Sure, humor evolves over the years, and often the comedies from one era fail to translate very well in another. But true classics have a way of retaining their ability to amuse and delight their audience, even after the passage of many decades. And such is the case for some of the best comedy movies from the 1940s, produced during the Golden Age of Hollywood and featuring some of the most famous 1940s actors and beloved actresses of the ’40s.
Below are some great comedy movies from the 1940s. If you haven’t seen them, it’s high time you get acquainted with these gems that have an important place in the history of American cinema. Or, if it’s just been years since you’ve watched them, go ahead and revisit them!
Top ’40s Comedy Films
- His Girl Friday – 1940; directed by Howard Hawks; starring Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, and Ralph Bellamy. A newspaper editor goes to great lengths to keep his ex-wife—who also happens to be his best reporter—from getting married again.
- The Philadelphia Story – 1940; directed by George Cukor; starring Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, and James Stewart. This star-studded romantic comedy recounts the story of a socialite who’s about to get remarried, but things get complicated when her ex-husband and a tabloid reporter show up.
- The Shop Around the Corner – 1940; directed by Ernst Lubitsch; starring Margaret Sullavan, James Stewart, and Frank Morgan. A pair of co-workers at a gift shop in Budapest can’t stand each other. Yet they’re also falling in love with each other as anonymous pen pals.
- Ball of Fire – 1941; directed by Howard Hawks; starring Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck, and Oskar Homolka. This screwball comedy is about the unlikely convergence of a group of professors putting together an encyclopedia and a nightclub singer who’s involved with a mob boss and who offers her own input into their endeavor.
- Sullivan’s Travels – 1941; directed by Preston Sturges; starring Joel McCrea, Veronica Lake, and Robert Warwick. This satire tells the tale of a top Hollywood director who ventures out as a hobo to learn about life and make a socially relevant film, but who ends up discovering the value of making people laugh.
- The Lady Eve – 1941; directed by Preston Sturges; starring Barbara Stanwyck, Henry Fonda, and Charles Coburn. Three con artists target a wealthy heir to a brewery fortune, but one of them ends up falling in love with him, in true romantic comedy fashion.
- To Be or Not to Be – 1942; directed by Ernst Lubitsch; starring Carole Lombard, Jack Benny, and Robert Stack. This black comedy follows a troupe of actors in Nazi-occupied Poland who use their talents to fool the occupying troops and help a Polish soldier locate a German spy.
- Arsenic and Old Lace – 1944; directed by Frank Capra; starring Cary Grant, Priscilla Lane, and Raymond Massey. A writer and drama critic gets married on Halloween and learns that his aunts are serial killers and his family is plagued by insanity in this black comedy.
- The Bishop’s Wife – 1947; directed by Henry Koster; starring Cary Grant, Loretta Young, and David Niven. In this romantic comedy, an angel helps a bishop fix his troubled marriage, build a new cathedral, and generally straighten his life out.
- Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein – 1948; directed by Charles Barton and Walter Lantz; starring Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, and Lon Chaney Jr. This comedic horror film starring one of the most famous comic duos of all time follows a couple of freight handlers as they encounter Count Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, and the Wolf Man.