Tuesday, August 30, 2011

3 paragraphs on: His Girl Friday

1940, Howard Hawks (TCM)

Though I consider myself a bit of a cinephile, at the same time I recognize the gaping holes in my cinematic language. Howard Hawks is one of those legendary filmmaker's whose works I have somehow never seen, like Fellini or Preminger. I guess my natural tendency towards the fantastic and the science fictionistic have kept me in the cinematic gutter as far as classic cinema is concerned. I have seen hundreds of films that were made before the 1980s yet few of them step outside of genre.

His Girl Friday is a curious film that rather defies categorization, as few films do anymore. It's not an outright comedy, though the fast-paced banter between characters and the mad-cap scenarios where characters talking over one another certainly paint it in a lighter tone. There's a romance angle to it, but it's so subverted, so ancillary to the main plot, and yet, it's ultimately the entire point of the movie. There's a dramatic flourish revolving around the story a man convicted for the murder of a police office and sentenced to hang, yet shouldn't be guilty of anything more than manslaughter at best as he was in a manic episode at the time.

The set-up of the film finds Hildy (Rosiland Russell), an ace reporter, returning to her old newspaper to file final divorce papers with her ex, the paper's editor Walter Burns (Cary Grant). Hildy has found herself a new beau and plans to marry him, but Walter's not ready to give up so easily, not on his marriage or letting his star reporter abandon his flagging paper. So through much conniving he gets Hildy on the story of the death row prisoner, while he continues to work his ways to drive a wedge between her and her husband-to-be. The actual story Hildy's working on takes precedence in the second act, Walter scarcely to be seen, while the third act turns into a somewhat tempered screwball comedy as the prisoner escapes right into Hildy and Walter's hands. It's an off-beat film, fun and engaging but lacking consistency. It's a film that offers some interesting (if Hollywood-ized) interpretations of the media and journalism of the day, as well as a female protagonist who not only competes with the boys but is respected by them. It's rather refreshing giving its age.