1940: 2 movies

(Last updated 31 January 2014)

His Girl Friday
Directed and produced by Howard Hawks
Written by Charles Lederer
Cinematography by Joseph Walker
Editing by Gene Havlick
Art direction by Lionel Banks
Starring Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell,
Ralph Bellamy, and John Qualen

   Both of the movies included for this year make fun out of pretty dreary material. Watching "His Girl Friday" with a moralistic mindset can be pretty shocking and hard to justify as decent material. What a load of cruel, selfish, backstabbing lies and cheats! Everyone in this movie is despicable except for Bruce Baldwin and his mother, and they're the objects of ridicule through the whole thing! Earl Williams the convict, may be pure of heart, but he comes across as an insignificant little pawn, and he has blood on his hands! Everyone else is macabrely insensitive. Through such lenses, it is understandable that some might detest the movie. The question that arises during viewing seems to be: "Is everything forgiven as long as the love interests get together by the end of the movie?"
   One of the most fascinating aspects of this movie is that it requires a particular state of mind from its audience. It rewards those that are not hard-nosed judges, or in other words, unforgivingly dogmatic. Walter Burns (Cary Grant) simply can't do without Hildy (Rosalind Russell), that's the core of the movie. Walter will seemingly stop at nothing to keep Hildy/get her back. Everything else is trivial to him, which means that it is a romantic movie, in the purest sense. And Hildy can't seem to leave Walter either. After all, why did she really even have to go say bye to him, if not to give him a chance to win her back? So, our enjoyment comes from the fact that these two are stuck with each other through good and evil, no matter what else happens around them. And all around them a crazy cruel riotous world is turning, people are constantly spewing a convolution of lies and truths, people are being overworked, often to the point of insanity, people are killing each other, people are being unjustly punished, strikes are being organized, and despair is rampant. Yes, it's a chaotic frenzied world, fantastic as it is realistic, but within this very setting, we find Walter and Hildy aren't really bad people. They may fudge the truth a little now and then so that they can continue doing what they love, putting together the best newspaper in America, but despite all their shouting and lying, cheating, libeling and apparent disregard for others, Walter and Hildy leave the world better than they found it. After all, it is their efforts that help stop an unjust hanging. It is also a result of their efforts that two corrupt politicians are sent to jail. Beyond this, there's a sense that Hildy and Walter are good and deserve our respect for the very fact that they love each other, and because they know how to play the mad game of American life in a way that lets them keep their love and their way of life. By the end of the movie, Hildy learns to trust in love again, she finds herself again, and hopefully so have we. No one said it would be easy.

The Great McGinty 
Written and directed by Preston Sturges
Art direction by Hans Dreier and A. Earl Hedrick
Set decor by A.E. Freudeman
Starring Brian Donlevy, Akim Tamiroff,
and William Demarest

   Starts with such a happy beginning, cinematography, art direction, and music, that you feel as if you're in heaven. Then, you reach the opening framing story which is arguably ruined by horrible acting. The first sign of salvation comes from Brian Donlevy, who fits the script like a glove. His telling of his past is when the movie really begins. And once it begins, it moves really fast. It feels like a dream because of the framing-structure, and that's a suitable way for a movie to feel as movies are already set up to feel like dreams. The stucture is what makes this movie most valuable. And of course, there is the cynical view of American politics, which should leave even the most gullible flag-waver with a question or two.
   There are a few moments where our politically correct standpoint might think director Sturges is making fun at the expense of black people, but our disapproval dissipates somewhat when we realize that the humor would still be present if a white actor had been substituted. Sturges pokes fun at everyone. If the black actors had had more central roles, we would feel completely assuaged, but at least he hired them, gave them speaking lines, and their characters were invited to celebrate at the inauguration. We can not rewrite history: this was a time where things were not equal for all people, including black folk and women folk.
   In the end, it's all about a dead-end guy who becomes promising and then gives up at the first set-back. Pretty dreary stuff, but what makes it interesting is that it communicates something real about political situations and about the politically jaded. In a way, it is a gift of the movie that it presents no solution, but rather only describes a problem, and does so clearly with great sympathy and humor. In this way, we are relieved that someone else is aware of injustice, and our minds are left turning to come up with the solution.

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