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Top 15 Films Directed by Howard Hawks

 

One of my all time favorite directors is the amazing Howard Hawks! He has so many classics to his name people don’t know what category to put him in and so often he gets missed because he was so all-around great at directing anything and everything. One of the very best things about him is that he doesn’t do a lot of tricks with the camera. He nails the camera down and lets the story unfold and captivate the audience. He was simple and because of that, his style paired well with every genre as he made masterpieces in comedy, film noir, action, drama, western, science fiction, gangster…you name it, it’s there. His dialogue is rapid-fire…his scripts were 3 times longer than anyone else’s and he set the bar very high for his actors. Here are my top 15 favorite Howard Hawks films:

15.  The Dawn Patrol (1930)Dawn Patrol

He never got over the plane crash death of his brother Kenneth Hawks of whom, Howard later said, probably had the potential to be an even greater filmmaker than himself. Nonetheless, he continued to fly after his brother’s death and went on to shoot many films about pilots, like this film and the next one on the list. The Dawn Patrol was released 8 months after his brother’s death. Director Howard Hawks, also was a pilot in the US Army during World War I, and he flew in the battle scenes of this movie as a German pilot. Remade eight years later with Errol Flynn and David Niven virtually word -for-word.

14.  Only Angels Have Wings (1939)

Howard Hawks, definitely had his favorite stars to work with. One of his favorite actors was Cary Grant. He worked with him 5 times and all but Monkey Business (1952) has made my list. He said of Grant, “Cary Grant was so far the best that there isn’t anybody to be compared to him.”  Now, in return, Howard Hawks and Jean Arthur did not get along during filming. Arthur was not used to Hawks’ highly improvisational style, and when Hawks wanted Arthur to play Bonnie much in a subtly sexy way (not unlike his other “Hawksian women”, Arthur flatly said, “I can’t do that kind of stuff.” Hawks told Arthur at the end of the shoot, “You are one of the few people I’ve worked with that I don’t think I’ve helped at all. Someday you can go see what I wanted to do because I’m gonna do this character all over again.” Years later Hawks returned home to find Arthur waiting for him in his driveway. She had just seen his To Have and Have Not (1944) and confessed, “I wish I’d done what you’d asked me to do. If you ever make another picture with me, I’ll promise to do any goddamn thing you want to do. If a kid (Lauren Bacall) can come in and do that kind of stuff, I certainly could do it.” Hawks and Arthur never collaborated again.Only Angels Have Wings

A lot of the film was from Hawks own experiences as a pilot. A certain critic said, “It’s the only picture Hawks ever made that didn’t have any truth in it”. Hawks shot back, “I wrote him a letter and said, “Every blooming thing in that movie was true. I knew the men that were in it and everything about it”. But it was just where truth was stranger than fiction.” For example, Howard Hawks had known a real-life flier who once parachuted from a burning plane. His copilot died in the ensuing crash and his fellow pilots shunned him for the rest of his life. In this film, Richard Barthelmess plays a pilot who is shunned because he jumped out of a plane and left his mechanic to die. In another scene, with the exception of the rain, The Kid’s death scene was copied nearly exactly and word-per-word from a pilot’s death that Hawks had actually witnessed years before.

13.  Red River (1948)Red River lobby card

Another actor that Hawks frequently worked with was John Wayne. After seeing John Wayne’s performance in the film, directed by rival director Howard Hawks, John Ford is quoted as saying, “I never knew the big son of a bitch could act.” This led to Ford casting Wayne in more complex roles in films like She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) and The Searchers (1956). When Ford was dying they used to discuss how hard it was to make a western without Wayne. “John Wayne represents more force, more power, than anybody else on the screen,” Hawks would say later. “He never squawks about anything. He’s the easiest person I ever worked with. Because he never says anything about it, he just goes ahead and does it.” He would add, “Wayne is underrated. He’s an awfully good actor. He holds a thing together; he gives it a solidity and honesty, and he can make a lot of things believable.” Hawks worked with Wayne in 5 movies as well, in Red River, Rio Bravo, Hitari! (1962), El Dorado (1967) and Rio Lobo (1970).

Filmed in 1946 but held for release for two years, in part due to legal problems with Howard Hughes who claimed it was similar to his The Outlaw (1943). Writer Borden Chase readily admitted that the storyline was Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) with saddles and stirrups.

