What Is Screwball? What Is It Not?

The term "screwball comedy" gets applied rather loosely, a lot of movies have screwball elements, but here's my list of the true pillars of the genre, in order of proto-typicality.
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1.
Libeled Lady (1936)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  
A newspaper man, his ignored fiance, and his former employee a down on his luck reporter hatch an elaborate scheme to turn a false news story into the truth, to stop a high-society woman from suing for libel. (98 mins.)
Director: Jack Conway
“ The ultimate, in both high and low. This is the ultimate screwball comedy because whatever elements aren't embodied by the one pairing are covered by the other. Powell and Loy are sophisticated, rich, clever, and gorgeously antagonistic in the beginning, with real chemistry that melds them convincingly together in the end. Tracy and Harlow are the seedier, more belligerent example--equally at each other's throats, and yet they can't seem to live without each other. Both stories, the getting together, and the fighting together, are classic screwball-type stories, and the fact that this film has both makes it single best example if you're needing an introduction to the genre. ” - ForAuldLangSyne
 
2.
Bringing Up Baby (1938)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
While trying to secure a $1 million donation for his museum, a befuddled paleontologist is pursued by a flighty and often irritating heiress and her pet leopard, Baby. (102 mins.)
Director: Howard Hawks
“ Many comedies often cited as screwball (like It Happened One Night) disqualify themselves, in my opinion, because they're too real. This one, if anything, isn't real enough. Fortunately with screwball comedies, there isn't really any such thing as too unreal. So this makes the grade as a screwball comedy, but not as a great movie. ” - ForAuldLangSyne
 
3.
Topper (1937)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  
A fun-loving couple, finding that they died and are now ghosts, decide to shake up the stuffy lifestyle of a friend of theirs. (97 mins.)
“ Cary Grant and Constance Bennett. This one is really not proto-typical as a screwball comedy, because the main dynamism isn't between the two people in love, it's a fun sort of triangle with a really hilarious Roland Young playing the title role, but I consider it a pillar of the genre nevertheless because it is *so* screwy and *so* ballsy and has all the trappings (gorgeous outfits, art deco interiors, etc...). ” - ForAuldLangSyne
 
4.
The Awful Truth (1937)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  
Unfounded suspicions lead a married couple to begin divorce proceedings, whereupon they start undermining each other's attempts to find new romance. (91 mins.)
Director: Leo McCarey
“ Very proto-typical, definitely the right balance of elements, the perfect central story, and mostly the right tone. If anything, it's too prototypical. Or maybe I just don't like it enough to give it due credit. I don't know why, but this one just doesn't quite tingle with me. ” - ForAuldLangSyne
 
5.
Private Lives (1931)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.9/10 X  
Divorced couple unexpectedly meet each other during their honeymoon and rekindle their love. (84 mins.)
Director: Sidney Franklin
 
6.
Nothing Sacred (1937)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  
An eccentric woman learns she is not dying of radium poisoning as earlier assumed, but when she meets a reporter looking for a story, she feigns sickness again for her own profit. (77 mins.)
 
7.
Easy Living (1937)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
During the Great Depression, a wealthy banker throws away his wife's expensive fur coat; it lands on the head of a stenographer, leading to everyone assuming she is his mistress and has access to his millions. (88 mins.)
Director: Mitchell Leisen
“ A great comedy of errors, with plenty of noisy, colorful supporting players and a fair amount of social commentary blended in. ” - ForAuldLangSyne
 
8.
The Public Menace (1935)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.7/10 X  
Non-citizen Arthur marries reporter Murphy for a bogus gangster's confession. A divorce is needed, and Murphy is fired. The gangster wants her to be his girlfriend, the police are outside, and only one who can save her is Murphy. (72 mins.)
Director: Erle C. Kenton
 
9.
Midnight (1939)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  
A chorus girl stranded in Paris is set up by a millionaire to break up his wife's affair with another man. (94 mins.)
Director: Mitchell Leisen
“ A prime example of the European subspecies of screwball. Not that it's actually European, but it's set in Paris, stars two foreign-born actors (Colbert and Lederer) and was written by Billy Wilder, who was very much a European. ” - ForAuldLangSyne
 
10.
My Man Godfrey (1936)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
A scatterbrained socialite hires a vagrant as a family butler...but there's more to Godfrey than meets the eye. (94 mins.)
Director: Gregory La Cava
 
11.
Wedding Present (1936)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.4/10 X  
When Charlie Mason is promoted from irresponsible reporter to hard-nosed city editor, it costs him his girlfriend, ace reporter Rusty Fleming. After he hears she's engaged to another, he quits and tries to win her back. (81 mins.)
Director: Richard Wallace
 
12.
Trouble in Paradise (1932)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  
A gentleman thief and a lady pickpocket join forces to con a beautiful perfume company owner. Romantic entanglements and jealousies confuse the scheme. (83 mins.)
Director: Ernst Lubitsch
“ This film describes screwball, but screwball doesn't entirely explain this film. It counts, but it's Lubitsch first, screwball second. ” - ForAuldLangSyne
 
13.
Bombshell (1933)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  
Sexpot film star Lola Burns seeks a new image and tries marrying a marquis, adopting a baby -- all sorts of schemes which go awry. (96 mins.)
“ A screwball comedy for sure, although not a perfect one. A little too much ball, not enough screw. ” - ForAuldLangSyne
 
14.
Bluebeard's Eighth Wife (1938)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  
After learning her multi-millionaire fianc has already been married and divorced seven times, the daughter of a penniless marquis decides to tame him. (85 mins.)
Director: Ernst Lubitsch
 
15.
The Palm Beach Story (1942)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  
An inventor needs cash to develop his big idea. His wife, who loves him, decides to raise it for him by divorcing him and marrying a millionaire. (88 mins.)
Director: Preston Sturges
“ Had this been made in 1937, it might have been THE definition of the genre, but it came a little late, and Joel McCrea is a little too nice. Nice guys are okay in screwball comedies, so long as the girl has plenty of balls, and Claudette usually does. So this one makes the grade. ” - ForAuldLangSyne
 
16.
The Lady Eve (1941)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
A trio of classy card sharps targets the socially awkward heir to brewery millions for his money, until one of them falls in love with him. (94 mins.)
Director: Preston Sturges
“ This one is so screwball it doesn't even count anymore. It doesn't just screw with the characters it screws with the audience, and that puts it on a whole other level, in my book. Maybe I'm biased, as this is my number one, all-time, totally not kidding, Favorite Movie, but I don't usually include this on my list of screwball comedies, because I don't want all the other screwball comedies to feel bad. ” - ForAuldLangSyne
 
17.
The Crystal Ball (1943)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.7/10 X  
Girl loses beauty contest, becomes a fortune teller. (81 mins.)
Director: Elliott Nugent
“ Not too smart, not too warm, with plenty of tricks and fine chemistry between Milland and Goddard, this fits the bill. ” - ForAuldLangSyne