His Girl Friday ★★★★½

Dialogue as violence: it cuts, it stabs, it has the same rat-a-tat as the gunfire that punctuates a central narrative transition. Rosalind Russell falls into the material like it's a song she's singing, and the absolute trust and familiarity that she exhibits with Cary Grant and the other "newsmen" is full-bodied and three-dimensional. The relentless overlapping dialogue is easy enough to catch, as is the strength, wisdom and resilience of Russell's character -- Hawks doesn't seem to make a strong case that either domesticity or careerism is the "right" choice, he makes a pretty solid argument for both -- but the surprising thing is how much gravity it has, the pain under the sarcasm that flies back and forth in the press room. The Front Page was acerbic and cold, Five Star Final soppy and melodramatic, and this -- as balletic as its repartee is, and as much as the hard-luck romance centering on hapless fall guy Ralph Bellamy is pure screwball -- is, somehow, the real world, unvarnished, wonderful, tragic and painfully direct.

Slight upgrade; a longer piece is inevitable eventually. When I encountered this in 2005 it was three months after first seeing Bringing Up Baby and I was, maybe inevitably, going through a period of wanting every comedy I saw and certainly every Hawks film I saw to be Bringing Up Baby. I knew this was good but it couldn't come out from under that shadow. In some ways I miss how often I could be that blown away and blindsided by brash, imaginative new-to-me stuff back in those formative years (I saw Treasure of the Sierra Madre and The Conversation for the first time the same week I saw Baby) but I also realize now how the nuanced views offered by aging, and the awareness of far more movie history context, now allow me to see even more dimension in something like His Girl Friday, which has so much to offer and is a tough, spirited tornado of a good time that doesn't diminish at all with age. And on a dreadful week like this, it feels important to watch a woman kicking ass and defying traditionally sanctioned gender roles in whatever fashion is available.

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