Keeping up with Hawks.
- Hawks on Hawks
As is well known- Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur's 1928 play The Front Page was first made into a film by Lewis Milestone in 1931 and then by Howard Hawks as His Girl Friday in 1939. With Ben Hecht's collaboration, Hawks changed the protagonist Hildy Johnson from male to female. As in the play and the first film version, Johnson's boss, Walter Burns, attempts to prevent Hildy from leaving town to get married. Burns is particularly pressed to retain Hildy's services because a big story is about to break: Earl Williams, a sorry man who inadvertently killed a police officer, is being hanged for political reasons, to help garner votes for the Mayor and Sheriff who are running for re-election on a law and order ticket. In the case of the Hawks film, Walter and Hildy are recently divorced. Thus, Walter is not simply trying to keep his ace reporter on his staff, but also to regain his wife in the face of a rival. Thus, unlike the other versions, Hawks's film fits the mold of the comedy of remarriage so popular in the late thirties.
His Girl Friday is famously "fast" and, as per Hawks's boast, is often said to be "faster" than Milestone's The Front Page. But the question of what constitutes tempo in this case, or in film in general, is still an open one. Hawks himself seems to be referring to the speed of delivery and he attributes the greater speed of His Girl Friday to the device of overlapping dialogue: "You put a few words in front of somebody's speech and put a few words at the end, and they can overlap it. It gives you a sense of speed that actually doesn't exist. And then you make the people talk a little faster" (McBride 80-81). But Andrew Sarris argues that it is the result of"invisible" editing and more fluid camera movement (59). Barry Salt disagrees, noting that The Front Page is cut at about the same rate as His Girl Friday, with an average shot length (ASL) of 13 seconds, and that it actually has more camera movement than the Hawks film (224). Salt thus agrees with Hawks that the speed is a function of the rate at which the actors speak their lines, and also the introduction of more "business" in the staging of His Girl Friday. In trying to account for the spectator's sense of tempo, however, it seems important to consider how the variable rhythms of editing, speaking, and figure movement interact and how they help to articulate the rhythm of the film as a whole, its accelerandos and ritardandos. This essay aims to explain pacing in His Girl Friday, with some backward glances at Milestone's The Front Page. The comparison of these two films, which give us the opportunity to contrast the performance and staging of similar scenes--in some cases scenes which are the same line for line - may help to provide tools for analyzing acting, one of the most difficult areas to analyze.
Pacing is partly a function of variables such as editing or speech that can be more or less easily quantified in relation to the fixed time of the screening (a shot held for so many seconds, so many words per second). But it is also a function of elements that are less easily measured and that bear on the representation of temporal relationships within a narrative. Gerard Genette has succeeded in specifying changes in tempo inA la recherche du temps perduin terms of distinct conventions for relating the time of the story, defined as an abstract set of events, to the time of the narrative, the written representation of those events (122-44). He identifies conventions such as novelistic summary, in which the written discourse covers much "greater" expanses of story time, and the scene, in which there is a"match" between story time and the time of the discourse. As David Bordwell has shown, despite the fixed time of the screening, which differentiates reading from film viewing, the same arguments apply to the representation of temporal relationships in narrative film (80-88). Thus, although they may be cut at the same rate, a montage that covers the fifteen years it takes our hero to grow up is "faster" than a scene that shows him delivering newspapers in his neighborhood on a single Sunday morning.
