Funny Business

From Buck Privates to The Bank Dick, 10 vintage comedies show off a studio's Universal appeal.

Conveniently, this Paramount comedy provides a sharp contrast to Universal's My Man Godfrey (Friday through Sunday at 9:35 p.m.) from 1936, which tells the opposite story: Here, the heroine (Carole Lombard) risks her Park Avenue privilege by turning a hobo (William Powell) into a butler and then falling in love with him. Despite the title, My Man Godfrey bespeaks its studio of origin by identifying with the hired help.

If, per Caddyshack, these classic comedies often pit "the snobs against the slobs," there's little doubt who prevailed. In 1975, after a long drought in the '60s when the studios strained to catch up with graduates and easy riders, Universal's Jaws turned the tide, transforming the B movie into the A movie and opening the barn door to Animal House, Smokey and the Bandit, The Jerk, and The Blues Brothers (all Universal moneymakers). Paramount followed suit in the late '70s with Saturday Night Fever, Grease, King Kong, Airplane!, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture--while, thanks to a copyright glitch, Paramount's tasteful library of '30s and '40s film culture went to the dogs. How's this for a universal sight gag? The low-rent studio with the globe as its logo currently owns the world.

"Universal Laughter" starts Wednesday at Oak Street Cinema and continues through Thursday, March 5; call 331-3134 for features and showtimes.

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