12.  Ball of Fire (1941)Ball of Fire lobby Card

This is a splendid take on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as if Snow White was a wisecracking nightclub singer and the seven dwarfs were seven educated college professors. Gary Cooper and Barbara Standwick work together for the 2nd time in 1941 (the first time being the marvelous Frank Capra film, Meet John Doe), and they are magic. The roles of the seven professors (besides Gary Cooper) were inspired by Disney’s Seven Dwarfs. There is even a photograph showing the actors sitting in front of a Disney poster, each one in front of his corresponding dwarf: S.Z. Sakall – Dopey; Leonid Kinskey – Sneezy; Richard Haydn – Bashful; Henry Travers – Sleepy; Aubrey Mather – Happy; Tully Marshall – Grumpy, and Oskar Homolka – Doc.

11.  Scarface (1932)

As of the fifth edition of “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die” (edited by Steven Schneider), 11 of Hawks’ films are included, second only to Alfred Hitchcock in abundance. The films are: Scarface (1932), Bringing Up Baby (1938), Only Angels Have Wings (1939), His Girl Friday (1940), Sergeant York (1941), To Have and Have Not(1944), The Big Sleep (1946), Red River (1948), The Big Sky (1952), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) and Rio Bravo (1959).Scarface-Half-Sheet

Screenwriter Ben Hecht was a former Chicago journalist familiar with the city’s Prohibition-era gangsters, including Al Capone. During the filming Hecht returned to his Los Angeles hotel room one night to find two Capone torpedoes waiting for him. The gangsters demanded to know if the movie was about Capone. Hecht assured them it wasn’t, saying that the character Tony Camonte was based on gangsters like “Big” Jim Colosimo and Charles Dion O’Bannion. “Then why is the movie called Scarface?” one of the hoods demanded. “Everyone will think it’s about Capone!” “That’s the reason,” said Hecht. “If you call the movie Scarface (1932), people will think it’s about Capone and come to see it. It’s part of the racket we call show business.” The Capone hoods, who appreciated the value of a scam, left the hotel placated.

Al Capone was rumored to have liked the film so much that he had his own copy of it, on 35mm film.

10.  Twentieth Century (1934)twentieth century lobby card

When asked by John Barrymore why he should play the role of Oscar, Howard Hawks replied, “It’s the story of the biggest ham on earth and you’re the biggest ham I know.” Barrymore accepted at once. John Barrymore once said that the role of Oscar was “a role that comes once in a lifetime” and even deemed this his favorite of all the movies he appeared in.  After filming had ended, John Barrymore gave Carole Lombard an autographed photo inscribed, “To the finest actress I have worked with, bar none.”  Howard Hawks allowed John Barrymore and Carole Lombard to improvise freely during filming. “When people are as good as those two, the idea of just sticking to lines is rather ridiculous,” he told Peter Bogdanovich in an interview. “Because if Barrymore gets going, and he had the ability to do it, I’d just say, ‘Go do it.’ And Lombard would answer him; she was such a character, just marvelous.”

9.  Sergeant York (1941)

Hawks had said in interviews that he was supposed to direct the now-beloved Casablanca (1942) and Michael Curtiz was meant to direct Sergeant York (1941). However, the two directors had lunch together and Curtiz complained that he knew nothing about the “hill people”, while Hawks was struggling to make this “musical comedy”, so they switched films. Hawks said that he always considered “Casablanca” a musical comedy because of the number of singing scenes in the café, namely the “La Marseillaise” scene. Later, Hawks said that Curtiz shot the film “beautifully and the whole picture came out different because of the two people in it [Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman]. They made you believe something. When I saw ‘Casablanca’ I liked it, but I never had any faith in my doing anything like that.” (Book Source: “Who the Devil Made it...” by Peter Bogdanovich).sergeant york

Even though he was one of the most prolific directors of his generation, having directed five actors to Oscar nominations, he himself has only been nominated for an Academy Award once. It was for Sergeant York and he lost to John Ford for How Green is My Valley.

8.  Bringing Up Baby (1938)

Directed three of the American Film Institute’s 100 Funniest Movies: Bringing Up Baby (1938) at #14, His Girl Friday (1940) at #19 and Ball of Fire (1941) at #92. I discuss this film in a little detail on my post about Cary Grant’s finest films:  CLICK HERE TO READ THIS POST. This film is the inspiration for Peter Bogdanovich’s movie What’s Up, Doc? with Barbra Steisand and Ryan O’Neal.Bringing Up baby Lobby Card

The scene in which Susan’s dress is ripped was inspired by something that happened to Cary Grant. He was at the Roxy Theater one night and his pants zipper was down when it caught on the back of a woman’s dress. Grant impulsively followed her. When he told this story to Howard Hawks, Hawks loved it and put it into the film. Christopher Reeve based his performance as Clark Kent in four “Superman” movies on Cary Grant’s “David Huxley” from this film. Now, truth is Howard Hawks modeled Cary Grant’s character, David, on silent film comedian Harold Lloyd, even having Grant wear glasses like the comedian. So we can thank Harold Lloyd for this movie, What’s Up, Doc? and 4 Superman movies!

