I had a ‘romantic movies’ weekend, but don’t ask me why. Maybe I just wanted to get in touch with my inner Jennifer Aniston fan.
Started off Saturday night with a replay of Mamma Mia! before I have to give it back to Ms P, and this time around found that I liked it rather more than last. I don’t know why. Maybe simply because I didn’t watch it in close proximity to the awesome Les Miserables concert. Even Pierce Brosnan didn’t sound too bad (emphasis on ‘too’). It’s Abba music, and that’s often a mood thing – superficial as they come, but also incredibly catchy and feel good, if you’re in the mood to feel good.
I followed up on Sunday with His Girl Friday, the 1940 film that many regard as the greatest comedy ever made (according to my film guide, but for some reason they don’t mention Porkies). Directed by Howard Hawks it was also the first film to use realistic sounding overlapping dialogue effectively. They timed it and the characters speak at a rate of 240 words a minute, whereas before 110 had been the standard (and I’d always thought that the world was just slower back then).
Rosalind Russell is Hildy, a former reporter now engaged to insurance man Bruce, who pops into her old office to tell former husband and publisher Walter Burns (Cary Grant) that she’s getting married. Burns doesn’t want this to happen, partly because he still holds a flame for her, but mainly because he doesn’t want to lose a great reporter, and sets about doing everything in his power to sabotage the wedding, including conning Hildy into covering one last story, the execution of a cop killer.
There’s lots of good stuff going on here. Russell is superb as Hildy, and Grant does well as Burns, though Ralph Bellamy as Bruce seems a little out of it (but that’s probably how he’s supposed to be played). There’s some crackling dialogue and although it’s meant to be a comedy they manage to fit in some pointed social and political satire, with various public figures lampooned and the manipulative nature of the press highlighted – in one scene callous reporters want the execution time moved up so they can get their stories in early, and in another scene we see the entirely different spin competing papers place on the same story. There’s even a modern touch, with the supposition that the obviously unbalanced cop killer is only being executed because he shot a coloured officer and the mayor needs the coloured vote.
On the down side, some of it did seem a little far fetched, as with the killer escaping from prison and then coming back to hide in a desk, and the ridiculous schemes Burns comes up with to thwart Hildy’s marriage. And that’s where it suffered most for me, in that Burns is obviously such a cad and that he got his own way at the end, walking off with the girl. I wanted to deck the guy, and seeing him win through by ignoble means, even if there’s little doubt that Hildy will be more than a match for him, stuck in my craw. Hildy definitely sold herself short by falling for the whole ‘bad boy’ thing.
I’m sure I must have seen Breakfast at Tiffany’s before, but if so I’ve no memory. The elfin faced Audrey Hepburn is New York glamour girl Holly Golightly, financing her lifestyle through the good offices of men who give her $50 when she goes to the powder room (I’m guessing that’s a euphemism – basically she’s an escort, though the film stops well short of saying this, and there’s no suggestion that sexual favours are involved). Stalled writer Paul (George Peppard, but I wouldn’t have known if it didn’t say so on the DVD case – he looks completely different from any of the other stuff I’ve seen him in; handsome rather than distinguished) moves into her building, and although he seems a little bit holier than thou about it, in essence he’s in the same boat, a kept man dependent on the financial generosity of a female patron and romantic interest (the wonderfully acerbic Patricia Neal). The two of them meet, click, and a relationship of sorts develops, though Holly always holds back, and revelations about her past suggest that she is running from something, probably herself.
Paul dumps his fiancee and declares his love, but Holly is determined to go ahead with her plan of marrying a wealthy man. When the shit hits the fan and it is revealed she has (innocently) been acting as a go-between for the mob and an imprisoned crimelord, Paul seeks her out and stands by her. In a final scene Holly realises that he is the man for her, the one who can make her happy even if he isn’t wealthy.
And they all lived happily ever after.
It’s not a perfect film, not even a perfect romantic comedy, with some annoying touches that distract from the whole, such as Mickey Rooney’s ludicrous turn as Holly’s Japanese neighbour, and the love affair itself has elements of cliche about it (though it may not have seemed that way back in 1961 when it was released). And yet I found it eminently watchable and engaging in a feel good way.
There was a freshness to the script, a novelty to what was being said even if the ideas expressed seem old hat. The growing bond between Holly and Paul was entirely credible, replete with those little things that people in love do for each other, the shared intimacies and experiences, a secret language, even if with my horror hat on I cringed at their first meeting when she lets a complete stranger into her flat without any idea of what he might be capable of. Sadness was part of the mix too, but the kind of sadness that ultimately makes us value what we have all the more. Overall it was a frothy and delightful concoction, with a timelessness and beguiling charm about it, so that even though the world it portrayed now seems too innocent to have ever existed, we want to believe that it once did and might once again, that somewhere out there Holly and Paul are seeing out their twilight years in a retirement home and blissfully content with the lives they look back on.
Oh yeah, and I loved the Cat With No Name, while a film that protrays a writer as a kept man is definitely something of which I approve. I want some of that. Please.