Thursday, October 11, 2012
CANON OF FILM: "HIS GIRL FRIDAY"
HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940)
Director: Howard Hawks
Screenplay: Charles Lederer based on the play “The Front Page” by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur
I’ve seen, “His Girl Friday,” I don’t know, nine or ten, times, maybe more over the years. And I’ll be honest, I have absolutely no idea what the film is about, what the plot is, what the story is. Howard Hawks was never one who particularly paid attention to whether or not a film made any logical sense. In his great film “The Big Sleep,” is notorious for having a plot with many loopholes, like a man killing two people after he jumped off a bridge. If anything, I’ve actually criticized him at times being too unrealistic with story, like with “Ball of Fire,” where Gary Cooper and seven old men live in a college, writing an encyclopedia and doing apparently everything else together, as they learn about slang from a local nightclub singer/mobster’s girlfriend in Barbara Stanwyck. Although he’s known for a few dramas, “Red River,” is considered one of the best Westerns of all-time, he usually made comedies like this one, and usually screwball comedies. He was once quoted as saying, “When all else fails, make a drama,” always looking for the comedic aspects in even the most serious of films. “…Only Angels Have Wings” is a good example, about pilots running delivery routes through the Central American jungle. Hawks was also…, well let me put it this way, if George Cukor is a “Woman’s Director,” Hawks, is a “Man’s Director.” A Man’s Man director to be precise. He was often known to ride dirt bikes, skydive, and race cars all over and around Hollywood and the country, and most of his films are filled with these kinds of actions. What does this have to do with “His Girl Friday,”? Not much actually. This movie based on a play and an earlier film called “The Front Page,” (it’s actually been remade two other times as well) is about two newspaper reporters Walter and Hildy (Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell) as they battle, battle wits, connive, screw over, and help each other out as they do whatever means necessary to get the next big story, often trying to create the next big story, while somewhere along the way or at the end, falling back into love. There’s a subplot about their past marriage, and her current fiancé and something else about City Hall, all eventually coming together in typical screwball comedy ways. Having seen the movie a few times, I’d be amazed if there was anything at all that was the least bit accurate about the newspaper industry in the film. The movie’s actually more famous for its dialogue, and not just the wittiness of it, and it is incredibly witty, but also because of the speed of it. This is a 180-page script that made this ninety-minute movie, and to do that, all the actors not only had to learn they’re lines to the letter, they had to overlap dialogue with the other actors constantly, and then speak their dialogue twice as fast as normal. This movie might seem pale in comparison to people who are used to watching the fast-paced dialogue of some modern-day TV shows like “The West Wing,” and “Gilmore Girls,” but at the time, this was unbelievably unusual. Today, “His Girl Friday,” gets severely overlooked. I’ve seen special edition DVDs of the film, but I’ve also seen it at the dollar store where it would be paired with another lesser Cary Grant film that’s not particularly memorable. I’ve caught it twice this week in the middle of the night, on one of the classic TV channels we get on digital. I watch it ‘cause it’s funny as hell, and also because of the manic dialogue of the movie, I catch many funny lines that I hadn’t caught before, or maybe didn’t remember. Oddly enough, this might have been a film better suited to Cukor, with witty dialogue and comedy that could’ve come out of “The Philadelphia Story,” but he might not have known as Hawks did to force the actors to speed to up, and drive the movie kinetically towards its nonsensical climaxes. I think Hawks is more hit-and-miss than some critics and analysts, but I’ll say this, even his weaker efforts are still entertaining, the man certainly knew how to make great films, and maybe more importantly, he made great entertainment. “His Girl Friday,” in many ways, represents a true Howard Hawks film. Wall-to-wall comedy done with lightning-fast speed, just because he can.