This stylistic device did not originate in the screwballs (although it may be argued to have reached its zenith there): it can also be found in many of the old Hollywood cycles including the gangster film, romantic comedies, and others.Screwball comedies also tend to contain ridiculous, farcical situations, such as in , The Philadelphia Story).denotes lunacy, craziness, eccentricity, ridiculousness, and erratic behavior.
While there is no authoritative list of the defining characteristics of the screwball comedy genre, films considered to be definitive of the genre usually feature farcical situations, a combination of slapstick with fast-paced repartee, and a plot involving courtship and marriage or remarriage.
The film critic Andrew Sarris has defined the screwball comedy as "a sex comedy without the sex".
For example, Alfred Hitchcock's 1935 thriller The 39 Steps features the gimmick of a young couple who find themselves handcuffed together and who eventually, almost in spite of themselves, fall in love with one another, and Woody Van Dyke's 1934 detective comedy The Thin Man portrays a witty, urbane couple who trade barbs as they solve mysteries together.
Many of the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musicals of the 1930s also feature screwball comedy plots, notably The Gay Divorcee (1934) and Top Hat (1935).
They usually include visual gags (with some slapstick), wacky characters, identity reversals (or cross-dressing), a fast-paced improbable plot, and rapid-fire, wise-cracking dialogue and one-liners reflecting sexual tensions and conflicts in the blossoming of a relationship (or the patching up of a marriage) for an attractive couple with on-going, antagonistic differences (such as in The Awful Truth).