Colman Domingo
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16 Camp Classics That Keep Us Laughing

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While some films are unintentionally campy, each of these fine examples set out to go big, with broad satire and characters that often skewer the status quo. Whether they include gay characters and themes or are simply over-the-top, they hold a special place in a gay film buff’s heart.
 
Clue (1985)
The ageless murder mystery board game comes to campy life with deliciously daft performances by Eileen Brennan, Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn, Christopher Lloyd, Michael McKean, Martin Mull — and Lesley Ann Warren as Miss Scarlet.

 

The Ritz (1976)
In this gayer-than-gay sex farce, Jack Weston is on the run from a Mafia hit man and hides in what he discovers is a gay bathhouse. He’s pursued by an amorous chubby chaser and an ambitious, untalented singer named Googie Gomez, played by the incomparable Rita Moreno. Sexual misunderstandings — and towels — fly.

 

Flash Gordon (1980)
The 1930s sci-fi comic strip gets a high-camp upgrade in this wonderfully ridiculous extravaganza that bulges with beefcake (especially from star Sam J. Jones) and overblown sets and costumes. Max von Sydow has great fun as Ming the Merciless, and the film gets extra gay points for its title song, written and performed by Queen.

 

Clueless (1995) 
Alicia Silverstone became the ’90s “it” girl as Cher, the pampered but sweet Beverly Hills teen with a knack for arranging everyone else’s love life — even as she’s oblivious about her own. This clever update of Jane Austen’s Emma informed every ditz-girl comedy that followed, including Legally Blonde and Mean Girls.

Batman: The Movie (1966)
Long before the caped crusader went dark (with Tim Burton) and darker (with Christopher Nolan), Batman was a campy TV series starring Adam West and Burt Ward. In this film version of the series, Cesar Romero’s Joker, Frank Gorshin’s Riddler, Burgess Meredith’s Penguin and Lee Meriwether’s Catwoman prove that villains don’t need to be pathological when they’re this much fun.

 

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)
Yeah, baby, yeah! Mike Myers’s groovy time-tripping secret agent from the 1960s hit audiences like a ton of psychedelic bricks in this first of three sexy, campy comedies. Myers’s inspired comic creation is a twisted spoof of the wildly popular secret agent films of the ’60s — and popularized the term “fem-bot.”

 

Barbarella (1968)
Based on a lusty French comic, this film starring an oversexed, scantilyclad Jane Fonda in outer space is a camp classic for the ages, featuring a beautifully built and winged John Phillip Law, and the villain Durand-Durand — whose name inspired that ’80s band.

 

Down With Love (2003)
This campy, candy-colored homage to Doris Day and Rock Hudson rom-coms of the 1960s stars Renée Zellweger as a feminist author and Ewan McGregor as the rakish playboy who tries to seduce her. David Hyde Pierce is a hoot in the type of prissy, proto-gay role played by Tony Randall in the original films.

The First Wives Club (1996)
The three great comic actresses of their time, Bette Midler, Diane Keaton, and Goldie Hawn, star as recently dumped middle-aged wives who concoct masterful schemes of revenge against their ex-husbands — with the help of a gay decorator and a lesbian daughter. The huge cast includes Sarah Jessica Parker, Maggie Smith, and Eileen Heckart in fine comic turns.

 

The Birdcage (1996)
Robin Williams and Nathan Lane brought gay camp and drag into the movie mainstream in director Mike Nichols’s update of the 1978 French classic La Cage aux Folles. As a drag club owner and his longtime drag diva partner, Williams and Lane are both over-the-top and compassionate as they try to pass for straight to please their prospective right-wing in-laws.

 

Young Frankenstein (1974)
Mel Brooks’s masterpiece works so well because it sticks so closely to the films it’s spoofing: Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein. Gene Wilder and Peter Boyle lead a stellar comic cast including Marty Feldman, Teri Garr, Cloris Leachman, and the fabulous Madeline Kahn (who appears in more films on this list than anyone else — for good reason).

 

In & Out (1997)
Kevin Kline is hilarious in this inspired farce about a small-town high school teacher who’s outed as gay by an Oscar-accepting former student on the eve of his wedding. Gay writer Paul Rudnick trots out every gay cliché known to man as Kline struggles to understand if he’s actually gay or not. The all-star cast includes Bob Newhart as a jittery principal, Debbie Reynolds as a wedding-obsessed mom, and Joan Cusack as the beside-herself fiancée.

The Great Race (1965)
Director Blake Edwards’s epic comedy about a New York–to–Paris automobile race stars Tony Curtis as a dashing daredevil, Natalie Wood as a feminist journalist, and Jack Lemmon in a dual role as a mustache-twirling villain and a foppish crown prince. This homage to slapstick silent comedies includes the most magnificent pie fight ever captured on film.

 

What’s Up, Doc? (1972)
Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal are both gorgeous and hilarious in this campy screwball comedy about matching suitcases, government secrets, and musicologists. Madeline Kahn made a spectacular screen debut as an uptight fiancée, and the streets of San Francisco provide a glorious backdrop for the film’s uproarious chase scene.

 

Auntie Mame (1958)
Rosalind Russell re-creates her Broadway role as the madcap, iconoclastic Auntie Mame, who’s been a favorite of gay fans ever since gay writer Patrick Dennis introduced her in his 1955 novel. Her signature catchphrase is sanitized for the film, but purists know that it’s “Life is a banquet and most poor sons-of-bitches are starving to death!”

 

Some Like It Hot (1959)
This cross-dressing sex farce (cowritten and directed by the brilliant Billy Wilder) was rightly named the Funniest Movie of All Time by the American Film Institute. Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon are broke musicians on the run from the mob who disguise themselves as “Josephine” and “Daphne” and take off with an all-girl band — with a sumptuous vocalist, played by Marilyn Monroe. Curtis disguises himself as a tycoon to woo Monroe, Lemmon’s “Daphne” is wooed by a lecherous tycoon (Joe E. Brown), and as the mob bears down on them, the complications reach sublimely comic heights. Curtis, Lemmon, and Monroe give the greatest comic performances of their careers.

 

YOUR TURN: Which of these camp classic comedies are your favorites — and which ones would you add to this list? Share them in the comments section below.

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