Sunday, May 3, 2020

Anniversary Watch: Hiis Girl Friday (1940)

this poster does absolutely nothing to convey what this movie is about

Watched:  04/28/2020
Format:  Criterion BluRay
Viewing:  Unknown - fourth or fifth?
Decade:  1940's
Director:  Howard Hawks

First - I'm adding the director of a film to my list of stats at the top not because I particularly adhere to the auteur theory of cinema (we can talk more about that in depth sometime), but because it's a somewhat interesting stat, and easier to decipher than who produced a film.  You can look up writers on your own.  I'll retroactively figure it out for all the movies I watched in 2020, but this is at least my second Howard Hawks movie this year, and I thought it would be interesting to spot trends in January 2021 when I do my numbers round-up.

If I am aware there was more than one director, I will list both, the credited director listed first.

This is one of the most famous movies in the world, and has that reputation for a reason.  The name of the film has become a common catch-phrase, used now where it's source reference, "His Man Friday" from Robinson Crusoe, is more or less shelved. 

Starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, His Girl Friday (1940) more or less laid  *the* blueprint for a certain kind of quick patter in the newsroom you see in TV and movies, from The Hudsucker Proxy to walk-and-talk hour-long dramas.  It also lays out the framework for people as in love with their work (if not more) than the love they have for their significant others.  And, they're willing to be a bit cut-throat about that work.

It's also both a celebration and critique of the 4th Estate, showing how the press is what stands between politicians and their best interests colliding with those of the public interest (timely! as always!), while also showing how various news outlets handle the same news to appease the confirmation bias of their audience and editors. 

You're going to want to not watch this one when you're overly tired and may even want a cup of coffee before settling in just to keep up.  The rehearsals on this film must have been intense as the takes are long, the dialog delivered like rounds from a machine-gun, and there's really no room for error.  And it would have a high bar to match as the movie is based on a well known play that was also adapted into a movie in it's own right, The Front Page.  I've not seen it, but can't help but notice that "Hildy Johnson" in the 1930 film is a man (Russell would not be mistaken for such), and I doubt that there's a broken marriage between the two leads in this one. 

In this film, Russell has just returned from a long holiday during which she divorced Grant, her publisher, and has taken up with an insurance salesman played by a young Ralph Bellamy.  After collecting Bellamy's mother, they plan to head upstate where they'll be married and Russell will settle into a "normal" life as a "human".  Grant is no less in love with Russell and, learning of a story about a guy set for the chair, he talks Russell into taking it on quickly in the day before she leaves. 

There's a curious mix of classic screwball comedy mixed with fairly serious issues and even a suicide attempt by a witness, all of which is just fodder for our leads as they get closer and closer to the story over the course of a day and mostly within the confines of the local prison.  I'm not sure they're cold-blooded, but you have to admire their focus. 

Buried in the fast-talk is some terrific dialog and amazing cracks.  I don't want to spoil anything, including some hilarious easter eggs they worked in. 

You'l hear me refer to Russell a lot when discussing Lois Lane, and while Hildy Johnson post-dates the creation of Lois, I have no doubt this performance colored a decade of Lois in the comics and on the radio.  The serials and TV show were another thing, as was the switch in the Silver Age to the scheming Lois.  But, man, Russell is great in this movie.  Tough as nails, smarter than everyone in the room, and playing through her conflicts in a way even Davis wouldn't have done if Davis would have ever been a fit for this part - but it's so Russell, it's impossible to imagine anyone else.

Anyway, I highly recommend if you happened to have not seen this one before.  It's one of those movies that, if I catch it on cable, I'm likely to watch it to the end, but I haven't previously owned a copy of my own, so I'm happy Criterion put out such a great transfer.  It seemed like a great selection for our 20th wedding anniversary as a flick about two people who really do get each other better than anyone else on Earth, even if I could do without Jamie running off for a quickie divorce in Mexico just so we could figure out we do belong together.

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