Film Comedy

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Film Comedy


a type of motion picture characterized by the depiction of the incongruities in life that provoke laughter in the viewer.

Depending on the tasks, the objective, and the devices used to evoke laughter, the content, the nationality of the audience, and the emotional overtone, there are a great many varieties of film comedy. Different shades of laughter, from angry and accusatory to gay, sympathetic, and cheerful, are evoked by exaggerating and emphasizing a given feature of human nature. This can be done by mixing of the dissimilar, by a lack of correspondence between end and means, by unexpected or repeated action, or by exaggeration of a given quality at the expense of others. The special properties of film (which synthesizes the devices of literature and the spatial and temporal arts) and the use of special effects make cinematic expression unusually varied and interesting.

The most popular types of film comedies are slapstick, the music and dance revue, the satiric and the romantic social comedy, the fantasy, the black comedy, the parody, and the tragicomedy.

Slapstick films draw upon the circus, the caricature, and the cartoon and are built upon lively physical action, chases, pratfalls, and fights. They were made from about 1910 to the 1920’s, most outstandingly by A. Deed and M. Linder in France and C. Chaplin, B. Keaton, and H. Lloyd in the USA. The heroes are standard comic types: the small, resourceful tramp, absentminded but prosperous fop, the poker-faced eccentric, and others who, appearing in film after film, occasionally rise to a biting satiric critique of bourgeois society.

The sound film added the musical clown to this tradition, in the USA with the Marx Brothers and, later, D. Kaye and J. Lewis. In France, actors J. Tati, Fernandel, P. Etaix, and L. de Funes achieved great subtlety and variety in their performances. In almost every country comedians have at times come to the fore to create national characters that become known worldwide: in Denmark, Pat and Patachon; in Great Britain, N. Wisdom; in Italy, Toto; in Mexico, Cantinflas; and in Poland, A. Dymsza. Comic devices are also being used by certain contemporary directors, such as R. Lester of Great Britain.

Music and dance revues, starring popular singers and dancers, such as F. Astaire and D. Durbin in the USA, M. Rökk of Austria and the Federal Republic of Germany, F. Gaal in Hungary, and M. Chevalier, are closely related to the slapstick film. They consist of a series of vaudeville-like acts linked by a simple love story.

Directors of social comedies (in bourgeois countries, drawing-room comedies as well) with romantic or satiric overtones have turned for their material to literature and the theater (in particular, to the situation comedy). Representatives of this group are the directors E. Lubitsch and F. Capra in the USA, V. de Sica, A. Sordi, and P. Germi in Italy, and J. Becker and J. le Chanois in France.

The directors R. Clair (France) and I. Popescu-Gopo (Rumania) make use of elements of the fantastic to raise political, philosophical, and moral questions in their films. The pointed antibourgeois satirical comedies of J.-A. Bardem and L. Berlanga (Spain), Z. Dudow (German Democratic Republic), and K. Hoffmann (Federal Republic of Germany) occupy an important place in comic film. Poignant irony is characteristic of the films of the British directors C. Crichton and A. Mackendrick and the actor A. Guinness.

Soviet film comedy is distinguished by its resolution of important social and moral problems, its organic blend of the satiric and the romantic, and its life-affirming elements. The comedies of the directors Ia. A. Protazanov, B. V. Barnet, N. P. Okhlopkov, and A. I. Medvedkin, with the actors I. V. IPinskii, V. P. Fogel’, V. P. Maretskaia, O. A. Zhizneva, and A. P. Ktorov, were enormously successful in the silent films of the 1920’s.

With the introduction of sound, the musical comedies of G. V. Aleksandrov (with bitingly satiric episodes), I. A. Pyr’ev (glorifying labor), A. V. Ivanovskii, and K. K. Iudin became most popular. L. P. Orlova, N. A. Kriuchkov, R. Ia. Pliatt, M. A. Ladynina, Z. A. Fedorova, and V. S. Volodin were among the most famous actors of the period.

Ukrainian, Georgian, and Armenian directors, whose work is closely tied to their national theatrical and literary traditions, have made a great contribution to the development of film comedy. Since the late 1950’s, the directors E. A. Riazanov, L. I. Gaidai, and G. N. Daneliia and the comic actors Iu. V. Nikulin, E. P. Leonov, and A. D. Papanov have become prominent in film comedy.

Comic elements are also found as organic components of other film genres, such as the historical epic, the historical drama, and the detective adventure. This trend is especially popular with contemporary film directors, who are combining the elements of a variety of genres in a search for new cinematic forms.


Arnol’di, E. M. Komicheskoe ν kino. Moscow-Leningrad, 1929.
Iurenev, R. N. Sovetskaia kinokomediia. Moscow, 1964.
Iurenev, R. N. Smeshnoe na ekrane. Moscow, 1964.
Komiki mirovogo ekrana. Moscow, 1966.
Durgnat, R. The crazy mirror. London [1969].


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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