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Best Comedies of the 1940s: Top 21 Comedy Films of the Flying Forties

Best Comedies of the 1940s: Top 21 Comedy Films of the Flying Forties

Welcome to the Hilarious World of the 1940s

So you are one of those keen comedy lovers, who like to travel back in time to experience the humor of earlier cinematic eras. So are we!

The 1940s may be a thing of the distant past, but thanks to an enthralling, good old invention called Film, it will never be really gone.

Whenever you miss the flying forties and feel like laughing your heart out, all you have to do, is watching one (or more) of its best comedies.

But which ones should you watch?
Well, if that’s the very question lurking in your mind right now, then you came to the right place. We’re just about to present 21 of the greatest comedy films of the 1940s. But before that, here’s a little teaser.

Teaser Ten List of the 1940s Comedies

The Teaser Ten is a truncated version of the full list, pitching the very best entries of the collection. Its a teaser, so you have to click the poster (or hover over it) to find out the title of each movie.

The Great Dictator (1940), Charlie Chaplin, Best 1940s comedy films Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), Frank Capra, Cary Grant, Best 1940s comedy movies The Philadelphia Story (1940), George Cukor, Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart, Best 1940s comedies His Girl Friday (1940), Howard Hawks, Cary Grant, Best comedy movies of the 1940s Miracle on 34th Street (1947), Best comedy films of the 1940s Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), Alec Guinness, Best comedies of the 1940s To Be or Not to Be (1942), Ernst Lubitsch, Best 1940s comedy films The Shop Around the Corner (1940), Ernst Lubitsch, James Stewart, Best 1940s comedy movies Sullivan’s Travels (1941), Preston Sturges, Best 1940s comedies Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), Judy Garland, Best comedy movies of the 1940s

If you’re not a first timer, then you can probably guess most of these movies by their poster and you may want to dive a bit deeper to explore others comedy gems too. That’s exactly what we’re about to do, so keep on reading!

This collection is an episode of FrameTrek’s Best Comedies of All Time. A mega-journey dedicated to identify the funniest films of each cinematic era, chronologically. It starts with the Comedies of the Silent Era and wanders ahead decade-by-decade, all the way to our ever moving present.


So what was on-screen humor like in the 1940s?

The comedies created in the 1940s were a diverse collection of films, encompassing social commentary and so much more.

Although stalwarts of the comedic industry such as Charlie Chaplin continued ahead with some of the most meaningful work in the ’40s, a fresh batch of new faces began to emerge too. 

Right from a decade earlier, screwball comedies continued to increase all throughout the decade, but musical comedies, dramatic comedies and even black comedies became popular as well.

The advent of WWII and the lateral involvement of the United States in it also shaped the fabric and design of comedies in the 1940s.

During these times, people were desperate for good entertainment and Hollywood played a significant role in this, as it relieved people of the stress and burden of war and gave them an opportunity to enjoy the escapist balm of comedies and soulful musicals.

This gave people a ray of hope and happiness.

So yeah, there’s plenty to talk about when it comes to the comedies of the 1940s, but this article concentrates on the best 21 of them, so let’s cut to the chase, shall we?

After all, the finest way to explore the on-screen humor of an era is, is through watching its funniest films as a marathon.

Ready? Buckle up then, and let the best comedies of the 1940s make you laugh out loud!

See FrameTrek's definition of 'Best' and the story behind this List (click to expand) ↴

How to define ‘Best’?

That’s a pretty good question, since ‘Best’ is relative. A movie can be considered being among the best for multiple reasons, such as: Critical Acclaim, Audience Feedback, Box Office Performance, Awards and Nominations, Iconic Status, Popularity, Watchability, and even Personal Preference, or for being part of a famous list such as the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die or Roger Ebert’s The Great Movies list – or because that particular movie defined its era.

So how did we pick the Top 21 Comedies of the 1940s?

