The Funniest Movies of 1970-1980:
M*A*S*H (1970) Robert Altman’s weirdly appealing antiwar comedy that gave birth to the tamer, long-running TV series. With overlapping dialogue, odd camera angles and provocative performances by Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould, Sally Kellerman et. al.
HAROLD AND MAUDE (1971) A cult film, featuring Bud Cort as a 20-year-old and Ruth Gordon as the octogenarian with whom he falls in love. Director Hal Ashby stresses credibility as well as oddball comedy. Ace score by Cat Stevens.
AMERICAN GRAFFITI (1973) Another coming-of-age movie–with a big difference. George Lucas (Star Wars) directed, and chose a cast of newcomers with real talent, among them Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard and Harrison Ford.
SLEEPER (1973) Woody Allen wakes up in a futuristic dictatorship only to be kidnapped by Diane Keaton and her rebel cohorts. Hilarious and prescient scenes parodying politics, lifestyle, and sex abound.
HARRY AND TONTO (1974) Retired teacher (Art Carney in an Oscar-winning performance) goes cross-country with his cat, calling on his children, and former lovers, with mostly comic but sometimes poignant results. Paul Mazursky’s direction is sensitive; Ellen Burstyn and Larry Hagman are exceptional.
MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL (1975) The inventive British sketch comedians (John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Eric Idle) do battle with the Arthurian legend, complete with a Trojan Rabbit and a Holy Hand Grenade. Tradition loses. We win.
SILVER STREAK (1976) A bright parody of Alfred Hitchcock’s “train” pictures, starring Gene Wilder as a mild-mannered executive who boards the Silver Streak from L.A. to Chicago and finds himself embroiled in mystery and romance. Richard Pryor pushes the humor to a new level; Jill Clayburgh contributes the glamour, Patrick McGoohan the villainy.
CAR WASH (1976) Like L.A.’s teeming freeways, disparate lives intersect in this bubbly ensemble piece abut a white-owned car washery and the African-American and Latino crews who work there. This ’70s time capsule sports an irresistible soundtrack and appearances by some of the era’s top comic talent, including Richard Pryor, George Carlin and Franklyn Ajaye.
THE BINGO LONG TRAVELING ALL-STARS AND MOTOR KINGS (1976) The Negro Leagues just before Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color line. With James Earl Jones, Richard Pryor, Billy Dee Williams and lesser known, but just as enjoyable, performers.
THE GOODBYE GIRL (1977) Aspiring actor Richard Dreyfuss and bitter divorcee Marsha Mason are forced to share an apartment. It’s aversion at first sight. Neil Simon’s script and Herb Ross’s direction assure that there are at least two laughs per minute.
ANNIE HALL (1977) A mix of autobiography, surrealism and romance, this Woody Allen comedy was named Best Picture because of lines like: “Life is full of loneliness, misery, suffering and unhappiness–and its all over much too quickly.” Starring Allen as a Jewish stand-up comedian, and Diane Keaton as his deliciously ditsy WASP girlfriend. In a prototypical scene, a moviegoer bombinates about the meaning of Marshall McLuhan–whereupon Allen brings on the Professor himself to refute the loudmouth.
SEMI-TOUGH (1977)A satire of professional football would have been funny enough, but this film also dispatches such once-fashionable movements as est and Rolfing. Burt Reynolds and Kris Kristofferson are the players; Jill Clayburgh is the love interest; Bert Convy and Lotte Lenya are the hysterical gurus of self-improvement.
NATIONAL LAMPOON’S ANIMAL HOUSE (1978) “Boys just wanna have fun” could have been the tagline for this flick. College life in America changed overnight when this film debuted.
THE JERK (1979) Steve Martin was just one of the “Wild and Crazy Guys” of “Saturday Night Live” when he burst onto the screen in this farce about a white moron adopted by black sharecroppers. Like Forrest Gump in a later era, Martin succeeds in spite of himself, and we laugh all the way to the bank. Director Carl Reiner may not be much on nuance, but he knows how to tell a joke.
BREAKING AWAY (1979) A charming tale of youths from blue-collar families growing up in the class-conscious town-and-gown atmosphere of Bloomington, Indiana. Competitive bicycling is the lead character’s way of life, and a series of contests makes for excitement and edgy humor.
THE IN-LAWS (1979) Dentist Alan Arkin lives in a quiet world of cavities and Novocain. All that changes when the father of his future son-in-law, Peter Falk, turns out to be CIA and drags him into international espionage. Serpentine, anyone?
THE BUGS BUNNY/ROADRUNNER MOVIE (1979) Disney films got applause and Oscars, but Warner Bros. cartoons engendered nonstop laughter. Some of the very best shorts were created by Chuck Jones, as this compilation demonstrates in overplus.