Movie Project #22: His Girl Friday [1940]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

His Girl Friday [1940]

His Girl Friday [1940]
Director: Howard Hawks
Writers: Charles Lederer (screen play), Ben Hecht (play “The Front Page”) and Charles MacArthur (play “The Front Page”)
Country: USA
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Romance
Starring: Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Bellamy
Running Time: 92 minutes

Reason for inclusion: This has appeared on countless “best of” lists, and I am always looking to see more of Cary Grant’s work.

Accolades: National Film Registry, #19 on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Laughs

A lot of classic films have rapid-fire dialogue, but His Girl Friday may just take the cake. I would love to see the size of this script, which seems to pack three hours of dialogue into just 90 minutes.

Rosalind Russell stars as Hildy Johnson, a former news reporter who is eager to leave that fast-paced lifestyle, going so far as to get engaged to a rather plain insurance salesman, Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy). On the eve of her trip to Albany to make the marriage official, Hildy drops by the newspaper to tell her ex-husband (and editor of The Morning Post), Walter Burns (Cary Grant), about her plans. One problem: Walter is still in love with her and will do anything possible to win her back.

Played to manipulative perfection by Grant, Walter quickly gets to work at devising plans to keep Hildy from going to Albany. His methods are cruel but effective — he manages to get Bruce arrested no less than three times (including once by planting counterfeit money on him). This gives Walter more time to make his move.

His Girl Friday [1940]

It also helps that the “story of the century” is happening right now — the alleged wrongfully accused murderer, Earl Williams (John Qualen), is set to be hanged the very next day. The story is so juicy that Hildy cannot resist getting involved, even interviewing the man in hopes of getting him acquitted. The news story gets even bigger when Williams escapes from prison, making this a full-blown front page story. This series of events prompts Walter to amusingly exclaim “Take Hitler and stick him on the funny page!”

As a screwball comedy, the series of events grows wilder and wilder, and Hildy finds it increasingly difficult to get away and leave for Albany on time. It becomes apparent that Walter and Hildy are cut from the same cloth — both are “newspapermen” that get such a rush from breaking a big story, yet struggle to separate their personal and work lives.

His Girl Friday [1940]

In most cases, it would be hard to sympathize with either of these characters, but c’mon, it’s Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell! These two play off each other beautifully, and their chemistry is undeniable. Even though both play such dastardly characters, they are so much fun to watch.

The aforementioned rapid-fire dialogue is a real highlight of the film as well, even though it’s sometimes hard to keep up with the constant overlapping chatter. This is a film that benefits considerably from subtitles, and I was almost afraid to laugh just so I didn’t miss another great line. Regardless, the script (and its cynical look at the newspaper business) is relentlessly engaging, still providing fruitful exchanges so many years later.

9/10

Poll Results: Favorite Cary Grant Film

North by Northwest

THE RESULTS:
– North by Northwest: 10 votes
– Notorious: 8 votes
– Arsenic and Old Lace: 5 votes
– Charade: 4 votes
– Only Angels Have Wings: 3 votes
– His Girl Friday: 2 votes
– To Catch a Thief: 2 votes
– Bringing Up Baby: 1 vote
– The Philadelphia Story: 1 vote
– Suspicion: 1 vote

No surprise to see Hitchcock films go 1-2 here, but I would have pegged His Girl Friday to be ranked higher. Nice to see ten different films get votes though!

This Week’s Poll: This year’s Emmy nominations were announced last week. While there were a number of questionable nominations (see Sati’s post for the most glaring omissions), they seemed to hit most of the major players for Outstanding Drama. This week’s question is: what is your favorite show that was nominated for this year’s Outstanding Drama?

Have a great week, folks!

Poll Results: Favorite “Box Office Bust” Guilty Pleasure

John Carter

THE RESULTS:
– John Carter: 4 votes
– Death to Smoochy: 3 votes
– Heaven’s Gate: 3 votes
– Howard the Duck: 3 votes
– Speed Racer: 3 votes
– Battlefield Earth: 2 votes
– Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within: 2 votes
– Sahara: 2 votes
– The Adventures of Pluto Nash: 1 vote
– Hudson Hawk: 1 vote
– The Green Lantern: 1 vote
– Ishtar: 1 vote
– The Postman: 1 vote
– 3000 Miles to Graceland: 1 vote

The write-ins:
– Blade Runner: 1 vote

So much variety! For a while, it was looking like we might have a 4-or-5 way tie for first place. Disney’s 2012 bomb, John Carter, seems to have its fair share of fans, and it has received a better reception — 6.6 on IMDB, 51% Rotten Tomatoes — than many of the other films on this list. Suppose I might give it a shot after all.

This Week’s Poll: Over the weekend I had a bit of a movie mini-marathon, and one of the biggest highlights was the 1940 classic, His Girl Friday (for my project, so expect a post soon). The rapid-fire dialogue had me hooked right away, and it was so much fun watching Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell play off each other. Grant has long been one of my favorite “classic” actors, so it’s surprising that it took me this long to finally watch it. This week’s poll is related to Mr. Grant, specifically: what are your TWO favorite Cary Grant films?

Have a great week!

