Tag Archives: His Girl Friday

Four’s a Crowd (Michael Curtiz, USA, 1938)

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Four’s a Crowd is Warners attempt to cash in on the screwball craze. The story was based on Wallace Sullivan’s ‘All Rights Reserved’. Sullivan had also written Libelled Lady(Jack Conway, 1936) and in fact this is a pretty direct lift of MGM’s much more successful film with Jean Harlow, William Powell, Myrna Loy and Spencer Tracy. This one has Rosalind Russell in a role prefiguring her Hildy Johnson in His Girl Friday as a newspaper woman who sets to make a newspaper man out of rich publisher Patrick Knowles. She cons him into hiring his enemy, high powered public relations wiz Errol Flynn to boost the circulation. Flynn concocts a scam to make millionaire Walter Connolly the most hated man in America. Knowles is engaged to be married to Connolly’s grand-daughter, Olivia de Havilland. Mayhem ensues. Doberman’s chase after Flynn, partners are switched, there’s even a cute dog that looks like Asta.

It’s all pretty leaden. Comedy was not Warner’s forte. According to Alex K. Rode, at Warner’s ‘humour was an institutional deficit exemplified by the personalities of the men who ran the studio.’ Michael Curtiz knows how to visualise comic scenes. See for example how he stages the three-way conversation between Flynn, Russell and de Havilland:

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or his staging of the race to the justice of the peace:

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But though it all looks marvellous, the rhythm, pace and timing of the comedy is all slightly off. Flynn is not bad and could have been taught to be great in screwball — he had the requisite sense of humour about himself. De Havilland is also gifted. But Curtiz doesn’t much help anyone who didn’t already have comic timing coursing through their veins. Knowles comes across as handsome but stiff throughout. And of course Connelly and Russell steal the show. They know how to.

According to Alex K. Rode in Michael Curtiz: A Life, Hal C. Wallis praised the dashes Curtiz added in his attempt to overcome the script’s deficiencies, ‘All of those pieces of business of putting the dog under the waste basket, and getting de Havilland out of the room, and the rouge on the teacups, the added business with the skeleton…were excellent’ (p.226). They’re good ideas but, in motion, they lack the lightness, elegance, the frolicsomeness of good screwball. The frolicsome is not where Curtiz’s strengths lie.

James C. Robertson in The Casablanca Man: The Cinema of Michael Curtiz doesn’t offer much of a recommendation ‘At Warners the film enhanced Curtiz’s reputation, for he had salvage a medium-budget project, intended for another director ((first Dieterle, then Goulding)), with some ill-cast players’ (p.46). It didn’t much matter that all that time and effort ended up with a result that was at best OK-ish.

My favourite bits, as is often the case, are two tiny moments with Franklin Panborn as Knowle’s butler.

José Arroyo

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies 37 – The Post

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Spielberg. Streep. Hanks. Nixon. A political thriller that adopts some clichés and slightly sidesteps some expectations, The Post is a historical drama that follows the internal conflict at The Washington Post during the Pentagon Papers scandal.

We find plenty to talk about in its parallels with the Trump White House and the current President’s attacks on the news media; its careful but stilted style; its relationship to the 70s cinema it evokes; its central figure of a woman out of place in a world of men; and the balance between its nationalistic boosterism of the US Constitution and American exceptionalism on the one hand, and its surprisingly direct denunciation of the powers that be in Washington. You can literally hear Mike learning about the Nixon era, live!

Also discussed: Mike loves Bridge of Spies, Jose doesn’t love Bridge of Spies, Mike thinks Spotlight is uniquely brilliant, Jose espouses his theory on Meryl Streep’s stardom, and why is everyone in the Post’s newsroom over 65?

Recorded on 22nd January 2018

 

The podcast can be listened to in the player above or at this link

You can download it from i-tunes here.

We also now have a dedicated website.

 

José Arroyo and  Michael Glass of Writing About Film