I’d heard this was one of those forgotten comic masterpieces, have to say I was underwhelmed. Humor and references seem state-of-the-art to 1957 – I got Groucho’s “you bet your life” cameo but probably missed a lot more.

an alarmed Tony Randall:
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In high cinemascope color, a cross between Tashlin’s cartoony style, an advertisement (since our protagonist is an ad-man) and a regular 60’s comedy (Tash was ahead of his time). Tony Randall (from Let’s Make Love) is our ad-man, who makes a deal with superstar Rita Marlowe (Jayne “The Girl Can’t Help It” Mansfield). She’ll do a bunch of ads for his makeup company client, saving him his job (and eventually earning him an unwanted promotion to president) if he’ll publically pretend to be her new boyfriend to make her ex, Bobo Branigansky, want her back. The ex, also a TV star, sort of a Hercules/Tarzan type, is played by Mickey Hargitay, a bodybuilder who would play Tarzan for real three years later. Betsy Drake (not a big star, best known for being Cary Grant’s wife throughout the 50’s) plays Tony’s pissed-off fiancee who threatens to leave him over the whole Rita thing, and 16-yr-old Lili Gentle (one of her only movie roles) is Tony’s excitable niece, a bit Rita fan.

a very red Lili Gentle:
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It’s all about knowing where we belong, being happy with our lot in life, finding true love, and making fun of television. Tony and the president of the ad company (John Williams of Dial M For Murder) end up a farmer and a gardener, and Tony’s boss (Henry Jones of 3:10 To Yuma and Vertigo), a born ad-man, ends up an ad-man. Joan Blondell (star of 1930’s musicals, Nightmare Alley) has an interesting part as Rita’s washed-up assistant who yearns for the life she could’ve had with the love of her youth, a milkman, and gets Rita thinking about her own young love, George Schmidlap (Groucho, below).

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Katy somewhat liked it, but I have a feeling she’s about done with Frank Tashlin comedies, so I’ll save Artists and Models for another time and go back to the always reliable Billy Wilder (although she didn’t like Ace in the Hole either, hmmm).

check out Rita and her matching poodle:
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No wonder Oklahoma oilman Ralph Bellamy looked familiar – he was Hildy’s falsely-arrested fiancee in His Girl Friday. Hmmm, also third billed in Pretty Woman fifty years later. And no wonder Irene Dunne did not look familiar – I’ve never seen her before. This is now the earliest Cary Grant movie I’ve seen, and he was already unmistakably Cary-Grant-ish in it.

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Based on a play (which was previously filmed twice) and partly improvised on-set, a screwball comedy, which is just to say that the storyline is less important than getting the most comic potential out of each moment. I thought it held together pretty well, except for a bit towards the end where it suddenly swerves to have Dunne destroy Grant’s affair with a rich young woman, as if realizing that too much time had been spent destroying Dunne’s own affairs while he was getting off the hook.

Grant and Dunne get divorced but still see each other at nightclubs and on court-ordered dog visitation days. Very suspicious of each other, but still mutually attracted, each tries to break up the other’s real or imagined romances. I can’t tell if the movie is smartly concealing the truth from the audience (is Dunne really having an affair with her music teacher? where was Grant when he claimed to be in Florida?) to keep things tensely ambiguous, or if we’re just supposed to assume that they’re cheating on each other and the movie can’t address it directly because of the hollywood production code. Katy says her grandmother would not have approved of the ending, where the two wait until the clock strikes midnight (signaling that their divorce is final) to get back together (adultery!).

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Senses of Cinema:

Who else would make the final scene of such a loud screwball comedy as The Awful Truth end as quietly as it does? Compare the film with Bringing Up Baby (1938) or Twentieth Century (1934) – Hawks’ strategy is to go faster, louder, zanier. McCarey, by contrast, slows down The Awful Truth at its climax, startlingly so. The ending, suddenly, is not screwball. This is something deeper, more realistically romantic, than “sophisticated comedy.”

A. Vanneman:

Remarkably, Dunne holds her own, thanks to an excellent script and her own acting. … Classy, yes, very, but not condescending, and very light on her feet. She’s always one step ahead of Jerry, a tantalizing gadfly that never lets him relax into his godlike perfection.

Ralph Bellamy gives us a very nice ride as Dan Leeson, the interloping cowpoke boyfriend from Tulsa. Yes, he’s corn-fed and lives with his ma, but he sure knows how to fill out a top coat, doesn’t he? It’s a very nice touch to make Dan so open and good-natured, laughing with naïve delight at the slightest witticism. “Hey, that’s funny! You know, you’re funny!” How can you get mad at someone who laughs at your jokes? If you didn’t want him to laugh, why did you tell a joke in the first place?

