Friday, January 18, 2013

What I Watched: His Girl Friday (1940)

This is one of the few movies from the 100 Classic Movies list that is streaming on Netflix, so I watched it last night. It is a witty satire about the lengths to which news reporters will go for a story, but with a romantic twist. Side note: Some of the other films I could have chosen last night were the long and bleak-looking silent films Birth of a Nation and Intolerance. I am not excited about watching these, but I have to if I want to fulfill this goal. Help me get excited!

Theatrical poster via Wikipedia. I hate that tag line "She learned about men from him!" She was a smart cookie in her own right.
Anyway, my first impression of this movie was that is was really fast. All of the dialogue and the action happened so quickly that sometimes I wasn't sure what was said. In reviews of the film, this is often one of the first things noted and is supposed to be part of what is funny about the movie, but I'm not sure I agree. Also, I loved Rosalind Russell in this film. She played Hildy, a young newspaper reporter in Manhatten who is giving up the reporter's life and her sneaky newspaper editor ex-husband, played by Carey Grant, to marry a dull insurance salesman and move to the suburbs. She thinks this is what will make her happy, but it turns out she is a damn good reporter and she makes a deal to cover one more story before she goes at the request of the ex-husband who is secretly trying to win her back. Grant's character goes to great lengths to prevent Hildy from marrying the insurance salesman by getting him continuously arrested and jailed on comically ridiculous charges and he thinks he is being so sly, but the straight-talking Hildy, who is the master of her own destiny, sees straight through him. She becomes consumed with covering the story of a convicted murderer who is scheduled to be executed and her fiance goes back to the suburbs without her because he realizes the life they envisioned together is not for her. She, of course, has more in common with the ex-husband than she initially cared to admit.
Grant and Russell via Wikipedia

Evidently, Rosalinda Russell was considered for the role of Hildy only after it was turned down by quite a few famous ladies including Joan Crawford. I'm so glad she ended up in the role, though, because she was so sassy in it and by far my favorite character. I am ashamed to say that I had never heard of her prior to this film even though she had a very long career as an actress and a writer, but I will admit that I am not as familiar with actresses in older films as I wish I were. I will definitely be seeing some of her other films after this one. Interestingly, in the original version of this story (The Front Page, 1931) Hildy's character was a man and the plot was a little different, but it was changed for this version in the initial readings. It seems the stars really aligned for the role to fall to Ms. Russell.

The lovely Rosalind Russell via Love Mind Travel
This film is characterized as a screwball comedy and I was so curious where that term came from because it sounds like it would mean a silly, Three Stooges-type film, but that is not the case. That is slapstick and screwball is a witty and more sophisticated variation and is actually a sub-genre of romantic comedy that typically includes a battle of the sexes. Screwball comedies were popular during the Great Depression and in the early 1940s and were characterized by fast-paced repartee (check), farcical situations (check), escapist themes (check), plotlines involving courtship and marriage (check), and a female who dominates a relationship with a central male character (check). Once I understood what a screwball comedy was this one seemed pretty obvious.

Hildy holding her own with the male reporters at her paper. Via Entertained News
I thought this movie was entertaining, but why is it classified as one of the greatest films of all time? I was not sure, so I turned to Filmsite's discussion for a little enlightenment. I should have seen this coming because remember how I just outlined how this movie is a screwball comedy? Apparently it is "one of the best examples of its kind in film history." Oh.

Have you seen it? What did you think?

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