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HIS GIRL FRIDAY

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					HIS GIRL FRIDAY
USA                   1940                  92 mins                        Cert U

Director and Producer:     Howard Hawks
Writer:                    Charles Lederer (and Ben Hecht, uncredited)
                     Based on The Front Page by Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht
Photography:               Joseph Walker
Music:                     Sydney Cuter
Editor:                    Gene Harlick

Character             Actor                         Character              Actor

Hildy Johnson         Rosalind Russell              Walter Burns           Cary Grant
Bruce Baldwin         Ralph Bellamy                 Sheriff Hartwell       Gene Lockhart
Murphy                Porter Hall                   Bensiger               Ernest Truex
Endicott              Cliff Edwards                 Mayor                  Clarence Klob
McCue                 Roscoe Karns                  Wilson                 Frank Jenks
Diamond Louie         Abner Biberman                Duffy                  Frank Orth
Earl Williams         John Qualen                   Mollie Malloy          Helen Mack
Silas F Pinkus        Billy Gilbert                 Mrs Baldwin            Alma Kruger
Sanders               Regis Toomey

As you know, this season’s most popular film was Singin’ In The Rain, which is regarded
as a classic by all the reference books. However according to the current Daily Mail film
critic Christopher Tookey in his book “The Critics Film Guide”:

  “Alone among movie releases, His Girl Friday scores maximum points from every
  film guide and commentator, so it has the distinction of being the most acclaimed
  film of all time.

  It may at first seem a surprising candidate for Best Film of All Time. It’s cavalier
  about conventional morality, cynical about the press, callous towards its
  characters and a calculatingly commercial piece of film-making. It’s also great
  entertainment and must rank amongst the wittiest and best acted of all screwball
  comedies. Like Singin’ In The Rain in the musical field, it achieves a kind of
  perfection within its genre. Besides, why shouldn’t great films be fun?”

However, at its premiere on 11th January 1940, few people would have guessed that this
would come to be seen as one of the funniest films and almost certainly the fastest
comedy ever made.

However Hawks had been determined that his film would have some of the fastest
dialogue ever recorded and also changed the dynamics of the main characters by
introducing a female lead. . He was also fortunate to have been contacted at the time he
was thinking of adapting the original film, by Ben Hecht, who sought his help with a
particular project. Hawks agreed provided Hecht agreed to assist on his adaptation.

There had been some criticism that the film was a reworking of The Front Page, which was
itself a fine film, and the necessity for a remake was questioned. Hawks at one time
arranged for both films to be shown to the critics on the same screen simultaneously.
Hawks recalled that the critics were amazed at how much faster his film was.
The film is now regarded as the first to employ the technique of overlapping dialogue,
where more than one character talks at once. This had been a staple of stage acting,
especially in farces, but the film studios were limited by the technology of microphones,
together with the physical problem of a technician having to tweek controls to ensure the
correct sound levels were achieved as each actor spoke. The technique worked so well
that scenes are generally regarded as the fastest in movie history.

Looking at the film today, I would attribute a large reason for its popularity to the chemistry
between Grant and Russell. Their mutual respect for the other’s comedic abilities appears
to be communicated to us as the audience.

Jean Arthur, Ginger Rogers, Claudette Colbert and Irene Dunne had turned down the
character of Hildy before Rosalind Russell accepted it. She realised that her co-star was
going to have the funniest lines. Without telling either Hawks or Grant, she hired an
advertising copywriter to help her improve her dialogue.

Consequently Grant found himself in fierce competition shortly after filming began in
September 1939. Although Hughes had encouraged him to adlib some of his dialogue, he
now found himself opposite a co-star who was adlibbing herself, often to funnier effect.

It is reported that Grant was so taken aback that at one point during filming he looked
across to Hawks, and asked with a pained expression “Is she going to do that?”. As we
will see, the director liked the remark so much that he left it in the final cut.

I should however add that in contrast to the impression that might be gained from the
above, Grant and Russell became friends. Indeed when Freddie Brisson, the London
based agent of Grant’s partner Phyllis Brooks’, stayed with Grant and Randolph Scott over
Christmas 1939, Grant introduced him to his co-star. Within two years he was best man at
their wedding.

The film gave further proof of the skills of the director Howard Hawks. His fast and furious
comedies began with Carole Lombard and John Barrymore feuding and fighting in
Twentieth Century. Almost all his comedies thereafter included elements of screwball
comedy, including Bringing Up Baby; I Was a Male War Bride and Monkey Business plus
tonight’s film. (It is perhaps no coincidence that Grant appeared in each of these films).

Hawks also directed A Girl In Every Port; Only Angels Have Wings; Sergeant York; To
Have or Not Have; The Big Sleep; Gentlemen Prefer Blondes; Rio Bravo as well as several
other films. The fact that those I have named are recognisable titles to today’s movie
audiences shows how good a director he was. He was something of a rarity in being
capable of expert direction in a variety of genres – comedy; thriller; western and musical.
He concentrated on being a storyteller first and foremost, rather than being an innovator.

Perhaps it was this that resulted in him never winning an Oscar for best director.
Thankfully the Academy rectified their omission in 1975 by awarding an honorary Oscar.
Interestingly Cary Grant also never received an Oscar despite being twice nominated – he
received a special award in 1970.

One could argue of course that the presentation of an Oscar does not necessarily reflect
the quality of a film or a performance. I would suggest that to have one’s films screened
before an audience some 60 years after its initial release is a far better tribute to all
involved in the production.

IAIN McGLASHAN
CHAIRMAN

				
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