Well, it wasn’t simple, and it wasn’t easy! While composing the Best Comedy Films of the 1940s list, we tried to consider all of the factors mentioned in the ‘How to define Best’ paragraph, and then some.

We believe that the movies that made the cut should not compete with one another any further, so we will just present them in the order they were released in.



Revealing the Top 21 Comedies of the 1940s

Chronologically


The Great Dictator (1940)

The Great Dictator (1940), Charlie Chaplin, Best comedy movies of the 1940s
Where to Watch?   More info

Political satire comedy-drama film written, directed, produced, scored by, and starring Charlie Chaplin.

Story: Dictator Adenoid Hynkel tries to expand his empire while a poor Jewish barber tries to avoid persecution from Hynkel’s regime. (IMDB)

Charlie Chaplin demonstrates that his comedic voice is undiminished by dialogue in this rousing satire of tyranny, which may be more distinguished by its uplifting humanism than its gags.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is The Great Dictator among the best comedy films of the 1940s?
Included among the American Film Institute’s list of the Top 100 Funniest American Movies, and also part of Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list.
✓ One of the most popular movies of the 1940s Cinema and an influential, timeless classic.
✓ Selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.


The Philadelphia Story (1940)

The Philadelphia Story (1940), George Cukor, Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart, Best comedies of the 1940s
Where to Watch?   More info

Romantic comedy film directed by George Cukor, starring Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, and James Stewart.

Story: When a rich woman’s ex-husband and a tabloid-type reporter turn up just before her planned remarriage, she begins to learn the truth about herself. (IMDB)

Offering a wonderfully witty script, spotless direction from George Cukor, and typically excellent lead performances, The Philadelphia Story is an unqualified classic.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is The Philadelphia Story among the top comedy movies of the 1940s?
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.
✓ Selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
✓ It is considered one of the best examples of a comedy of remarriage.


His Girl Friday (1940)

His Girl Friday (1940), Howard Hawks, Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, Top comedy films of the 1940s
Where to Watch?   More info

Screwball comedy drama romance film directed by Howard Hawks, starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell.

Story: A newspaper editor uses every trick in the book to keep his ace reporter ex-wife from remarrying. (IMDB)

Anchored by stellar performances from Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, His Girl Friday is possibly the definitive screwball romantic comedy.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is His Girl Friday among the top comedies of the 1940s?
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.
✓ Selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
✓ Noted for its surprises, comedy, and rapid, overlapping dialogue.


The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

The Shop Around the Corner (1940), Ernst Lubitsch, James Stewart, Greatest comedy movies of the 1940s
Where to Watch?   More info

Romantic comedy film produced and directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starring James Stewart.

Story: Two employees at a gift shop can barely stand each other, without realizing that they are falling in love through the post as each other’s anonymous pen pal. (IMDB)

Deftly directed by Ernst Lubitsch from a smart, funny script by Samson Raphaelson, The Shop Around the Corner is a romantic comedy in the finest sense of the term.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is The Shop Around the Corner among the greatest comedy films of the 1940s?
✓ Selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
✓ Ranked #28 on AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Passions, and is listed in Time’s All-Time 100 Movies.



Sullivan’s Travels (1941)

Sullivan’s Travels (1941), Preston Sturges, Greatest comedies of the 1940s
Where to Watch?   More info

Dramatic comedy film written and directed by Preston Sturges.

Story: A Hollywood director, John L Sullivan, sets out to experience life as a poor, homeless person in order to gain relevant life experience for his next movie. (IMDB)

Why is Sullivan’s Travels among the most popular comedy movies of the 1940s?
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.
✓ Selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
✓ Over time, the film’s reputation has improved tremendously. It is now considered a true classic, one of the finest movies about movies ever made, and a masterpiece.


The Lady Eve (1941)

The Lady Eve (1941), Preston Sturges,  Barbara Stanwyck, Henry Fonda, Most popular comedy films of the 1940s
Where to Watch?   More info

Screwball comedy film written and directed by Preston Sturges, starring Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda.

