerical lists; there’s never enough room for

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  1. Ian RobinsonJun 20, 2012 at 12:55 amReply

    Wow, that’s why I don’t read Empire any more – Apatow, Old School, the Farrellys? Sigh.

    (Although I’ve no idea what the full list is, as I don’t click through things like that… and the sight of the godawful Kingpin at Number 50 was almost enough to make me throw my computer out the window).

  2. » Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr. (1924) – the Friday Classic review » KinnemaniacJun 22, 2012 at 10:01 amReply

    […] Jr. wasn’t one of Empire magazine’s 50 Funniest Comedies… but it should have […]

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