His Girl Friday ★★★★½

Drops slightly in my ranking of Hawks comedies, perhaps only because it’s a little slower than I remembered, which I realize is Dumb Criticism, because this is still totally zany. But what impresses me on this watch is that it starts off as normal and slowly ramps the tension, not through outside forces like the titular Baby of Bringing Up, but through a very elevated control of the performances. The film even almost drops out humor entirely at the attempted suicide of one character, and then suddenly zips back to action as soon as a new element is introduced. Hawks also has quite a knack for long takes in this film—many shots lasting one to two minutes, using the fast jitters of camera movement with the performance (Hildy jumping from phone to phone) as a way to create a madcap feel without faking it. Although we are aware of that both Hildy and Walter are performing for each other from the very first scene, what we learn is that Hildy cannot let go of this shtick—she enjoys the game too much. So the rat-a-tat becomes more addictive as it goes on before that final moment where Hildy begins crying because she realizes she enjoys the punishment Walter brings upon her; she needs the fun without necessarily the dignity. Dan Sallitt has an interesting take on this odd ending: “Does this difficulty in reconciling characterization with the principles of farce constitute an imperfection? It feels that way at times. Do I wish the imperfection were eliminated? I don't think so. Without the introduction of farce, Hawks wouldn't have a logical path that he can follow to the point of chaos. Maybe the spots where the two aesthetic planes don't quite meet are the price we pay for the excitement generated by bringing them together.” Sounds about right.