Movie Picks 4Great Comedies to Rent on Video and DVD

Sullivan’s Travels (1942)

Another comedy that deserves to be taken seriously, Sullivan’s Travels concerns an under-achieving Hollywood director who sets out to make a serious movie on the struggles of poor people and winds up on a chain-gang. Legendary director Preston Sturges’ target for this uproarious satire is pretentious Hollywood (reason enough to see the film). You know you’re in for a good ride right at the outset. Two men are fighting in the boxcar of a speeding train, struggling to kill each other. The train goes over a bridge and the one man shoots the other, who in turn begins strangling the gunman. The two plummet into the water below, and a title comes up which reads: “The End.” We then see that Sullivan has been screening his new movie for the studio big-shots, and immediately launches into a lame defense of his film’s symbolism and social significance. Sturges’ movie contains two valuable messages: 1) laughter has universal value; and 2) Hollywood types should stick to making films and avoid social commentary. Ironically, it disproves its own second thesis by all-too effectively conveying the awfulness and hopelessness of human poverty. (Un-rated — adults)

The Quiet Man (1952)

Perhaps my favorite movie of all time, this John Ford-John Wayne classic is the consummate celebration of perfectly accurate Irish stereotypes. Everything from the Irish people’s legendary thirst to their obsession with money to their fondness for a good fistfight is portrayed in stunning detail and good humor (don’t challenge me on this — I know what I’m talking about). But The Quiet Man is more than just a great Paddy’s Day film showcasing the brilliance of all things Irish and Irish-American. Its universal appeal lies in the moving, old-fashioned romance between Wayne and co-star Maureen O’Hara, who forces her retired boxer husband to face his demons and confront her outrageously belligerent brother over the question of her dowry. Victor McLaglen is unforgettable as the brother, “Red” Will Danaher, self-proclaimed “best man in Inisfree” who stands uncowed and unmoving, drink-in-hand, between Wayne and his dream of a wife, children and cottage in the Irish countryside. (Un-rated — adults and children)

Duck Soup (1933)

This comic masterpiece about politics and warfare is widely considered to be the Marx Brothers’ finest film. It is an anarchic tale so filled with corny gags delivered at such breakneck speed that it’s difficult during some parts to catch your breath from laughing so hard. At the same time, it is a razor-sharp satire on fascist dictatorships that Mussolini actually banned in Italy. Apparently he recognized too much of himself in Groucho Marx’s Rufus T. Firefly, premier of Fredonia, who declares war on neighboring Sylvania because someone calls him an “upstart.” This movie is an all-out assault on international diplomacy, war, political machines, patriotism and just about everything else. And just when you think you’ve seen it all — including Groucho as field general and stock footage of the two countries meeting on the battlefield — the anti-war tour de force breaks out into a full-scale Busby Berkeley-style musical. (Un-rated — adults and adolescents)

Dr. Strangelove

In this consummate anti-war film, an insane general starts a process that is sure to lead to global thermonuclear destruction unless a war room of lunatic generals and politicians can stop it. What makes this film superior to other political thrillers of its kind is the way in which the humor supports rather than detracts from the movie’s political commentary. For example, the politicians are portrayed as a bunch of whining, sniveling socialites who utter such gems as “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here, this is a War Room!” The movie offers priceless observations about human nature and society, and does so in an absurdly fun way. Peter Sellers is brilliant in three roles: President of the United States Muffley, British Capt. Lionel Mandrake, and Strangelove himself, the demented former Nazi scientist who holds the key to the Doomsday Machine, set to wipe out the human race if the U.S. is hit by a first strike. One wonders how Sellers and his fellow cast members were ever able to film the final scene in which Strangelove delivers his plan to preserve the superior elements of humanity. (Rated G — adults and adolescents)

Home Alone (1990)

This is the first of its kind — a family comedy without the family. Off on a Christmas vacation in Paris, a large Chicago family accidentally leaves behind their timid eight year-old who quickly becomes an expert at defending their home against a persistent pair of hapless burglars. Young Macaulay Culkin steals the show, but Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern are terrific as the pratfalling bad guys. Very engaging, fast-paced comedy that delivers a lot of laughs and a heartwarming family message. (Rated G — children and families)

Here are some suggestions to help you reduce the amount of time you spend wandering the aisles of your local video store. Following are five film comedies – some for children, some for adults – that are well worth your time and attention. I believe these are among the very best films ever made in terms of artistic integrity, entertainment quality and moral acceptability.

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage