Worth watching for Shakespearian legend John Barrymore alone. He plays a stage director who is a huge drama queen himself, with wild hair to match. After an idiosyncratic casting session, he picks an inexperienced girl (Carole Lombard, later oscar-nom for My Man Godfrey, star of Mr. & Mrs. Smith and To Be or Not To Be) to be his new star and gives her a new name: Lily Garland. He directs the hell of her, telling her exactly where to move and what to do, and she obeys. Next thing you know, she’s the biggest star on Broadway, more famous than her still-celebrated director, and the two now have equally huge egos. Angry at him for being controlling, she sets off on her own, and he tries to create a new star to replace her, but fails hugely, and now he’s running from creditors and she’s starring in Hollywood films.

All that happens in the first half of a 90-minute movie. Then the two find themselves on the same train (the Twentieth Century, duh) headed back to New York and it gets crazy and I start forgetting plot details. She’s with her straight and proper boyfriend (where in Hollywood did she find him?) who is jealous of her former relationship with Barrymore. There’s a short man plastering “Repent!” stickers all over the train and gleefully writing bad checks for huge sums to everyone on board, including one to JB to stage the passion play with Lily Garland as Magdalene. Barrymore’s assistants (a publicist and a stage manager, I think) keep threatening to quit then rejoining JB’s schemes. It all works out in the end.

Hawks is said to have invented the screwball comedy with this one. Writers included Ben Hecht of His Girl Friday fame, and rumored help by Preston Sturges.

Watched in Boston instead of ponying up for pay-per-view. Katy liked it pretty well.

Carole Lombard is sad:
image

John Barrymore gives the conductor hell:
image

Left: Walter Connolly, playing Barrymore’s ever-faithful assistant. Right: the faux-rich, “repent now” loony played by Etienne Girardot. Both of these actors, along with stars Barrymore and Lombard, would be dead within ten years.
image

Kick-fight!
image

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.

My most important discovery about this film is that Marilyn Monroe’s performance (specifically her facial gestures) is the basis for Dean Stockwell’s Ben in Blue Velvet. Look into their eyes. Discovery #2 is that the film had a sequel (based on the sequel to the source novel), Gentlemen Marry Brunettes, but the only two people who worked on both movies were star Jane Russell and the costume designer. Not even the studio was the same. Discovery #3 was that this film was based on a novel!

Very great movie, starring Marilyn and Jane Russell at about the halfway point of their respective film careers. Mismatched friends on a pleasure cruise to France, Marilyn is a gold digger who is no genius but still smarter than she ever lets on, and Jane wants to find a good man, money or no money. Tommy Noonan (charlie ford in I Shot Jesse James) is Marilyn’s very rich wimp of a fiance who is content to be loved for his money. Elliott Reid (mostly a tv actor, starring in an indie film later this year) is the private eye whom Noonan’s father hires to spy on the girls aboard the ship and who falls in love with Jane. George Winslow (apparently a pretty famous child actor at the time) is hilarious upper-class kid Henry Spofford III. And the great Charles Coburn (The Lady Eve) is Piggy Beekman, a diamond mine owner who bumps into Marilyn. Piggy ends up giving a diamond tiara to Marilyn, Piggy’s wife reports it stolen, and Jane has to sub for Marilyn in a climactic courtroom scene, even stripping down and performing her “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend” (better than marilyn’s version, according to Katy) in court to stall for time.

The Howard Hawks irreverent/comic worldview and his “alternative forms of social and sexual arrangements outside of Hollywood’s idealisation of the nuclear family” are in proud effect here. The songs are great, Marilyn is great, and Jane manages not to be blown off the stage nor does she act out to overcompensate. Katy liked it too!

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.