Comedy has always had a bum deal from the critics. There's a strong belief that if you enjoy it, it's not Art. There is of course a hierarchy of critical respectability with American screwball comedies and Ealing somewhere near the top. Close to the bottom are British comedies of the 30s. These are often dismissed as primitive quota-quickie dross which audiences were forced to endure. The truth is somewhat different and in A Chorus of Raspberries David Sutton tries to put the record straight.
Instead of seeing these films as failures for rejecting the tight narratives of most American comedies where cause and effect are bound up with character motivation, Sutton sees the films as coming from a different tradition. Their lack of classical narrative isn't because their makers were inept, but because they weren't interested in such things. They were too busy making their audiences laugh.
As well as examining the familiar figures of British comedy such as George Formby and Will Hay, Sutton does a valuable job of unearthing forgotten comics like Leslie Fuller or Ernie Lotinga.
Sometimes Sutton carries his analysis a bit too far into the Freudian (you really don't want to know what Formby's motorcycle in No Limit symbolises!) and his general introduction to comedy theory is a bit turgid. However, he can be very perceptive particularly in the section where he examines the difference between the personas of Gracie Fields, Cicely Courtneidge and Jessie Matthews.
Many film books make you want to see again the films described, A Chorus of Raspberries makes you long to see films you've never even heard of. By examining the more disreputable side of British cinema it uncovers the roots of much that is great about British comedy today. It deserves a place on the bookshelves of anyone who is interested in either cinema or comedy.
Pub: University of Exeter Press
ISBN: 0 - 85989 - 603 - X
Price: £40 $80A Chorus of Raspberries: available at Amazon UK