Some great comedies you can watch on the Internet Archive

Over the holidays, I asked for recommendations for comedies on Mastodon, and while I got very good suggestions, I did not get really good laughs. Some titles people thought I’d enjoy were Living Single (okay, this one was good, but in a sitcom kind of way, and I wanted something more), Black-ish (a big yawn), Mrs Davis (one or two laughs, but so meh), The Good Place (had a good first season, and then it was a big let down, but the laughs were few and scattered), Kim’s Convenience (I knew all the jokes, so I didn’t even smile) and The Big Door Prize (very thin on the laughter). I got many other suggestions but didn’t get round to sampling them. I craved for a really good laugh, and I knew films from the black-and-white era are always a goldmine, so I went to and I got more laughs that I needed. Here is a list of those that I really enjoyed.

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First, there is a lot of it stuff from Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, so I perhaps shouldn’t even mention them. I mean, they are what everyone knows about. Well, if you search these names on archive, you’ll get everything they were in. Perhaps I should mention just one, The Cameraman (1928), because it recently got into the public domain and I’m thinking of stealing the storyline and re-making it in the present day. Do I know a lot of jokes about camera guys? There is this gag where Buster Keaton films a mob fight, barely escaping with his life, but on reaching the news office, ooops, he had no film in the camera.

In the recent past, it would have been ‘no tape’, and today it would perhaps be ‘no disc space’. It’s a thing every person with a camera job will encounter at least once in their career, thinking they’ve got the shot only to later realize they didn’t. Mine came around 2012 while making a documentary on maternal health. After much pleading and sweat talking, a midwife allowed me to film in her clinic. But this was the very first time I was witnessing a birth. And I freaked out when I saw poop. ‘Poop? For real?’ And the nurse casually took it away. They later told me they don’t allow expectant mothers to use the toilet in case the baby pops…. I didn’t know, and so the sight of poop coming out instead of the baby freaked me out. And the mother was screaming. So hard. Like in a horror film. I thought I was a pro, so I pointed the camera and I thought I was recording it all, until it was over and I pressed the Record button to stop filming. Instead, the camera started to roll. The midwife asked me, ‘Did you get all that?’ I could only smile. She wanted to see what I’d shot, and I panicked. I made up an excuse about my camera needing a computer to playback, and then I dashed out. Needless to say, I’ve never finished that documentary.

See also my favourite Peter Seller’s comedies

Though made nearly a hundred years ago, The Cameraman has a lot of relatable gags. I didn’t expect to find one about a phone in the 1920s. ‘Give me your number, I’ll call you’ the lady he had a crash on told Buster, and I thought, what? In the 1920s? Before sound came to the movies? The joke took me back to the early ‘00s, when mobile phones had become a thing but not everyone could afford. People would sit by phone booths waiting for a ring, or loiter around those with handsets hoping their crash calls. Well, if you want some good laughs, The Cameraman has it all.

Before I get onto the list, I should note that some films labelled comedy are not, like 12 Kids Dynamite, which is a propaganda film for the US army. It was a waste of time. But well, here is my list. I have not arranged them in any particular order.

Poster for The Three Stooges, from Wikipedia

Arsenic and Old Lace (1941) This is one of my all time favourite comedies, so it will top any list I make. The first time I watched it, a few years ago, I thought it was something in the film noir genre with a detective uncovering a crime. So, I was in for a good surprise with laughs. A lot of big laughs. The dialogue is witty, and the performances solid, and the plot is fast paced with the twists and turns of a thriller, which is what a comedy really needs. I’ve watched it three times, and I laughed each time!

Dog Factory (1904) This is a great little film, a meme even before there was thought of the internet. It’s proof that the brain we use today is the same as that which ancient people used. I don’t know why I said that, but seeing this film, made about one hundred and twenty years ago, just got me seeing life in a whole different way. And comedy. We are not the first to make great jokes on camera.

The Burglar’s Slide For Life (1904) This, like the Dog Factory, is one of those films that got me thinking, ‘How did they do that 120 years ago?’ It’s about a man escaping down a fire escape, and the dog sent out to get him. Great visual gags. Great on-camera visual effects.

