What’s new that can be said about His Girl Friday, Howard Hawks’ lightning-speed newspaper comedy which employed the genius tactic of making The Front Page’s previously XY Hildy Johnson the ex-wife (Rosalind Russell) of full-throttle city editor Walter Burns (Cary Grant)? Well, I’m not entirely sure, but since it’s number 10 on my chronologically ordered Top 100 list, I had intended to revisit it and talk a little bit more about this movie so filled with glorious talk. But again, what can be said about that glorious talk that hasn’t already been said before, and brilliantly, by the likes of Molly Haskell and
Tom Powers? Danny Peary’s entry in his original Cult Movies book was also illuminating. And you know what? I’d absolutely love to read what Campaspe might have to say if she turned herself loose on this great film.
I was about to undertake what I feared would be just another testimonial to the movie’s enduring magnificence when Fate intervened in the form of a YouTube clip I spied on Bad for the Glass this morning. The Shamus had pointed the way toward a new way of looking at this 67-year-old comedy masterpiece that was just the refreshing change of pace I was looking for. My favorite gumshoe blogger poses the question: “What would His Girl Friday be like without the famous Hecht and MacArthur rat-a-tat dialogue?” He then introduces the clip featured below, an experimental, literal deconstruction of the film that excises every word of that celebrated verbiage, leaving in only the few dead spots—the sneezes, the wheezes, the grunts, the pauses and “Cary Grant’s delightful laugh.” All spoken words removed, the 92-minute movie is shrunken down to about 8 minutes and 20 seconds. As the Shamus observes, if one knows the plot of His Girl Friday backward and forward, this reductio ad absurdum has the unexpected effect of highlighting the subtle touches of staging that Hawks could bring to even such a set-bound film as this. But I also found myself noting the visual space created by the actors, their level of comfort with each other, and within the frame, and how that space eventually gets pummelled into bits as the "movie" progresses. (Some of these inadvertant edits and resulting "reaction shots" are hilarious too.) This strange little edit of His Girl Friday has the unexpected effect of underscoring the simple, yet teasingly complex appeal of Grant, Russell, Ralph Bellamy, John Qualen, Gene Lockhart and the rest of the cast, as actors, personalities and graphic entities, by charting them in shards and compressed in time, shorn of the one element-- their very entertaining speech-- most viewers would seize on first when mounting an appreciation of the film.
This “between the lines” edit is surely no replacement for enjoying His Girl Friday at full length, but it is valuable and entertaining as a different perspective, and it will definitely whet your appetite to see the unexpurgated megillah, words and all.