Movie Project #41: The Philadelphia Story [1940]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

The Philadelphia Story [1940]

The Philadelphia Story [1940]
Director: George Cukor
Genre: Comedy/Romance
Starring: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, James Stewart, Ruth Hussey, John Howard
Runtime: 112 minutes

While researching The Philadelphia Story, I came to the startling realization that I had never seen any of Katharine Hepburn’s work. Despite 51 films to her name, the incredibly well-regarded actress had somehow eluded me over the years. It was perhaps fitting that The Philadelphia Story became my first Hepburn film, as not only was this her first big hit, but the screenplay was written specifically for her.

Hepburn stars as Tracy Lord, a wealthy, strong woman who is getting ready to marry a lower class — but on his way up — gentleman named George Kittredge (John Howard). Just days before the wedding, a publisher at Spy magazine gets the idea to cover the wedding, and he assigns reporter Macauley Connor (James Stewart) and photographer Liz Imbrie (Ruth Hussey) to write the story. Their introduction to the wedding comes via C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant), who just so happens to be Tracy’s ex-husband. With the introduction of these unexpected patrons, not to mention appearances from members of Tracy’s eccentric family, the pre-wedding weekend suddenly becomes a lot more complicated.

The Philadelphia Story [1940]

It doesn’t help that there is an underlying unsettled romance between Dexter and Tracy. Their marriage was rocky at best, but there is still a clear connection between the two. Further difficulties arise when Tracy begins to discover some of Connor’s more appealing traits (apparently she is a sucker for good poetry). Now, the day before her wedding, she finds herself in a bit of a love triangle.

While Katharine Hepburn is very much the center of the film — and she delivers a phenomenal performance — she was fortunate enough to be paired with the unbelievable 1-2 combination of James Stewart and Cary Grant. Stewart is as charming as ever, and he has a lengthy section in the film where he is flat out drunk — played with sterling effectiveness. Grant seems keen to stay in the background (surprisingly), but he is crucial to many important moments in the film. Special mention must also be made of Ruth Hussey, who delivers a strong performance that is unfortunately often overlooked when compared with the three leads.

The Philadelphia Story [1940]

For all its star power, The Philadelphia Story is backed by a sharp, witty screenplay that ultimately won an Oscar (the film itself received six nominations, winning two). The dialogue moves at a brisk pace with plenty of snappy one-liners, though there were a handful of lines with dated 30s/40s slang that had me scratching my head. Even if I didn’t know exactly what something meant, I was able to understand it somewhat thanks to the conviction these lines were delivered by the strong cast.

Ultimately, this is a clever little film with plenty to like. It would have been hard to mess up a film with the trio of Hepburn, Stewart and Grant starring, and thankfully this lives up to its classic billing. Consider me a new fan.

8/10

Movie Project #39: Notorious [1946]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

Notorious [1946]

Notorious [1946]
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Genre: Film Noir/Romance/Thriller
Starring: Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains
Runtime: 101 minutes

Seeing an Alfred Hitchcock film for the first time is always an exciting experience. Last year, I witnessed a handful with fresh eyes, including the fantastic Vertigo and Psycho (both for this project). For this year’s project, I included another of his most highly-regarded films: Notorious.

Released in Hitchcock’s first decade in America, Notorious is a post-war thriller with film noir elements that also happens to provide one of cinema’s most intriguing love stories. Cary Grant stars as T.R. Devlin, a secret agent who is an important figure in a plan to infiltrate a Nazi organization that has relocated to Rio de Janeiro. In order to do so, the government enlists the help of Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman), the daughter of a convicted Nazi spy. While privately against the Nazi beliefs, she still has ties to those in Brazil, and she is sent to seduce their leader, Alex Sebastian (Claude Rains). Her commitment to the job is unparalleled, but there is a wrench in their plans: Devlin and Alicia fall madly in love with each other.

Notorious [1946]

This love triangle leads to some tense moments, as Alicia is asked to do things that were not part of the original plan. She is also tasked with riding that delicate balance between acting in love with Sebastian while still attempting to discover intel about the Nazi operations. Devlin does his best to remain detached, trying not to mix love and his work, and never flat out saying “I love you.” But when your love interest is Ingrid f’n Bergman, it’s hard to stay in check.

There are several noteworthy scenes in Notorious, including many that rank amongst Hitchcock’s most suspenseful. One unforgettable sequence happens at a huge party at the Nazi headquarters. Alicia has stolen a key to the wine cellar, where she is to lead Devlin in hopes of uncovering a secret to the organization’s operations. Everything is going well until the hosts begin running low on alcohol upstairs. Sebastian and an associate start heading downstairs at the same time Devlin and Alicia are investigating the cellar. The suspense builds as the chances of a successful escape grow very slim.

The film’s conclusion is also thrilling, including one of the slowest descents down a staircase that I have ever seen.

Notorious [1946]

Despite being nearly 70 years old, Notorious holds up remarkably well today. The story, while taking place shortly after World War II, is a timeless tale of espionage and romance. Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman are a fantastic pairing, two gorgeous Hollywood A-listers with strong chemistry. Claude Rains adds a great deal to the film as well, delivering a performance that somehow makes the audience sympathize with the plights of a Nazi.

It’s a bit shocking that Notorious only received two Oscar nominations: Best Supporting Actor (Claude Rains) and Best Original Screenplay (Ben Hecht). Then again, Hitchcock’s lack of support from the Academy is well-known (he never won for Best Director). Regardless of these oversights, Notorious ranks among his best work, and it is easily one of my favorites from this year’s project. This deserves to be mentioned when others talk about the director’s more popular and critically-acclaimed work (i.e. Psycho, Vertigo, Rear Window, etc.).

9/10