The Peculiar Evolution of Leo McCarey, One of Cinema’s Most Assured Voices


One of the most celebrated Hollywood directors of the Thirties and Forties, Leo McCarey honed his aesthetic in service of silent comedians like Laurel & Hardy and Charley Chase, performers who stood before an unblinking camera and bore the entire burden of shaping and transforming audience response.

McCarey’s first unquestioned masterpiece, Ruggles of Red Gap (1935), emerged just as Hollywood was codifying the conventions of cutting and framing that gave filmmakers power to regulate the fiction via a layer of form — a power that McCarey never put much store by, remaining loyal to the silent-comedy legacy of creating form from performance.

MoMA’s “Seriously Funny: The Films of Leo McCarey” traces the peculiar evolution of one of the American cinema’s most assured voices, from his two-reeler origins to Oscar-winning comedies (1937’s The Awful Truth, 1944’s Going My Way) to a perverse late period that blended daringly dawdling rhythms, a convivial but fervent anti-Communism, and a marked lack of interest in letting a new and inhospitable Hollywood mediate his personality.

“Seriously Funny: The Films of Leo McCarey”

July 15 – July 31

Museum of Modern Art