mag·nif·i·cent/magˈnifəsənt/ (adj.)

1. Impressively beautiful, elaborate, or extravagant; striking.
2. Very good; excellent.

Synonyms: splendid - gorgeous - grand - superb - glorious

WARNING: Some spoilers may be bound but I try to keep them light.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

His Girl Friday (1940)

While pouring back through all the Tarantino films recently I realized a couple things:
1) There's not that many of them. I mean he's only one guy and he pretty much only works off of his own material that he wrote... which takes time, and thus this is very understandable.
2) His films make reference other movies constantly. Now call it what you want homage, reference or just plain theft but I'm thinking that a lot of people don't catch the majority of these references to other films because frankly, we don't have the film same exposure as a young Tarantino did going to the grindhouse theater constantly in his youth or working in a video rental store. However, hypothetically with the vastness of the internet and Amazon, Netflix etc. these films should be easier to get a hold of today, if you know what you're looking for that is.

So I figured there's probably more people out there, like me, who crave more Tarantino constantly and I could showcase some films that I'd consider essential viewing for Tarantino fans. And thus the 10 must-see films for Tarantino fans was born. Now let me warn you this is in no way a comprehensive list. There's probably hundreds of films that Tarantino references in his own films, and I found enough films I could write about to probably do this series again but that will have to wait until next time there's another big Tarantino release.

DAY 3: His Girl Friday (1940)

Okay admittedly His Girl Friday might seem like a stretch to try to connect it with Quentin Tarantino. But I didn't want to pick all the typical films you'd expect, and throw a couple, shall we say, "screwballs" in there to show that it wasn't just violent and gory exploitation films that helped form the filmmaker mind of Quentin Tarantino. It's worth noting that Howard Hawks is considered to be an idol to Quentin Tarantino, in fact recently he's been saying that as far as Director's filmographies go you can't top Howard Hawks. He considers the entire filmography of Howard Hawks to be great and would like future generations to look at Tarantino's own films the same way. And so, rather than choose something from Hawks' filmography that you might expect to be linked to Tarantino like the very stylish and (then) violent Scarface (1932) I opted for a less obvious influence, His Girl Friday. Tarantino even wrote in the first page of his script for Pulp Fiction (1994) that the two robbers who decide to rob the diner should talk quickly in a "His Girl Friday fashion" and apparently it's not unique to that film, apparently Tarantino also has shown this film multiple times to different actors on different films to explain that you can speak as fast as you want your dialogue as long as you hit your punchlines. You can find a video of him confessing this here.

AND if all that wasn't enough of a Tarantino-connection for all you naysayers, Tarantino constantly lists this film in his top five films of all time as you can see by these lists compiled by The Quentin Tarantino Archives.

"Walter, you're wonderful, in a loathsome sort of way."

His Girl Friday (1940) a screwball, romantic comedy directed by Howard Hawks and loosely based on the play The Front Page by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. The story follows Walter Burns, fast-talking, do-anything-for a story head editor for a major newspaper who is just finding out that his ex-wife, and former top reporter is getting married to a much simpler man and settling down. Despite Hildy moving on, Walter is not over her yet and is going to do anything he can to try and get her back.

I like the characters in this film, they're all (even down to very minor characters) distinct and yet simple. Smaller characters are placed evenly through the story to service a couple of jokes each and they all are very memorable and funny. The characters with bigger parts each have pretty much one thing on their mind and this serves for even more humor throughout the story.

It does work, but plot of this film is very convoluted and complicated. This is only further muddled by the speed at which everyone talks, which makes it very difficult to follow and can be hard to catch what parts are important during a conversation. This wouldn't matter at all if the story was actually character driven, but no the film is story driven: the characters don't move forward without some prodding from the events of the story. However, said story definitely takes a back seat to the characters it's pretty interesting and unique how they work together like this. Unfortunately this plot is (as I said) treated as a very secondary part riddled with lots coincidences and highly unlikely turns.

The comedy in this film is gold. There's jokes that make me laugh out loud and some of them are admittedly very subtle, but I recommend you see this with an audience and you'll be amazed at how much you'll find yourself actually laughing out loud at. I also really appreciate how many different forms of humor there are, like there's a lot of really funny situational humor in this film that's built just through the way a scene is written or set up. This is a form of creativity that's completely lost on films today. For example a lot of the humor is built around the old-style phones with a separate receiver and there's little gags like Hildy trying to hold two conversations between two phones on different tables and having to run back and forth between them then as one of the conversations gets heated she quickly yells at the other one, "oh I wasn't talking to you!"

I love the dialogue for this film, it's written in the clever, spitfire fast, theatrical way that Hawks was known for but it's also accelerated in this movie because of the fact that they are newspapermen and this not only allows for an interesting medium to quickly release and setup multiple jokes at once, but also great situational humor between a third person trying to keep up in a conversation, and even groups of people talking to different people all in the same frame to convey something that happened off screen.

I firmly believe that this film would not be considered a classic without the two leads. Okay, Cary Grant is always great but I would argue that this early role for him is pretty unique: he's fast, he's rough, he's funny and he's even a touch of the flamboyant. Pretty far off from most of his roles later on in his career. But believe it or not, as much as I like Cary Grant, I almost prefer Rosalind Russell the female protagonist as Hildy in this film. She not only is a really great match for Grant but brings a lot of emotion and soul (and in an very efficient manner too!) to this role that a lesser actor probably would leave out. But both together make such a great team with great chemistry and sex appeal. Like I said, this film wouldn't have been as successful without these two in the lead.

His Girl Friday (1940) is a fast-talking romantic comedy with great characters and a fun story. 4.5/5 Stars.

Happy watching!

This film is part of my month-long Tribute to Tarantino in honor of his latest film Django Unchained (2012) and his 20-year career. If you've missed any of my reviews so far, be sure to check out his filmography and click on any film you've missed.

The 10 must-see films for Tarantino fans countdown continues tomorrow, so be sure to check back!

I'm always happy to recommend copyright-free movies. This film is currently in the public domain, so you can download or stream this film legally and absolutely free right here thanks to the Internet Archive!

1 comment:

  1. Audiences have to pay attention when watching His Girl Friday. You're right. The dialogue comes fast and furious. The payoff is some wonderful laughs. I love the quick cuts between reporters when the wanted man is found.