The best thing about classic comedies: when you haven’t seen them for a while, you forget some of the jokes and get to laugh all over. Here’s one critic’s rundown of the top ten funniest pre-1990 comedies available on Netflix’s streaming service.
10. Seems Like Old Times (1980)
Chevy Chase and Goldie Hawn’s followup to their hit Foul Play wasn’t as well received, but Neil Simon’s screwball comedy about an accidental bank robber (Chase) trying to win back his ex (Hawn) from her D.A. husband (Charles Grodin) is as funny as it is charming. Chase, who was well on his way to perfecting his Fletch wiseguy persona, proves in one scene that a gifted comic can be funny using just his hands (in a scene in which, hidden under a bed, his character gets his fingers stepped on but can’t make a sound).
9. M*A*S*H (1970)
A box-office wonder that earned the equivalent of $437 million in today’s dollars, this countercultural breakthrough took the wisecracking buddies format to a location that had always been treated with respect bordering on reverence: war. Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould, creating the roles of Hawkeye Pierce and Trapper John, had an endearing chemistry, though Larry Linville, on the TV show that followed, made for a much funnier Frank Burns than
Robert Duvall. The zany final football game is (along with the one in The Longest Yard) one of the most memorable gridiron contests ever put on film.
8. His Girl Friday (1940)
It took a special kind of actor to make the insanely high-speed dialogue of Charles Lederer, Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur work, but Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell were two performers who carried themselves with so much intelligence that it was easy to believe this was just the way they talked. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iu13UrF3UDU
7. Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983)
This loosely connected series of sketches has lots of dead spots but it also contains some prime Python material, such as the extended scene about death visiting an upper-class dinner party, the schoolboy sex-education class that includes a demonstration by the teacher, and the arch, painfully funny war scene in which a British soldier figures a tiger must have gotten away with his leg during the night because when he woke up, “One sock too many.”
6. Trading Places (1983)
Beloved by Wall Streeters to this day for the detail with which it imagined a scheme to corner a market on the commodities-futures exchange, Eddie Murphy’s second big hit took the Prince-and-the-Pauper formula and updated it for a new generation by contrasting street smarts with the Ivy League kind, as personified by Dan Aykroyd.
5. Eddie Murphy Raw (1987)
Building on the Richard Pryor tradition of mixing frank autobiography with slyly disguised social commentary and delivering it with bawdy panache, Murphy in his prime was just as funny as Pryor ever was.
(Warning: strong language)
4. 48 HRS. (1982)
Netflix’s relationship with Paramount means this Murphy rookie outing (and Beverly Hills Cop, which didn’t make this list) is also available. It’s a gritty police procedural that would have worked fine without the comedy Murphy brought it as a con temporarily paroled to help a detective (Nick Nolte) bust open a case. In a scene in which Murphy’s Reggie Hammond rampaged through a redneck bar full of racists while pretending to be a detective, the actor announced himself as the brightest new comic star of the era.
3. Slap Shot (1977)
Back when comedies were about working men with dirt and blood under their fingernails, Paul Newman starred as a woebegone middle-aged hockey player trying to keep his team from going out of business by hiring a trio of dimwitted thugs to start fights and sell tickets.
2. Top Secret! (1984)
Having spoofed disaster movies in their biggest hit, 1980s’ Airplane! (whose Netflix run ended yesterday, July 31), David & Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams turned their sights on WW II adventure movies like The Great Escape, but the jokes were largely lost on a teen audience too young to remember such films. No matter: the trio of satirists were still at their absurd best in, for instance, a shootout scene in a French country farmhouse. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J2_tJIgfnDA
Zucker, Zucker & Abrahams, this time joined by Pat Proft, mocked 70s-80s cop television in their brief, but hilarious ABC show Police Squad!, which was retooled for a movie in which Det. Frank Drebin (master of deadpan Leslie Nielsen) tries to foil a plot to kill the queen. How funny were these guys? So funny that they could make O.J. Simpson (who played Drebin’s hard-luck partner) seem like a master of slapstick. Scenes like the one in which Drebin goes undercover as a baseball umpire while trying to find a bomb at a California Angels game made this one the funniest movie of the era.
Come back next Friday for part 2: The 10 Funniest Comedies of the Last 25 Years on Netflix Streaming…