7.  To Have and Have Not (1944)

Screen debut of Betty Bacall, who Hawks renamed Lauren Bacall. He thought it sounded better. Hawks’ wife saw her on the cover of a magazine and persuaded him to put her in the movie. Humphrey Bogart and Bacall met and fell in love in this movie and were married a year later. They were married up until his death.  Many aspects of Lauren Bacall’s screen persona in To Have and Have Not were based on Hawks’ wife, Slim (nicknamed by Hawks), including her glamorous dresses, long blonde hair, smoky voice and demure, mysterious demeanor. Humphrey Bogart’s character also refer to Bacall by the nickname “Slim” in the movie.To Have and Have Not Lobby Card

He said of Bacall, “We discovered Bacall was a little girl who, when she becomes insolent, becomes rather attractive. That was the only way you noticed her, because she could do it with a grin. So I said to Bogie (Humphrey Bogart), “We are going to try an interesting thing. You are about the most insolent man on the screen and I’m going to make this girl a little more insolent than you are.””

6.  Man’s Favorite Sport (1964)Mans Favorite Sport Lobby Card

This film was meant to be an homage/remake to Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby (1938), and Hawks even wanted Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant to star in the movie. Katherine Hepburn and Cary grant turned the movie down however and Paula Prentiss and Rock Hudson was cast instead. It’s a great and fun movie and I think it’s my 2nd favorite movie with Rock Hudson behind the magnificent Pillow Talk with Doris Day. The screwball formula is there, however, and I especially love it when the female is the nutty and manic one of the two people in a screwball comedy as Paula is in this one.  She really puts Rock through some really rough things in this one. Fun…

5.  The Thing From Another World (1951) (uncredited)The Thing From Another World Lobby Card

Was the uncredited “ghost director” on the science-fiction classic The Thing from Another World (1951), for which his longtime editor and friend Christian Nyby received sole credit. It was only near the end of Hawks’ life that both he and Nyby conceded that he had indeed directed most of the film, as had long been rumored. On the other hand, several of the film’s cast members…James Arness was adamant in interviews that Nyby did in fact direct the film by himself, although Hawks–as the film’s producer–did have input. As opposed to that interview with James Arness, the film’s Star, Kenneth Tobey has maintained in many interviews that it was indeed Hawks who directed the film. Tobey said that he had worked with Nyby after this film on many occasions and he was a fine director, but Hawks did call the shots on most of the film. Regardless, I’ll add it here, as the film is fabulous! I write about this movie in some detail regarding the stunt  work for the film: PLEASE CLICK HERE TO READ.

4.  I Was a Male War Bride (1949)I Was A Male War Bride Lobby Card

This film was based on I Was an Alien Spouse of Female Military Personnel Enroute to the United States Under Public Law 271 of the Congress, a biography of Henri Rochard, a Belgian who married an American nurse. It is the story of French Army officer Henri Rochard (Grant) who must pass as a war bride in order to go back to the United States with Women’s Army Corps officer Catherine Gates (Ann Sheridan). The film is noted as being a low key screwball comedy with a famous final sequence featuring Cary Grant impersonating a female Army nurse. I find this film to be hilarious…I discuss this film in a little detail on my post about Cary Grant’s finest films:  CLICK HERE TO READ THIS POST. The film was Howard Hawks’ 3rd highest grosser, behind only Sergeant York (1941) and Red River (1948)

3.  Rio Bravo (1959)Rio Bravo

Hawks would say in an interview, “Rio Bravo (1959) was made because I didn’t like a picture called High Noon (1952). I saw “High Noon” at about the same time I saw another western picture, and we were talking about western pictures and they asked me if I liked it, and I said, “Not particularly”. I didn’t think a good sheriff was going to go running around town like a chicken with his head off asking for help, and finally his Quaker wife had to save him. That isn’t my idea of a good western sheriff. I said that a good sheriff would turn around and say, “How good are you? Are you good enough to take the best man they’ve got?” The fellow would probably say no, and he’d say, “Well, then I’d just have to take care of you”. And that scene was in Rio Bravo.”

Quentin Tarantino said that Hawks’ Rio Bravo, may be his favorite movie of all time. Now, I’m not sure I would praise the film this way, but I will say this…it is my favorite Western I’ve ever seen and remains so to this day.

2.  His Girl Friday (1940)His Girl Friday (Lobby Card) 1940

I discuss this film twice in our blog, once in a little detail on my post about Cary Grant’s finest films and then again in a post when I mention how the film was made from a play called the Front Page:  CLICK HERE TO READ THIS POST ABOUT CARY GRANT. CLICK HERE TO READ THIS POST ABOUT THE FRONT PAGE.

