Monday, 20 July 2009

His Girl Friday (1940)

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Random and unimportant thoughts on a well-regarded classic:

Memories of the excruciatingly bland and forced recycling job that was Switching Channels (1988) had always inhibited me in approaching this, despite my adoration for all things Howard Hawks.

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Watching the amazing pace that Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell work at in this film is a salutary experience: very few contemporary actresses who pretend to act in comedies could dare to keep pace with Russell in moments like when she chases down a fleeing witness in heels, or converses on two telephones at once, without worrying about dislodging their plastic surgery implants.

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The material, written by Charles Lederer from Ben Hecht and Charles Macarthur’s The Front Page, isn’t actually as flat-out funny as Hecht’s script for Nothing Sacred, relying on the increasingly frantic shenanigans to provoke a kind of comedic incredulity. But it’s even more awesomely cynical, portraying politicians ready to murder men for gain, incompetent sheriffs, eminently bribable officials of state, and a newspaper trade that’s a nest of scumbaggery, sufficiently exhausting for Molly Malloy (Helen Mack) to cause her to hurl herself out a window.

Anti-hero Walter Burns is conniving creep only rescued narrowly by being dedicated to the higher ideals of his profession even whilst indulging in any pretext to get what he wants. Ah but he’s a man in love, both with his profession and his ex-wife, which makes it all okay…yeah, still wouldn’t make it past the focus groups these days.

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Cary Grant, under that suit, seems to have the build of a rugby player. Ever notice?

Watching Russell’s flapping legs when running is as funny as her exercise routine with Joan Fontaine in The Women...but not quite as hot.

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2 comments:

Patrick said...

It's been years since I saw this movie, so this is no knock on anything in His Girl Friday, but just to toss out another actress who was able to spit out the lines at a fast pace in a comedy, try Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hudsucker Proxy. She also throws in an imitation of Katherine Hepburn.

Roderick Heath said...

Good point, Patrick. Leigh's a great, risk-taking actress, whose dead-in-the-water career indicates the dangers of taking risks.