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Film: Retorts and Ripostes

By Henry P. Raleigh
ART TIMES July online 2013

Retorts & Ripostes Henry P. Raleigh

When you’re a kid your skill at coming up with telling ripostes is pretty limited.  Say, to the challenge, “You’re a jerk”, there is perhaps the less than inspired, “You’re a bigger jerk.”  One’s store if devastating put-downs is quickly exhausted. Up against the diabolical, “Whatever you call me goes double for you”, leaves you with little more than, “Well, you’re still a jerk.” However had you grown up in the golden age of Hollywood film you would have known of a higher level of persiflage, an art, so to speak, of the repartee, a universe of brilliant rejoinders, japes, and sallies.  And all of these could be heard in that family of movies that came to be called “Screwball Comedies.”  Oh, to be able to whip out those crisply spoken zingers as could the actors closely associated with the genre -- Grant, Stanwyck, Lombard, Hepburn, Stewart.  Oh, to have to the gift of language and a love of the American idiom as did script writers like Ben Hecht, Preston Sturges, Robert Riskin.  No one in reality of course talked that way and as film moved to embrace naturalism, the screwball comedies, those great verbal duels between beautiful men and women, ceded to the ordinary, the mumbled, the clichéd until we seem left today with but the richness of four letter words, singly and in inventive combinations.  And kids can use them, too.

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