One of the first, if not the first, films to have characters talk over the lines of other characters, for a more realistic sound. Prior to this, movie characters completed their lines before the next lines were started. The film could have been another pairing of Grant with Katherine Hepburn, as she was offered the role of Hildy, but she ultimately turned it down and the part when to Rosalind Russell.

1.  The Big Sleep (1946)

This film was co-written by Hawks and frequent collaborator William Faulkner, who also wrote To Have and Have Not with him. It’s one of my all time favorite films and is just perfect from start to finish. William Faulkner never adjusted to life in Hollywood. While working on the script, he told Howard Hawks that the studio atmosphere was stifling him and asked if he could work at home. Hawks agreed. After a few days without hearing from the writer, Hawks called his hotel, only to learn that Faulkner had checked out and gone back to his native Mississippi. When Hawks called him there, Faulkner protested, “Well, you said I could go home and write, didn’t you?”the-big-sleep Lobby Card

Howard Hawks enjoyed working with Humphrey Bogart and always called him “Bogie”. He would say of Bogie, “He was an extremely hard-working actor. He’d always pretend that he wasn’t, that he didn’t give a damn, but that wasn’t true. One day I said to him, “Bogie, you’re just a great big phony.” He put his finger to his lips and grinned at me. “Sure,” he said, “but don’t tell anyone.”” There was even a funny moment in a book store for Bogart where he acts like a nerd. The fussy persona that Marlowe adopts upon arriving in Geiger’s bookstore has been a subject of argument for years; Lauren Bacall said that Humphrey Bogart came up with it while Howard Hawks claimed in interviews that it was his idea. What both of them failed to notice is that it was in the original book (“I had my horn-rimmed glasses on. I put my voice high and let a bird twitter in it.) So in the end, all Bogart did was elaborate on it. According to Lauren Bacall, production was such fun, that they got a memo from Jack L. Warner saying “Word has reached me that you are having fun on the set. This must stop.”

 

Cary Grant’s Top 15 Movies

 

You’ll be surprised at what I rank as the top Cary Grant movie! Let’s get that out of the way, right up front. You should also know that he’s my favorite actor, so I love most of his movies. It’s really hard to come up with his best, so I’ll for-go that and only pick my favorites of all of his films. I also may have nostalgic reasons behind some of my picks, but as time goes by, those types of things really play into our favorites don’t they? Like who we watched it with, what was going on in our lives when we saw it, how did it make us feel, and so on and so on.

15.  Gunga Din

Grant, Cary (Gunga Din)

There are really two storylines here, the first one is based on Rudyard Kipling’s short stories of The Soldiers Three and is the reason why the movie made my list. The second  storyline is based on Rudyard Kipling’s poem Gunga Din and is the reason this movie almost didn’t make my list. The poem is about a boy and would have made for a great movie, if the role was not played by a 47-YEAR OLD WHITE MAN (Sam Jaffe). The two storylines mingle pretty well overall, it’s just really annoying to see this old man playing a boy.

14.  An Affair To RememberAn-Affair-To-Remember

Of course you can thank Sleepless in Seattle for an awareness to this movie to my generation in the 80’s…but it’s such a great movie, it was bound to have a resurgence. This is a remake of Love Affair, both directed by Leo McCarey, and is superior to the first film in a lot of ways, but in part due to the fact that Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr was given the freedom of improvisation during filming and many of the new lines made it into the final cut.  Cary Grant was a brilliant improviser.

13.  Holidayholiday

At about this time, I realized that Katherine Hepburn had actually several successful on-screen pairings with other actors, other than Spencer Tracy, and one of these was with Cary Grant. They are magnificent together and would go on to appear in four movies together. One of the things I remember about this movie is the flip that Cary Grant does at the end of the movie.  It was one of the only times that his background as an acrobat is ever seen on-screen in his movies. This list could also be a celebration of the writer Donald Ogden Stewart, as 3 of his movies make this list as he wrote Love Affair, Holiday and The Philadelphia Story.

12.  Houseboathouseboat-cary-grant-sophia-loren

I won’t talk a lot about this film, as I enjoyed it, when I first saw it. It’s tainted a bit over time when I learned about all the cheating that was going on behind the scenes. You can read up on that somewhere else. It’s ironic, really, when you think of all the fantastic family films that the director Melville Shavelson is famous for. Films like Yours, Mine and Ours, Room For One More (also starring Cary Grant and then wife, Betsy Drake, but doesn’t make my list), Trouble Along the Way (which I mention in a previous blog post), The Seven Little Foys, and The Five Pennies.

