Saturday, January 10, 2009

A Film School Moment

I was randomly trolling around the web, and came across a list of the biggest "Oscar snubs"; a subject 'pon which I have some very strong opinions (Paul Giamatti anyone?).

Anyway, one of the snubs listed, was Rosalind Russell for "His Girl Friday"; which if you haven't seen it, shame on you. Go, now, rent it, buy it, it's even downloadable or streamable from several services.

I believe I've mentioned my affection for the film before, as well as for Russell (when I discussed strong leading ladies; or the lack thereof in todays films); the chief reason being the amazing, fast, frenetic dialogue and interplay between her, and co-star Cary Grant.

The film has been cited by experts as having the most dialogue packed into the shortest time, of any major motion picture release; though to be fair, such rapid fire delivery was a Howard Hawks (the director) trademark (see "Bringing Up Baby" for a considerably less frenetic example).

For those who are unfamiliar with the film, Russel plays Hildy, a reporter who some years back (I don't recall exactly how many, I think it was two years) was married to, and subsequently divorced her editor Walter (Cary Grant); and then dropped off the face of the earth.

As the film opens, Hildy walks back into the newsroom she left some years before, and announces (or rather attempts to for several minutes of classic verbal interplay) to Walter that she is going to be remarried, to a rather boring insurance sales executive (named Bruce) played by Ralph Bellamy.

From there, as they say, hilarity ensues (and it is one of the funniest films of all time).

As I was reading the "oscar snub" post, it noted (as any mention of the movie does) the high speed interplay; and I of course went back to some of those moments in my head....

... and I had a thought...

I'm sure it's a thought that film students and film geeks have had a million times before, but I never really noticed it or thought about it before.

Hildy (Russel) and Walter (Grant), and all the reporters in the piece (and there are a dozen of them) all deliver their lines at that same lightning pace. All the cops in the film have a different, slightly slower cadence. All the politicians are slightly slower again (until they start literally "talking fast" to try and get out of trouble).

The slowest pacing of all however, is the delivery from Ralph Bellamy; so much so that it is clearly and distinctly noticeable; to the point where in his scenes with Grant, Walter is speaking five or six words to Bruces one.

Interestingly, when Hildy is speaking to Bruce, her pace slows down considerably; but it is still perhaps twice that of Bruce.

By the end of the film it is of course abundantly clear that Hildy and Bruce are so totally wrong for each other; and that, though clearly they will never have a "normal" relationship, Hildy and Walter are very much right for each other (and I wont go into any more detail to spoil the film for those unlucky souls who haven't seen it).

Now I've seen the movie a dozen times; and of course I had noted the pacing before; but the reason why I called this a "film school moment" was because up until ten minutes ago, I had never consciously thought "Hey, I bet Hawks contrasted Walter and Hildys pacing with Bruces, as a deliberate part of the characterization".

Such are the things that keep the rent paid at coffeehouses near film schools.