Fiddlesticks (1927) A shot joyous silent film, about a very bad musician who nevertheless finds a way to become prosperous from his lack of talent! Though a silent film, the music jokes work! And there’s even a meme of a screaming cat, which is what I have used as the featured image of this post. It was written by Capra.

Killer Dill (1947)  This was a fun watch, with the humour coming from the plot rather than a reliance on gags, which to me, makes the best kind of comedy. An innocent wimp is mistaken for a vicious killer, setting the stage for a lot of laughs. It’s a kind of trope, but it works very well here, and did say I enjoyed this film very much? Yes! It’s a dark comedy.

Three Stooges Episodes I see there are a lot of Stooges material though for some reason I could only get these four episodes. The best for me was Malice in the Palace (oh, some fun scene in the restaurant!) and Sing a Song of Six Pants. Brideless Groom was okay, and while Disorder in the Court was not so great. Overall, it is a good mix of visual gags and witty dialogue, which is the best recipe for comedy.

Hi Diddle Diddle (1943) This was a pleasantly good one and it gave me a few great laughs as the jokes work across time. It had a good dishing of visual gags as well, which is a big plus for it, and I could watch it again, though I’d only rate it as an average comedy. Still, a good way to pass an hour or so.

The Ghost Train (1941) This leans more to the mystery side than the comic, but perhaps the jokes are lost in time. Some were references to specific people that folk back then would have got. I found the accents a little too thick and I couldn’t figure out half what they were saying. Still a good watch, though the ending seemed a little too contrived, and the explanation of the ghost train almost reeked of a deux ex machine. Watch only if you have absolutely nothing else going.

The Lady Vanishes (1938) I’ll have to add this one, though the humour is mostly packed in the first 25 or so minutes, with two men, stranded in a strange town, forced to share a tiny bed under the stairs. Oh, the bed belonged to the hotel’s maid, and she had to give it up because they were overcrowded. It is a Hitchcock film, some say his best comedy. It quickly turns into a murder mystery, and ends with it being a spy thriller. We are used to seeing hot machoistic Bond-type of men as spies and secret agents, in the main character role, but an old woman? That’s what makes this story so much of a joy to watch!

There are two more that I never got round to watching, or that my memory tells me I watched them a long while ago but I can’t remember what they were about. This is His Girl Friday (1940) and My Man Godfrey (1935). Check them out.

Screenshot of an episode of The Three Stooges, from Malice in the Palace. Three men make clownish faces as they stare at chef, who holds a butcher's knife and spiked moustache.
Screenshot of The Three Stooges, from Malice in the Palace. Wikipeadia

Meet John Doe (1941)

It’s a Christmas story, with at least one scene set on Christmas eve, when the lead character is supposed to commit suicide over the state of the world. I went for this film because it’s one by Frank Carpra, but unlike his other films, this one was thin on the laughs, and is more satire than comedy. The opening was humorous, with a visual gag of journalists being fired, and the guy writing a name on the door, but soon after the jokes ran out and it degenerated into a drama. An impressive one, I must say, because of the themes it tackled. I found it a bit feminist, fronting a woman whose ideas lead to strong sales of the newspaper, and then she catches the attention of a politician, who pays her to be the brains behind a national movement that he intends to use for selfish reasons. Her editor boss says, “do me a favour, go get married and have a lot of babies. Just stay out of the newspaper business” to underscore what kind of environment she worked in.

Many of these themes still resonate today. The biggest for me was the whole point of the story. It is an anti-capitalist film, and anti-establishment, highlighting how the media influences the nation. “I don’t read newspapers, I don’t listen to the radio either. I know the the world is being shaped by the drunken bar (I can’t make out this word) and I don’t have to read it.” I paraphrase given the strong accent, I couldn’t get all the words, but it’s close to what the Colonel character says just before he describes how the system is ruled by ‘heelots’ and bemoans how it sucks everybody into it. “When you become a guy with a bank account they got you.” A lot of that dialogue could be applied to the modern world and it would make sense, which is sad, really, for nothing has changed since the 1940s. The few rich men, the powerful politicians, capitalism, still rule us according to their whims and selfish interests.

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