11.  Operation Petticoat

Operation_Petticoat_poster

Great movie directed by Blake Edwards and also starring Tony Curtis!  Some of the plot points of the movie are based on real incidents in WWII. The original actor chosen to play the role Cary Grant took was Bob Hope, but he turned it down and later really regretted it.

10.  My Favorite WifeDunne, Irene (My Favorite Wife)

This is just a really fun movie directed by Garson Kanin and co-starring Irene Dunne and Randolph Scott. Randolph Scott and Cary Grant were roommates for 12 years when they first arrived in Hollywood. This is their first and only movie together. Irene Dunne acted in 3 movies with Cary. They are a great pair and I could have easily added their other two movies to this list but one movie is really sad and the subject matter of the other is just not one of my preferences, but both movies were very good. Penny Serenade and The Awful Truth. My Favorite Wife was remade in 1963 as Move Over, Darling with Doris Day and James Garner. I really like that version as well.

9.  Father GooseFatherGoose

This is Cary’s second to last film and by all accounts his character is supposedly the closest to his real personality. He later said that he enjoyed making this movie as he got to be the “Father” to a group of young girls and it made him realize that he missed out on fatherhood. He and wife Diane Cannon would have his own daughter just 2 years later, Jennifer Grant. he would stay in touch with many of the girls over the years as they grew up and had families of their own. He was an incredibly devoted father and retired soon after Jennifer was born so that he could spend his remaining years with her. He would go on to say that she was his “best” production.

8.  I Was a Male War Bridei-was-a-male-war-bride

My mother introduced this one to me one afternoon when I came to visit her and we spent the day just laughing all the way through it. Especially when Ann Sheridan makes Cary Grant climb a pole to read a sign at the top of it just to realize that the sign says, “Wet Paint”. Directed by Howard Hawks, this film was pretty popular when it came out, but virtually forgotten over time. The film grossed over $4.5 million, making it 20th Century Fox’s biggest earner of 1949. The film was also Howard Hawks’ 3rd highest grosser, behind only Sergeant York (1941) and Red River (1948).

7.  To Catch a ThiefCary-Grant-in-To-Catch-a-Thief

One of two directed by Alfred Hitchcock that made my list.  I love it when Cary’s improvisations make reference to his past, as one does in this film. Cary’s role of John Robie, mentions that as a youth he was in a trapeze group that traveled around Europe. In real life, Cary was in an acrobatic troupe that toured around Europe (and eventually came to America) when he was young.  This movie also features Grace Kelly in the on-screen’s only pairing, but they have incredible chemistry.

6.  The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxerbobbysox

This movie is so fun, in part to a just-about-grown-up Shirley Temple (who’s fabulous as usual) but more so because of the fantastic Myrna Loy, who has become a favorite actress of mine over the years.  Directed by Irving Reis and written by Sydney Sheldon (creator of TV’s The Patty Duke Show, I Dream of Jeannie and Hart To Hart), it’s a great little film that has really gone unnoticed as of the last couple of decades.

5.  North By NorthwestNorth-by-Northwest

The top 5 will make sense to most except my number 1 choice is sure to be confusing to most.  But this one would make just about everyone’s top 5.  You’d be hard pressed to find a better thriller than this one. Great supporting cast with Eva Marie Saint, James Mason and Martin Landau. Cary Grant found the screenplay baffling, and midway through filming told Alfred Hitchcock, “It’s a terrible script. We’ve already done a third of the picture and I still can’t make head or tail of it!” Hitchcock knew this confusion would only help the film-after all, Grant’s character had no idea what was going on, either. Grant thought the film would be a flop right up until its premiere, where it was rapturously received. As a side note, a panel of fashion experts convened by GQ in 2006 said the gray suit worn by Cary Grant throughout almost the entire film was the best suit in film history, and the most influential on men’s style, stating that it has since been copied for Tom Cruise’s character in Collateral (2004) and Ben Affleck’s character in Paycheck (2003). This sentiment has been echoed by writer Todd McEwen, who called it “gorgeous,” and wrote a short story “Cary Grant’s Suit” which recounts the film’s plot from the viewpoint of the suit.

4.  CharadeCharade-1963

Now the placement of these final four was pretty hard for me as I really LOVE all of these films.  They are all perfect to me.  Perfect stories, perfectly cast, perfectly directed by Stanley Donen. Charade is a great movie and has some of the best actors around. Audrey Hepburn, George Kennedy, Walter Matthau and James Coburn.  The chemistry between Audrey and Cary is so great, they had a wonderful time on location and ad-libbed several classic exchanges.  My favorite being, “How do you shave in here…”, Audrey says while pointing to Cary’s chin. After finishing this film, Cary Grant was quoted as saying, “All I want for Christmas is to make another movie with Audrey Hepburn,” and this nearly happened twice when Cary and Audrey almost made My Fair Lady and Father Goose together. The character played by Cary even quotes a line from My Fair Lady (“On the street where you live”), the film version of which would star Audrey the following year.

