His Girl Friday

OK so imagine the scene in The Big Sleep where Bogart and Bacall prank call the police for no reason apart from to demonstrate the fact that they are soulmates. And then make a film out of it. Hawks seems to have missed the rapid back-and-forth from His Girl Friday and contrived to insert a bit of the same anarchic spirit into his Raymond Chandler adaptation. It sticks out like a sore thumb in that picture. His Girl Friday, on the other hand, is perfection.

You can tell that this is a film based on a play. Hawks was obsessed with getting the fastest dialogue of all time in the movie, and used unheard of studio tricks in order to achieve it. But the effect isn't something that can't be replicated in the theatre. And the film is quite theatrical – all on a sound-stage, shots held for ages, and the actors given the space and time to do their thing. Part of the fun is how the zaniness is turned up slowly throughout, so that you start with a relatively simple love-triangle and build to an utterly outrageous cacophony of noise at the end. It requires the same suspension of disbelief that Shakespeare's company relied on when strutting their hour upon the stage.

Half the original script was changed, and Hawks encouraged his actors to improvise and ad lib. Apparently Rosalind Russell hired her own scriptwriter to fill out her lines so she could match the size of Cary Grant's part. It was a good-natured battle off and on the screen. And although Russell's character fantasizes about settling down and becoming an obedient wife with a dopey husband, she can't resist the pull of the press room. It's a strange vision of an independent woman with a successful career, who nevertheless loses the war of words with Grant's shyster of an editor. Unlike her namesake in As You Like It, who has her man firmly under her spell, Hawks doesn't allow his leading lady to get the upper hand. The natural state of affairs is for the boss and husband to keep running the show.

No comments:

Post a Comment