Story: A trio of classy card sharks targets the socially awkward heir to brewery millions for his money, until one of them falls in love with him. (IMDB)

A career highlight for Preston Sturges, The Lady Eve benefits from Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda’s sparkling chemistry, and from a script that has inspired countless battle-of-the-sexes comedies.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is The Lady Eve among the most popular comedies of the 1940s?
✓ Featured in Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list.
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.
✓ Selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.


Meet John Doe (1941)

Meet John Doe (1941), Frank Capra, Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck, Best 1940s comedy films
Where to Watch?   More info

Comedy-drama film directed and produced by Frank Capra, starring Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck.

Story: A man needing money agrees to impersonate a non-existent person who said he’d be committing suicide as a protest, and a political movement begins. (IMDB)

Why is Meet John Doe among the best 1940s comedy movies?
✓ It became a box-office hit upon release, and now its considered a classic.
✓ Included in AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Cheers.


Ball of Fire (1941)

Ball of Fire (1941), Howard Hawks, Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck, Best 1940s comedies
Where to Watch?   More info

Screwball comedy film directed by Howard Hawks and starring Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck.

Story: A group of professors working on a new encyclopedia encounter a mouthy nightclub singer who is wanted by the police to help bring down her mob boss lover. (IMDB)

A splendidly funny twist on the story of Snow White, Ball of Fire boasts a pair of perfect leads in Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is Ball of Fire among the best comedy movies of the 1940s?
✓ Selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
✓ The film was a big hit at the box office upon release, and today it is considered a true classic.
✓ Part of AFI’s 100 Years…100 Laughs collection.



To Be or Not to Be (1942)

To Be or Not to Be (1942), Ernst Lubitsch, Best comedy films of the 1940s
Where to Watch?   More info

Black comedy war film directed by Ernst Lubitsch.

Story: During the Nazi occupation of Poland, an acting troupe becomes embroiled in a Polish soldier’s efforts to track down a German spy. (IMDB)

A complex and timely satire with as much darkness as slapstick, Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be or Not To Be delicately balances humor and ethics.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is To Be or Not to Be among the best comedies of the 1940s?
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.
✓ Selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
✓ Widely recognized and praised as an influential comedy classic.


Holiday Inn (1942)

Holiday Inn (1942), Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Best 1940s comedy films
Where to Watch?   More info

Musical comedy film starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire.

Story: Lovely Linda Mason has crooner Jim Hardy head over heels, but suave stepper Ted Hanover wants her for his new dance partner after femme fatale Lila Dixon gives him the brush. Jim’s supper club, Holiday Inn, is the setting for the chase by Hanover and manager Danny Reed. The music’s the thing. (IMDB)

With the combined might of Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, and Irving Berlin working in its favor, Holiday Inn is a seasonal classic — not least because it introduced “White Christmas” to the world.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is Holiday Inn among the best 1940s comedy movies?
✓ Received an Academy Award for Best Original Song, as well as Academy Award nominations for Best Score and Best Original Story.
✓ A completely satisfying musical filled with crisp comedy, fetching music, snappy dance routines, first-rate acting, smart story touches, and lavish and beautiful settings.


The Palm Beach Story (1942)

The Palm Beach Story (1942), Preston Sturges, Claudette Colbert, Best 1940s comedies
Where to Watch?   More info

Romantic screwball comedy film written and directed by Preston Sturges and starring Claudette Colbert.

Story: An inventor needs cash to develop his big idea. His wife, who loves him, decides to raise it for him by divorcing him and marrying a millionaire. (IMDB)

Why is The Palm Beach Story among the best comedy movies of the 1940s?
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.
✓ The American Film Institute included the film in AFI’s 100 Years…100 Laughs.


Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), Frank Capra, Cary Grant, Best comedy films of the 1940s
Where to Watch?   More info

Black comedy film directed by Frank Capra and starring Cary Grant.