3.  The Philadelphia StoryThe Philadelphia Story

I mentioned this one earlier as a screenplay written by Donald Ogden Stewart. It also stars Katherine Hepburn and James Stewart. My only wish is that they had given the role played by John Howard to Clark Gable instead, that would have been really fantastic. As it is, he’s largely forgettable in the role as Katherine Hepburn’s fiancee. In response to Cary Grant’s improvisational skills, James Stewart once said in an interview, “I play a writer who falls in love with Katharine Hepburn. The night before her wedding I have a little too much to drink. This gives me the courage to go and talk to Cary, who’s playing her ex-husband. So I go to Cary’s house and knock on the door. It’s obvious I’ve had too much to drink, but he lets me in.  It was time to do the scene, and Cary said, “George, why don’t we just go ahead? If you don’t like it, we’ll do it again.” So, without a rehearsal or anything, we started the scene. As I was talking, it hit me that I’d had too much to drink. So, as I explained things to Cary, I hiccuped. In answer to the hiccup, Cary said — out of the clear blue sky — “Excuse me.” Well, I sort of said, “Ummm?” It was very difficult for me to keep a straight face, because his ad-libbed response had been so beautifully done … Cary had an almost perfect humor.” Just watch it for yourself, it’s a perfect moment on film. Now Stewart was being modest, by the way, he’s great in the film and would go on to win the Academy Award for his role. Something Cary Grant never did, which to me is the biggest sham over the years, maybe not for this film, but for any number of his other performances. Donald Ogden Stewart won an Academy Award as well for his wonderful script. Cary Grant was given the choice of which of the two male lead roles he wanted to play. Surprisingly, he chose the less showy part.

2.  His Girl Fridayhis girl friday 1

I mention this film in detail in the blog post for The Front Page.  It’s was a film directed masterfully by Howard Hawks. He switched what was originally 2 males in the play to a male and female and divorced at that for the movie and called it, His Girl Friday. It was stroke of pure genius. 1940 was the ultimate year for Cary Grant as he made 4 movies released that year and 3 of them make my top 15 list. My Favorite Wife and The Philadelphia Story being the other 2 and the one not in the list being The Howards of Virginia. The dialogue in this film is extremely fast, with most characters talking over each other. It is estimated that the normal rate of verbal dialogue in most films is around 90 words a minute. In His Girl Friday, the delivery has been clocked at 240 words a minute. Even so, there is still a lot of improvisation going on, and it’s a lot of fun.

And here’s my pick for #1:

1. People Will TalkPeople Will Talk

I have this lobby card in my home office, my wife gave it to me for Christmas one year, knowing it was my favorite film of all time, let alone, my favorite Cary Grant movie.  Joseph Mankiewicz wrote and directed this film from a play (Dr. med. Hiob Prätorius) by Curt Goetz.  Great cast includes Hume Cronyn, Jeanne Crain, Finlay Currie, and Walter Slezak. This film never ceases to make me laugh and cry, it’s full of humor, suspense and drama. It also doesn’t shy away from some of the biggest social commentary that I’ve ever seen in any movie.  Dr. Praetorius as played by Cary Grant simply represents a better man that many of us rarely ever achieve. His motives pure, his intellect, compassion, wit and his viewpoint strong and true. In truth, I haven’t seen a film that was more thought-provoking than this one. It’s introspective and makes you examine the human spirit, social mores, science, etiquette and prejudice of community and medicine in such broad and entertaining ways. Maybe I’m looking into this way too much, but it sure is damn entertaining! I guess I like this film so much because at heart I am an emotional animal and this film is at it’s core, emotional. The plot may be muddled for some and it’s identity lost as some people can never define if it’s a comedy, drama, romance, detective story or what, but to me it’s all of those things and more.

