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His Girl Friday (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on January 28, 2014

My girlfriend Carrie selected this for last night’s entertainment.  It was an excellent choice, especially because I’ve been meaning to revisit it for a long time.  My first viewing was over 10 years ago, and at the time it was my first Howard Hawks film.  At that time, I don’t think I knew anything about Hawks.  But if you think my reviews are bad now, go read the ones from ten years ago.  They’re mortifying.  My previous review for HGF consists of four sentences, and the first three are all complaining about Hawks’s signature style of rapid-fire, overlapping dialogue (which I called “that old comedy thing”… cringe!).

I must admit it does still kinda bug me when there’s overlapping conversations where the pauses just happen to line up perfectly so you can hear each one.  What I didn’t appreciate at the time was how masterful Hawks is at it.  Sometimes he lets them not line up perfectly, so what you hear is a key word or two amidst the chaotic flurry of banter.  There was only one point in the film where it really felt phony, where you could tell Grant was listening more to Russell for his cue than the imaginary voice on the other end of the phone.  Besides that single instance, it was all pretty believable… and delightful.  From the complex exchanges to the quick jabs to the inside references (the mention of Archie Leach, pointing out that “Bruce Baldwin” looks like Ralph Bellamy), it’s really funny and cracks like a whip.

The last sentence of that embarrassing review is “Other than [the Hawksian dialogue], though, I enjoyed it.”  Brilliant analysis there.  But the truth is I can’t think of much of substance to say now, either.  I enjoyed it.  It starts out snappy and tight, and keeps gathering steam until it reaches a dizzy level of mania.  Maybe a little too manic, which is the main thing holding me back from giving it a higher rating.  Carrie and I both observed that the film made a good follow-up to In the Loop (which we watched the other day but I didn’t feel the need to do a new review).  That movie similarly builds to a frantic confusion, where it becomes hard to follow.  I guess the difference is that I find ITL funnier.  Not that this film isn’t funny.  It’s often laugh-out-loud funny.  But you know, when you start putting numbers on movies then you tend to think of everything in degrees.

Where am I going with this review?  I’ve lost myself.  I guess the point is that Hawks’s style of comedy is hit or miss with me (sometimes a big miss, like Bringing Up Baby), but here it’s mostly hit hit hit.  I was really happy to finally give this the second look it deserved.  Grant and Russell are both at the top of their game, with terrific support from players like Bellamy and Regis Toomey and Billy Gilbert.  I may have been slightly put off by the frantic crescendo, but I can easily say the movie is never dull.  And for the record, Carrie absolutely loved it.  Rating: Very Good (84)


2 Responses to “His Girl Friday (rewatch)”

  1. Dan Heaton said

    I’m such a big fan of His Girl Friday, particularly Rosalind Russell as the lead. The fast-paced dialogue is so jarring at first but brings such energy to it for me. I’ve seen a decent amount of Hawks films and need to catch a lot more.

    Martin, I would have liked it if you linked to your original review. It’s painful for me to read what I wrote around that time. The words just sort of sit there. I’m hardly great now, but it does make me feel better about what I’m doing at this point.

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