The dramatic scene is Genette's model of a "slow" segment (understood as slow in relation to narrative summary). The play The Front Page would seem to be particularly slow by this account. It has three acts, all of which take place in the pressroom of the criminal courts building with the published version of the play specifying a twenty minute gap between the first and second act and a five minute gap between the second and third. The film versions allow for a bit more temporal manipulation, but not much. Milestone starts with a temporally continuous sequence that moves from the men testing the gallows to the reporters in the pressroom and then, via a phone call, to Walter Burns in his office. There is a temporal gap indicated by a dissolve, and then an episodic sequence that shows Louis and Butch looking for Hildy, followed by a sequence showing Hildy, his girl and her mother at their apartment intercut with Walter outside the building. This sequence is succeeded by a scene between Walter and Hildy at a speakeasy. Thus, the film encompasses a number of temporal gaps and covers a fairly wide spatial range in its opening of sixteen minutes. After this point, the action is largely restricted to the pressroom and is temporally continuous. Milestone tries to break this continuity up by alternating between the pressroom and the Sheriff s office in the sequence of Earl's prison break (as well as a brief scene outside when Hildy pursues Jacobi for news) and again in the sequence where the Mayor bribes Pincus while Hildy duns Woodenshoes for money. After Hildy has rejected Peggy, and is working frantically for Walter on the story of Earl's capture, Milestone cuts outside the pressroom in a brief sequence that shows: Peggy exiting the building, Mrs. Grant forcibly held by Louis in the taxi, Walter back in the pressroom trying to figure out a way to get the desk out the window and barking orders to Duffy over the phone, and the reporters outside the jail infirmary waiting for news of Molly. This sequence, which unites disparate spaces showing what are presumably temporally simultaneous actions, is, like the crosscut sequences, an attempt to break out of the spatial restriction of the newsroom and to increase the pace at a moment of extreme narrative tension. Later, brief cutaways to Bensinger exiting the building, and to the reporters about to return to the pressroom change location to provide a break between distinct phases of the action and, in the latter case, to increase suspense.
In its beginning and middle phases, largely because of the subplot involving Bruce, His Girl Friday sets more of the action outside the newsroom than does The Front Page. The film starts with a temporally continuous scene that moves through adjacent spaces in the offices of the Morning Post, followed by the lunch room scene with Walter, Bruce and Hildy. Thereafter the action returns to the pressroom but moves outside it for longer intervals than does The Front Page. The scene in which Hildy greets her fellow reporters in the pressroom is followed by one between Walter and Bruce in the Morning Post office, and then by a scene in the jail between Hildy and Earl. Subsequent action in the pressroom is broken up by Hildy's trip to rescue Bruce after his first arrest, a very short scene in the Sheriff s office preceding Earl's prison break (unlike Milestone, Hawks cuts to this location only once but like Milestone he shows Hildy outside the newsroom after the escape, in this case tackling her source), and a scene in the Sheriff's office when the Mayor bribes Pettibone. Once Earl is put in the desk, however, the film never leaves the newsroom and the action is continuous. The dissolves indicating temporal gaps that separate all of the major sequences in the film up to the point of Earl's capture are abandoned in favor of straight cuts between scenes. The absence of dissolves would thus seem to stress the temporal continuity of the action in the last third of the film.
Even though more of the action is set outside the newsroom in His Girl Friday than in The Front Page, by far the largest portion of the opening of Hawks's film is devoted to two rather long, one might say "theatrical," scenes that do not admit of temporal elision. Thus the opening of His Girl Friday is slow relative to The Front Page, for the latter uses a larger number of shorter scenes and sequences and opts for a relatively elliptical exposition (the Hawks is also longer in terms of screen time, twenty-three versus sixteen minutes). Moreover, from the beginning of the scene in which Earl enters the newsroom to the end of the story, which is forty-three minutes in the case of Milestone and thirty-two minutes in the case of Hawks, only the most minimal temporal manipulations are possible, and Hawks does not even attempt them. Both filmmakers are thus confronted by a narrative with an inherently "slow" time scheme that provides few opportunities for changes in tempo. In particular, they must deal with the problem of how to maintain suspense over the unbroken stretch of action that leads to the dramatic climax and conclusion. The question of which film is "faster" is therefore not just a matter of professional rivalry between two accomplished directors. Speed at the level of performance is necessary if the film is not to drag, and especially in the last third. From the moment Earl is shut in the desk the performance, like Madeleine's Miss Clavel, must move fast and faster to the scene of the disaster.
