Special Screenings 

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Special Screenings

By John DeFore


His Girl Friday

In most cases, movies based on theatrical productions are supposed to be a little ashamed of their origins. Like an aging bachelor applying Grecian formula to graying hair, filmmakers invent ways to move the action into new locations - moving chunks of dialogue from drawing-rooms to busy sidewalks, cutting away to show us action the play kept off-stage, and inserting exterior establishing shots at every opportunity. For heaven's sake, producers think, don't let the audience know this is only a play.

Then there are wonders like His Girl Friday, which use a handful of single-room sets, do every bit of their storytelling through dialogue, and dare you to complain. Based on the classic play The Front Page, the film relies entirely on the wit of its script and the charm of its stars. Six decades after its production, this archetypal screwball comedy delivers more laughs on the 10th viewing than any contemporary romantic comedy you can name does on its first. That's partly because so many zingers are buried in the hustle and bustle. "My cat just had kittens again," a woman announces to Rosalind Russell. Without batting an eye or breaking stride, Russell replies: "It's her own fault." Nobody seems to care if you hear that line, because there's another laugh right around the corner.

His Girl Friday

Dir. Howard Hawks; writ. Ben Hecht, Charles Lederer, based on the play by Charles MacArthur; feat. Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Bellamy, Gene Lockhart (NR)
The boulevards of Tinseltown are littered with failed attempts to recreate His Girl's rapid-fire banter and cynical edge. It helps that the leads, Grant and Russell, were able to convey attraction and repulsion simultaneously. They play newspaper folk (editor and star reporter, respectively) who are recently divorced. Russell, who has quit her job and become engaged to an honorable milquetoast, drops by the office to rub Grant's nose in her happiness one last time before the wedding. Fate intervenes, with a hot news story falling into the ex-reporter's lap, forcing the pair to work together and - you know the rest. The set-up has grown familiar through endless recycling, but Friday is as impervious to imitation as other genre classics such as The Big Sleep, Bringing Up Baby, and Scarface (which - will you look at that? - were also Howard Hawks pictures). •

By John DeFore

His Girl Friday shows as part of Texas Public Radio's "Cinema Tuesdays" series at 7:30pm, June 1 at the Bijou at Crossroads Theatre. Ticket price is $10 members/$12 non-members. Info and reservations: 614-8977 or tpr.org.


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