Romantic comedies of the 1920s | five must-see films

My Best Girl
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The 1920s wasn’t short of romantic cinema – and here are five vintage films well worth seeking out from the era.

Though Valentine’s Day has passed, there’s never a bad time to get loved up and to enjoy movies with a dash of romance in them. Or, if you are anything like me, you enjoy movies with a large dollop of cynicism, as bitter about romance as lemons, and harsh and cruel like love is…

Okay, that’s not true, I am a bit of a sucker for a good romantic comedy.

In previous years writing on this site, I have spoken about Pre-Code romantic films and also some delightful Pre-Code musicals. This time, I’m going back earlier to some hilarious and sweet silent films to get you into the romantic mood…

Daddies (1924)
Dir. William A. Seiter

In this short but very sweet comedy, a group of men are part of a confirmed bachelor group and have sworn off dating, or else pay a handsome fee. However, when one of the men unwillingly inherits a child due to the death of a friend, the others decide that they too will adopt war orphans as a small jest. The hijinks ensure that their bachelor life is also altered.

Harry Myers is terrific as the lead here and there are also some funny moments throughout, my favourite being the man who adopts one child, and winds up with three triplets.

Think of Three Men And A Baby, but with more men, and more babies, and that’s the type of film you have here. 

The Merry Widow (1925)
Dir Erich von Stroheim

There are many things I would do in this life to go back in time and have John Gilbert glower intently at me. What an absolutely unabashed and charming leading man. There is not a single second in The Merry Widow where you are not crumbling into some sort of paste because of the charisma of Gilbert.

Based on Franz Lehar’s operetta, The Merry Widow revolves around Prince Danilo who falls in love with dancer Sally O’Hara. However, he is forbidden from pursuing the relationship. Sally marries another but when she is widowed suddenly, Danilo must try his best to win her back.

Gilbert stars alongside Mae Murray in this absolutely immense and intensely spirited adaptation. With such incredible chemistry between our leads, this is a hoot from start to finish.

Kiki (1926)
Dir Clarence Brown

Silent film star Norma Talmadge stars in this excellent and witty comedy as the titular character Kiki. She is a poor young woman, selling newspapers in Paris until she gets a job at a local theatre. Not very talented, Kiki catches falls in love with the revue’s manager. Determined, she goes to great and farcical lengths to get her man.

Talmadge is terrific in this little ditty of a film. It is a bit of a pantomime, brilliantly slapdash and slapstick but Talmadge is an absolute treat. Plus, there is a young, dashing, and delightful Ronald Colman stars as the heartthrob revue’s manager who Kiki has her eye on.

What’s more George K Arthur’s valet Adolphe is a treasure. An absolutely embittered man who tries his best to usurp Kiki’s plans. A fantastic scene-stealing character, especially when he rearranges a catatonic sleeping Kiki hilariously.

My Best Girl (1927)
Dir. Sam Taylor

Mary Pickford is one of the best silent film stars of all time and My Best Girl is a brilliant showcase of all her wit, talent, and absolutely big-screen charm.

The film revolves around Joe Merrill – the son of a millionaire whose father owns a chain of shops across the country. Joe takes on a job at one of these stores, under the guise of another man, and soon falls for Maggie who works in the stockroom. This proves to be a problem as Joe’s father has already betrothed him to Millicent, a high-society girl.

This is a rather lovely belter of a romantic comedy which, by the way, showcases the brilliant highs of falling in love. In more ways than one, see Pickford met and fell in love with her future husband Charles “Buddy” Rogers who also plays Joe Merrill – they were together until Pickford died in 1979! 

My Best Girl will have you kicking, swooning, and believing in romance!

The Cardboard Lover (1928)
Dir. Robert Z. Leonard

Adapted for the screen from a 1926 French play, and starring the incredible Marion Davies, The Cardboard Lover is a wonderful little screwball romcom.

The film sees Davies as Sally, a young light-headed American who is hired by a tennis champ to help him stop falling for his cheating and lying fiancé. Of course, Sally quickly falls in love with him and soon the tennis champ is trying to worm out of the whole deal.

There are some not-so-great copies floating around so one hopes this will get a lovely restoration soon because it is absolutely great fun. It helps that Davies is a superstar, you cannot take your eyes off her expressive face and well-executed comedic timing! Terrific.

Honourable Mention: A couple of months ago, I spoke about the highly enjoyable Victorian short film The Kiss In The Tunnel (1899), as part of a collective of racy movies from that era. I am adding it here because it could also be used as an early example of a romantic comedy vignette as a young couple uses the dark of a tunnel to their advantage.

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