In addition to fine performances from the leads, The Awful Truth shines for its beautiful mingling of verbal, character-driven humor and superbly paced slapstick. The tale of the hats, the fatal mix-up involving Jerry’s and Armand’s derbies, is probably the most elegant hat-play on film, Stan and Ollie gone uptown. McCarey almost seems to be working on a dare — taking the lowest piece of vaudeville shtick, putting it on Park Avenue, and making it work. 10 Nothing is forced; each step in the farce is quite reasonable and sensible on its own — little bits of paper floating randomly together to form a picture of disaster.

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Leo McCarey won best director at the oscars, but The Life of Emile Zola and The Good Earth beat it for picture, actress, supporting actor and screenplay. Very good movie. Katy liked it too.

I guess I don’t know what makes a Howard Hawks movie a Howard Hawks movie. No anti-auteurism implied, but I have an awfully hard time detecting the directorial stamp in pre-1960’s studio films like those by Hawks and Lang. This is an awesome movie, one of the best comedies ever made, but at first glance the camera work and editing don’t seem to be helping. We put Rosalind and Cary in frame and they recite the screenplay as fast as they can manage and voila, instant classic. It can’t be that simple though, and every Hawks movie seems to be superb so there’s something Hawksian here, even if it’s only in his ability to attract the best scripts and collaborators. Let’s go to the experts. Actually let’s just go to Senses of Cinema:

“Hawks was able to impress upon these genre films his own personal worldview. It is essentially comic, rather than tragic, existential rather than religious, and irreverent rather than earnestly sentimental.”

“Nicknames point to the primacy of the group over the individual; the value of male bonding through rivalry or through rite of passage; the elevation of male communities validated by codes of ethics and professionalism; the potential for women to gain access to male groups in unconventional ways; and the articulation of mystique-laden alternative forms of social and sexual arrangements outside of Hollywood’s idealisation of the nuclear family. These are the traits of Hawks’ work which are almost universally noted by film critics.”

“Hawks’ own characteristic plain vanilla style (eye-level camera privileging dense formations of actors in the frame)…”

So not a mise-en-scene thing so much as an expression of a certain world-view. I get it.

This was the third or fourth time I’ve watched “His Girl Friday” since 2001, and I watched it not as a work that I know well, but as something new and exciting but vaguely familiar. When something happens I go “oh yeah, that’s what happened” but I have little prior recall of plot, character or dialogue. I am seriously thinking of renaming this site “The Amnesiac Filmgoer”. So rather than recount what happened in the movie and put up screenshots, I’m going to go ahead and forget it again so it’ll be just as new and exciting the next time I watch it.

The one where Cary Grant is married to Ginger Rogers (who gets to dance one time) and they take drugs that make them act like children. Marilyn Monroe plays a delicious secretary and gets to be the only actor on the DVD case, even though I thought both Grant and Rogers were a pretty big deal.

It’s a screwball comedy, which means there’s a funny fat posh guy (Charles Coburn) and some clueless nerdy guys and an actual monkey. Kinda funny and delightful, and kinda tiresome, like my reaction to Bringing Up Baby. One of the better comedies I saw this year though, and probably would’ve made a stronger impression if I hadn’t liked Cary Grant even better in The Philadelphia Story.

Delightful comedy, light and funny. Jimmy is a serious writer stooping to cover a society wedding with photographer Ruth. Katharine is marrying some schlub and Cary is her ex-husband, C.K. Dexter Haven, intent on making everything difficult for everyone. Katharine has important rich parents and a typically movie-precocious younger sister. K. almost falls for Jimmy at the end, but decides to remarry Cary, leaving Jimmy with Ruth and the schlub to wander off alone. Exactly the kind of movie they don’t make anymore (sorry, Intolerable Cruelty). Katy watched with me and was delighted.

George Cukor: My Fair Lady, Adam’s Rib, Bhowani Junction, fired from Gone with the Wind the year before.

Katharine Hepburn: after Bringing Up Baby and Sylvia Scarlett, before Adam’s Rib, Summertime and The African Queen.

Cary Grant: after His Girl Friday, Only Angels Have Wings and The Awful Truth, before Suspicion, Notorious and Arsenic & Old Lace.

James Stewart: after Shop Around The Corner and Mr. Smith, before Wonderful Life, Northside 777 and Rope.

Philadelphia Story: in the IMDB top 200, won two oscars (screenplay and jimmy stewart), nominated for four more, got beaten by Rebecca, John Ford, and Ginger Rogers (also playing a girl from Philadelphia).

Everyone who worked on this movie is dead (Ruth Hussey died last year).