The screwball comedy sure has changed over the past eighty years. There is quite a difference between 1935’s If You Could Only Cook and What’s Up Doc? (1972) or Leatherheads (2008). At just little over an hour, you have to know this was one of Columbia’This said, it is not difficult to get into and enjoy If You Could Only Cook, one of the four Columbia movies included on the Volume 1 Icons of Screwball Comedy DVD set. Classic comedy fans will appreciate the crisp quality of the print on this DVD
Jean Arthur plays Joan, a young lady down on her luck at a time when America is still dealing with the Great Depression. She meets a man on a park bench and convinces him to pretend being married so they can get jobs as cook and butler for a rich man named Rossini (Leo Carillo). The man she meets happens to be somewhat depressed automobile millionaire James Buchanan who goes along with the idea to change his spirits. Lionel Stander (Max in Hart to Hart) plays Rossini’s sidekick.
Buchanan is engaged to be married, Joan pretends she once knew Buchanan. Buchanan has a new car design his company will not produce, Joan goes behind her fake husband’s back to show his designs to another car company and gets into trouble. There is also the problem of what exactly the rich man (Carillo) does for a living.
For a modern audience it is hard to see what makes If You Could Only Cook a screwball comedy. The basics of the genre are there: marriage problems, funny situations, and witty dialogue. What is missing is slapstick.
This comedy takes a while to really get going and only gets really funny in the very rushed last twenty minutes or so when all the deceptions get uncovered. Still, this is a fun enough movie that entertains. It has also aged somewhat better than other movies of this genre and this period.
The other movies on Volume 1 of Icons of Screwball Comedy are My Sister Eileen with Rosalind Russell, Too Many Husbands with Jean Arthur and Fred McMurray, and She Wouldn’t Say Yes, also with Rosalind Russell. A Three Stooges short, Ain’t Love Cuckoo is also included.
Other Screwball Comedy titles:
A Fish Called Wanda (classic with Jamie Lee Curtis)
My Man Godfrey (classic has not aged that well)