Story: A drama critic learns on his wedding day that his beloved maiden aunts are homicidal maniacs, and that insanity runs in his family. (IMDB)

Why is Arsenic and Old Lace among the best comedies of the 1940s?
✓ Included among the American Film Institute’s list of the Top 100 Funniest American Movies.
✓ The film received overwhelmingly positive reviews from audiences and critics, who praised its spirit, humor and Capra’s direction.



Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), Judy Garland, Top comedy movies of the 1940s
Where to Watch?   More info

Technicolor musical comedy film starring Judy Garland.

Story: In the year leading up to the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, the four Smith daughters learn lessons of life and love, even as they prepare for a reluctant move to New York. (IMDB)

A disarmingly sweet musical led by outstanding performances from Judy Garland and Margaret O’Brien, Meet Me in St. Louis offers a holiday treat for all ages.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is Meet Me in St. Louis among the top comedy films of the 1940s?
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.
✓ Selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
✓ It was a major success with both critics and audiences upon release, and today its considered a true classic.


Going My Way (1944)

Going My Way (1944), Bing Crosby, Top comedies of the 1940s
Where to Watch?   More info

Musical comedy-drama film starring Bing Crosby.

Story: Father Charles O’Mailey, a young priest at a financially failing Church in a tough neighborhood, gains support and inspires his superior. (IMDB)

Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald are eminently likable, and film is pleasantly sentimental, but Going My Way suffers from a surplus of sweetness.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is Going My Way among the greatest comedy movies of the 1940s?
✓ Winner of Oscar’s Best Picture of the Year Academy Award.
✓ Selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
✓ It was the highest-grossing picture of 1944, and was nominated for ten Academy Awards, winning seven, including Oscar’s Best Picture.


Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Miracle on 34th Street (1947), George Seaton, Greatest comedy films of the 1940s
Where to Watch?   More info

Christmas comedy-drama film written and directed by George Seaton.

Story: When a nice old man who claims to be Santa Claus is institutionalized as insane, a young lawyer decides to defend him by arguing in court that he is the real thing. (IMDB)

Irrefutable proof that gentle sentimentalism can be the chief ingredient in a wonderful film, Miracle on 34th Street delivers a warm holiday message without resorting to treacle.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is Miracle on 34th Street among the greatest comedies of the 1940s?
✓ Winner of three Academy Awards and nominated for Oscar’s Best Picture of the Year.
✓ Ranked #9 on the American Film Institute’s 100 Most Inspiring Movies of All Time.
✓ Selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant”.


Monsieur Verdoux (1947)

Monsieur Verdoux (1947), Charlie Chaplin, Most popular comedy movies of the 1940s
Where to Watch?   More info

Black comedy film directed by and starring Charlie Chaplin.

Story: A suave but cynical man supports his family by marrying and murdering rich women for their money, but the job has some occupational hazards. (IMDB)

Charles Chaplin adds an undercurrent of malice to his comedic persona in Monsieur Verdoux, an unsettling satire that subverts the tramp’s image to perversely amusing effect.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is Monsieur Verdoux among the best comedy films of the 1940s?
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.
✓ Chaplin regarded the film as “the cleverest and most brilliant film of my career.”



The Bishop’s Wife (1947)

The Bishop’s Wife (1947), Cary Grant, Most popular comedy films of the 1940s
Where to Watch?   More info

Romantic fantasy comedy film starring Cary Grant.

Story: An angel in human form enters the life of a bishop in order to help him build a new cathedral and repair his fractured marriage. (IMDB)

The Bishop’s Wife succeeds thanks to the strength of winning performances from a stellar cast, which includes Cary Grant and Loretta Young.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is The Bishop’s Wife among the most popular comedies of the 1940s?
✓ Part of the American Film Institute’s list of 100 Years…100 Cheers.
✓ In Britain the film was selected for that year’s Royal Command Film Performance screening.


Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), Best 1940s comedy films
Where to Watch?   More info

Horror comedy film starring the comedy duo Bud Abbott and Lou Costello.

Story: The Wolf Man tries to warn a dimwitted porter that Dracula wants his brain for Frankenstein monster’s body. (IMDB)

A zany horror spoof that plays up and then plays into the best of Universal horror cliches.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein among the best 1940s comedy movies?
✓ Selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
✓ Reader’s Digest selected the movie as one of the top 100 funniest films of all time, and its also part of the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Funniest American Movies.


Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)

Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), Robert Hamer, Best 1940s comedies
Where to Watch?   More info

British black comedy crime film directed by Robert Hamer.

Story: A distant poor relative of the Duke of D’Ascoyne plots to inherit the title by murdering the eight other heirs who stand ahead of him in the line of succession. (IMDB)

Performed with chameleonic brio by Alec Guinness, Kind Hearts and Coronets is a triumphant farce.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is Kind Hearts and Coronets among the top comedy films of the 1940s?
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die and Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list.
✓ Part of the British Film Institute’s list of the Top 100 British films and also part of Time’s list of the top 100 films since 1923.


Adam’s Rib (1949)

Adam’s Rib (1949), George Cukor, Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Best comedy movies of the 1940s
Where to Watch?   More info

Romantic comedy-drama film directed by George Cukor, starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn.

Story: Domestic and professional tensions mount when a husband and wife work as opposing lawyers in a case involving a woman who shot her husband. (IMDB)

Matched by Garson Kanin’s witty, sophisticated screenplay, George Cukor, Spencer Tracy, and Katherine Hepburn are all in top form in the classic comedy Adam’s Rib.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is Adam’s Rib among the best comedy films of the 1940s?
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die and also part of AFI’s 100 Years…100 Laughs.
✓ Selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
✓ Well received upon its release and today it is considered a classic romantic comedy.


On the Town (1949)

On the Town (1949), Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Best comedies of the 1940s
Where to Watch?   More info

Technicolor musical comedy film starring Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra.

Story: Three sailors on a day of shore leave in New York City look for fun and romance before their twenty-four hours are up. (IMDB)

Why is On the Town among the greatest comedy movies of the 1940s?
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, also part of the American Film Institute’s list of Best Musicals.
✓ Selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.



…end of the reel…

So there you have it: The 21 Greatest Comedies of the 1940s

If you want to take a look at the movies listed above, without all that info between the titles, here’s a quick recap:

Top 21 Comedies of the 1940s
The Great Dictator 1940
The Great Dictator (1940)
The Philadelphia Story 1940
The Philadelphia Story (1940)
His Girl Friday 1940
His Girl Friday (1940)
The Shop Around the Corner 1940
The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
Sullivan’s Travels 1941
Sullivan’s Travels (1941)
The Lady Eve 1941
The Lady Eve (1941)
Meet John Doe 1941
Meet John Doe (1941)
Ball of Fire 1941
Ball of Fire (1941)
To Be or Not to Be 1942
To Be or Not to Be (1942)
Holiday Inn 1942
Holiday Inn (1942)
The Palm Beach Story 1942
The Palm Beach Story (1942)
Arsenic and Old Lace 1944
Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)
Meet Me in St. Louis 1944
Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
Going My Way 1944
Going My Way (1944)
*Part of the Collection: Bing Crosby’s Going My Way Duology
Miracle on 34th Street 1947
Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
Monsieur Verdoux 1947
Monsieur Verdoux (1947)
The Bishop’s Wife 1947
The Bishop’s Wife (1947)
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein 1948
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
*Part of the Collection: Wolfrancula Cinematic Universe

Kind Hearts and Coronets 1949
Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)
Adam’s Rib 1949
Adam’s Rib (1949)
On the Town 1949
On the Town (1949)
*Click any title for more info or for Streaming / Disc Buying options

Ready for another journey?

Explore the best comedies of other decades too!

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