His Girl Friday (1940, Howard Hawks)

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.