Well, there you have it. Now you may want to go back and watch all of these, or I hope, re-watch most of these, but the most important thing is that you enjoy his body of work. You may end up with a list like mine or you can go back to the drawing board and include his other films like, Notorious, Suspicion, Arsenic and Old Lace, Night and Day, Bringing Up Baby, Topper, Once Upon a Honeymoon, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, Indiscreet, That Touch of Mink or any other of his fantastic films. But that’s the fun…finding your own top 15!cary-grant1

The Front Page

 

This incredible Broadway play was made into several equally good movies over the years, my favorite being a gender-switch for the main character.  It was written in 1928 by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur.  The first movie to be made was the faithful “The Front Page” (1931) directed by Lewis Milestone and features Pat O’Brien and Adolphe Menjou. It’s very much the play, with a lot of great dialogue and great character actors. It went on to 3 Academy Award nominations.The-Front-Page-1931

My favorite one was next and it features one of the most ingenious casting choices of all time when Howard Hawks decided to change the role of Hildebrand Johnson into Hildegard Johnson and cast Rosalind Russell. It was a brilliant move to have the two main characters divorced and sparing. Cary Grant plays the Walter Burns role perfectly and it is my FAVORITE of all of Cary Grant’s performances, in a plethora (Jefe, what is a plethora?) of perfect performances. They also switched the title to “His Girl Friday” (1940).Russell-Rosalind-His-Girl-Friday

I should mention that Howard Hawks very much wanted to keep the dialogue like it was in the play where it was fast paced and had a lot of the characters talking over each other.  Because of this, Hawks wanted each actor to come up with improvised bits and action for each of their characters.  Rosalind Russell, not to be outdone, hired an advertising writer that worked with her brother-in-law to make sure that her “improvisations” were especially witty and Hawks never caught on, but Cary Grant did and every morning would ask her, “What have you got today?”.  She was also perfectly cast and has fantastic chemistry with Grant and her fiancee in the film, Ralph Bellamy.His_Girl_Friday

The next version of “The Front Page” (1974) was directed by Billy Wilder and featured the male roles intact again with Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon paired up. The pairing was so successful that they would go on to do a total of 10 movies together (although they do not have any scenes together in JFK) and were very good friends off camera as well. Jack Lemmon also directed only 1 movie his entire career, and he made sure the star was none other than Walter Matthau.  It was “Kotch“. Lemmon would go on to say about Matthau, “Walter is a helluva actor. The best I’ve ever worked with.”.

Matthau-Lemmon- Front Page

The last one really worth mentioning and that seems to have been really forgotten over time is the fabulous, “Switching Channels” directed by Ted Kotcheff and it switches the gender roles again with Kathleen Turner playing the Rosalind Russell role.  Burt Reynolds plays the Cary Grant role and Christopher Reeve plays the Ralph Bellamy role.  This time the setting has been changed as well to be in the world of broadcast news and so a lot of the newspaper men chatter has been completely cut from this version. It really focuses in on the relationships and works well, I think. All the actors are fantastic in their roles.switchingchannels

Now all of the other previous versions were pretty big hits, except this one and it’s a real shame as this is highly under-rated, in my opinion.  The failure may have been due to the release of the very popular and critically praised Broadcast News months before. People thought it was too much of the same thing. Burt Reynolds grabbed this film because Cary Grant was a big inspiration to him for years and this finally gave him an opportunity to play a role of his. I think you can really tell in this film that he studied Cary’s performance as it reflects his own.  Burt Reynolds and Cary Grant are two actors that I can honestly say, could do any genres as they were equally good at comedy, action, romance and drama over their careers.

LINKS:

THE FRONT PAGE (1931) CLIPS

THE FRONT PAGE (1974) TRAILER

HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940) TRAILER

Bringing Up Baby, What’s Up, Doc?

 

These are two of my favorite films of all time, and the saddest thing is that no-one seems to know about them!  I mention them to people and no-one has ever watched the films.  They’ve been overlooked and forgotten over time.

Peter Bogdanovich, being a huge film fan, loved the screwball comedies of old.  A very good example of this type of film is Bringing Up Baby (1938) which has 5 main elements that make for a very successful screwball comedy; Cary Grant, the bumbling absentminded professor type, Katherine Hepburn, the smart crafty and manipulative woman that wants the Cary Grant character to fall in love with her at all costs, the object the Cary Grant character is after, in this case, a dinosaur bone, this is where number four comes in, the giant mix-up (helps to have a dog and leopard for this) and then last is very fast dialogue.whts up baby

This formula has been repeated multiple times since and soon after developed it’s own genre within comedy, the screwball.  I would argue that this wasn’t the first screwball comedy, Twentieth Century (1934) may have been first, but I’m not entirely sure if all the elements were in place.  I will give credit to figuring out the formula to Howard Hawks, who really seemed to be great at putting together the right elements, just think about how he changed the Hildy Johnson role in the play The Front Page into a woman (Hildebrand turned into Hildegard) instead of a man and turned it into another fantastic film, His Girl Friday (1940) as an example of truly how good he was at it.  I’m giving credit to the term screwball comedy due to the fact that to even be considered to be a so-called “screwball comedy” director Howard Hawks thought there couldn’t be any “normal” people in the movie, and that everyone had to be a “screwball.”