Hawks's cinema really does begin with the word. The absence of music in His Girl Friday with the exception of the final scene (and the relative dearth of non-diegetic music in Hawks's films when compared with those of most other directors in the classical period) contributes to the use of language as the predominant sonic rhythm. As will be discussed in greater detail below, the rhythm of the actors' movements and gestures is also dictated by the way they speak their lines, so that when describing blocking it is more important to have a complete record of the dialogue than a shot breakdown (given Hawks's predilection for action matching, gestures often overlap a cut, but they can always be specified according to the lines that initiate them). Hawks's editing, often said to be "functional," can be considered so because it is intimately tied to dialogue and gesture, as opposed to imposing an autonomous rhythm on a scene. The first scene in the office between Walter and Hildy, for example, has very little shot-reverse-shot cutting (out of a total of twenty-six shots there are three, shots 4-6)Most of the time, the two interlocutors are shown together in the frame, and scene dissection is for the purpose of preparing for or following the movement of the actors in frame (for example, the change in angle from 18 to 19, which anticipates the movement of the actors around the table) or cut-ins which clarify nuances of delivery and gesture (as for example three cut-ins to Cary Grant: shot 12, for his line "Oh, Walter!" in imitation of Hildy; shot 23, for his cynical facial expression and ejaculation "Hmm" in response to Hildy's warm praise of Bruce; and shot 33, for his line, "This other fellow, well, sorry I didn't get a chance to see him. I'm more or less particular about who my wife marries. Where is he?" in which details of gesture and intonation suggest the double dealing in which Walter is engaged). The final scene between Hildy, Walter, and Bruce in the pressroom is cut much faster than the scene in the office, but here, too, the frequent cut-ins to Walter follow from the need to bring out certain lines of dialogue, spoken to Duffy over the phone, while Hildy and Bruce continue to argue in the background. One has the sense, then, that the scenes are built around the lines and the way the actors perform those lines, and that stylistic decisions about editing follow from this priority accorded to performance.
The sonic rhythm that drives most of the scenes is, of course, extremely fast in His Girl Friday, but at the limit only marginally faster than The Front Page. The slowest scene in His Girl Friday, the scene in which Hildy interviews Earl Williams in jail, clocks in at 2.9 words per second; the slowest in The Front Page, between Molly and Earl, is 2.4 w/s. One of the fastest scenes in both films, the one after the capture of Earl in which Walter convinces Hildy to stay and write the story, clocks in at 5.2 w/s in His Girl Friday and 4.8 in The Front Page.(1) The biggest difference between the two films is that there are more fast scenes in the Hawks. There is a second scene that exceeds 5.0 w/s, the scene in which Molly leaps from the pressroom window, and there are many more scenes over 4.0 w/s. For example, for the twelve roughly equivalent scenes (defined by character entrances and exits) that I have measured following Hildy's capture of Earl Williams, the tempos break down as follows:
Hawks Milestone Equals or above 5 w/s 2 0 Equals or above 4 w/s 7 2 Equals or above 3 w/s 3 5 Equals or above 2 w/s 0 5
The average speed of delivery in these scenes is thus 3.2 w/s for The Front Page and 4.3 w/s for His Girl Friday.
The most obvious perceptible difference in the delivery in the two films is the elimination of pauses between different characters' speech in His Girl Friday. At the limit this is the result of overlapping lines of dialogue as Hawks describes above, but more often it is achieved simply by eliminating pauses between the end of one character's speech and the beginning of another's. (But for an example of Hawks deliberately introducing pauses between speeches to slow down a scene, see the sultry dialogue between Bacall and Bogart into Have and Have Not; the scene between them the morning after his rescue of Beaucaire clocks in at 1.6 w/s in comparison with the next scene which is 3.8 w/s.) If we look at the timing of a single lengthy speech, therefore, without pauses in each case, the two films approach each other in terms of speed. Thus, the duologue after the capture of Earl Williams, in which Hildy talks into two phones at once, to both Walter and his/her fiance(e), is 4.5 w/s in the case of His Girl Friday and 4.2 w/s in the case of The Front Page, a difference small enough to be negligible in a speech this short (given the margin of error introduced by how precisely I can start and stop the stopwatch) and which, in any case, may not be perceptible.