Now, let me take the opportunity to say that these elements are my opinion, but to me, seemed to be the five elements that make for a successful screwball comedy. If a screwball comedy is missing one of these items, it can still be a screwball but will be less successful.

All these elements are in What’s Up, Doc? and it’s no surprise that the title even includes “up” in both movies.  The bumbling absent-minded professor is Ryan O’Neal, Barbra Streisand is the smart crafty manipulative woman, the object Ryan is after is a suitcase full of igneous rocks, the mix-up includes 3 other identical suitcases that include secret documents, diamonds, or just plain clothes, and finally it also has the incredibly fast dialogue.whats-up-doc-cinema-lobby-card

As a side note, Barbra Streisand has gone on record to say she didn’t get this movie at all and thought the comedy wouldn’t work, she said she never knew what was really going on.  She said recently, “I was just a hired actress on that film. Just following orders.” Which is truly a shame, because I think she was brilliant in this movie and really is a natural at comedy!  Her instincts are dead on and she could have had a huge career in the comedy genre, but since she always felt a little awkward in the genre, concentrated on drama and thus we only have her in a handful of comedies.  I think she could have rivaled Lucille Ball at comedy if she would have decided to go that way early on in her career.  Not to say it hurt her at all, she’s a fantastic dramatic actor as well, I just wish we had more comedies from her.whats streisand

It’s interesting to me that Katherine Hepburn had a similar experience on her film, Bringing Up Baby.  She initially was so bad at comedy it drove Howard Hawkes crazy.  They brought several people in to help her with her comedic timing, including Walter Catlett and even silent film comedian Harold Lloyd.  She was a very fast learner, although, and Howard Hawks grew to respect Katharine Hepburn tremendously for her comic timing, ad-libbing skills and physical control. He would tell the press, “She has an amazing body – like a boxer. It’s hard for her to make a wrong turn. She’s always in perfect balance. She has that beautiful coordination that allows you to stop and make a turn and never fall off balance. This gives her an amazing sense of timing. I’ve never seen a girl that had that odd rhythm and control.”whats katherine

As for Ryan O’Neal, his character being inspired by the stuffy professor played by Cary Grant in Bringing Up Baby, Ryan O’Neal had a chance to meet and speak with Grant. They had a great time talking, but the only advice he received in shooting the movie was to wear silk underpants.  Both Grant’s and O’Neal’s characters were visually modeled after the silent film comedian Harold Lloyd. Another interesting note is Christopher Reeve based his performance as Clark Kent in four “Superman” movies on Cary Grant’s “David Huxley” from Bringing Up Baby, so you can make an argument that Clark Kent is also Harold Lloyd.whats ryan oneal

whats cary grantThe final chase scene, an idea they had because of the one from the then recent movie Bullitt (1968) which was also filmed in San Francisco, cost $1 million to shoot (a quarter of the total budget), 19 days to shoot requiring 32 stuntmen resulting in 11 minutes of screen time. The segment with the giant pane of glass alone took four or five days to film. The plate glass bit was filmed at the junction of Balboa and 23rd Avenue in San Francisco’s Richmond District.whats car

The fender bender Judy causes as she crosses the street to the Bristol Hotel was added on the spur of the moment. When no stunt cars were available, Peter Bogdanovich instructed a crew member to rent two cars and make sure he got collision insurance. Then he staged the wreck before returning the battered cars.  If you see the moment in the film, it’s actually really scary to think how close they could have come to hitting Barbra, if they were just off by a few seconds.whats car2

This film has been given recognition as the first American film to have the stunt people listed in the credits at the end of the movie (the first film over all to have done this is the British movie, Moonraker).  I’m not sure if this is entirely correct, as the stunt people over the years have just been given different credits as actors or such, but as for the actual “Stunts” credit, this may be true.

Now for the initial releases of these movies, Bringing Up Baby, was an unmitigated flop, going so far as to have Katherine Hepburn branded “Box Office Poison” the next year, but has since gained a following and made it’s money back.  It’s now considered by many to be Howard Hawk’s best film.  What’s Up, Doc? itself, was incredibly successful the year it was released, coming in third to The Godfather and The Poseidon Adventure, but sadly has been virtually forgotten over time.

Things to look up on IMDB:

  • Howard Hawks
  • Peter Bogdanovich
  • Katherine Hepburn
  • Cary Grant
  • Barbra Streisand
  • Ryan O’Neal
  • Harold Lloyd
  • Walter Catlett
  • Bringing Up Baby
  • What’s Up, Doc?
  • His Girl Friday