An example of how the pauses present in the Milestone version can slow down the pace of delivery is the first scene between Molly and the reporters in the pressroom. Hawks's version of this scene is at 3.8 w/s (excluding the pause at the end, which I will return to later) while Milestone's is at 2.9 w/s. In part this difference occurs because Mae Clark as Molly enunciates more slowly than does Helen Mack in the Hawks version. But it is also because Clark pauses after almost each sentence she speaks. Many of these pauses are too short to time accurately, but one is long enough to be measured. After Molly hears the gallows in operation, she runs to the window looks out and says, "What's that?" to which one of the reporters replies, "They are fixing up a pain in the neck for your boyfriend." Molly gasps in response to this. In the case of the Milestone film, there is a pronounced pause before the next line, "Shame on you," while the actress sobs, bending her head down to hip level and putting her hand on her forehead. The time from the line "What's that?" to "Shame on you" is thus thirteen seconds. In the case of the Hawks film, the pause after "what's that?" is only four seconds,just the time it takes for the reporter to reply and for Mack to turn and gasp.
Hawks also has the reporters make more interjections in Molly's dialogue. In the Milestone version the following speech by Molly is delivered without interruptions and with slight pauses between each phrase:
MOLLY. That's a rotten lie. I met Mr. Williams just once in my life. When he was wandering around in the rain without his hat and coat on like a sick dog, the day before the shooting. I went up to him like any human being would and asked him what was the matter. He told me about being fired after working at the same place for fourteen years.
Hawks makes this sound faster, not only by having Mack speak the lines more quickly, but also by "filling up" the pauses with the running commentary of the poker game (here and in other quotations from the films, character names in bold face indicate overlapping dialogue).
MOLLY. I met Mr. Williams just once in my life.
SANDERS. How many?
MOLLY. When he was wandering around in the rain without his hat and coat on, like a sick dog. The day before the shooting.
ENDICOTT. Give me one.
MOLLY. I went up to him like any human being would . . .
MOLLY. . . . and I asked him what was the matter. And . . . and he told about being fired after being on the same job for fourteen years.
SANDERS. Who bets?
WILSON :That's twenty cents.
MOLLY. And I brought him up to my room because it was warm there.
Thus, Hawks makes the scene faster in part by adding dialogue so that there are more words per second Without the rests and with the larger number of speakers, the sound track also becomes more complex, an effect that contributes to the spectator's sense of speed. It should be noted that both films have a pronounced pause after Molly is expelled from the press room (and indeed this pause is noted in the published version of the original play). There are a few minimal lines of dialogue as Murphy asks the guys if they want to play more poker and they refuse (and in the Hawks version, Walter calls asking for Hildy). This pause (to the beginning of the next scene) is 30 seconds in the Milestone version, and 47 seconds in the Hawks; but it seems more pronounced in the Hawks given the sonic density which has preceded it.
There are a number of devices that serve to motivate the elimination of pauses between the speech of different characters. These do not originate with Hawks - they are present in the original play and in the Milestone as well - but Hawks exploits them to an unprecedented degree. One device is to have a number of characters echoing each other on a common theme, one chiming in directly after the next. This device is used extensively in constructing the speech of the reporters. A good example, also present in both The Front Page and the play, occurs in His Girl Friday when the reporters return after following the rifle squad in their futile attempt to locate Earl Williams, and find Molly with Hildy in the pressroom.
WILSON. Hello, Jim? Yeah, it's a false alarm. They surrounded the house all right, but they forgot to tell Williams and he wasn't there.
MURPHY. Some Halloween going on outside. The whole police force standing on its ear. Oh, hello Hildy. I thought you were gone.
HILDY. I'm waiting for some money from Walter.
McCUE. What a chase. Gimme Emil.
ENDICOTT. No word on Williams yet. I'll call you back.
MURPHY. Murphy talking. Gimme the desk.
HILDY. Any news, boys?
SANDERS. Yeah. I never been so tired in all my life.
McCUE. What? Where? Melrose station? Huh? All right, connect me. Hello, Molly. How are you? Hold it a minute. Hey fellas, this looks good.
MURPHY. Yeah, call you back.
McCUE. An old lady just called the detective bureau and claims Williams is hiding under her piazza.
MURPHY. Tell her to stand up.
ENDICOTT. Well, we looked every other place.
McCUE. Do you want to go out on it?
HILDY. I have to stick around. I'll cover this end for you.
MURPHY. I spent $1.40 on taxicabs already.
ENDICOTT. Let's not do any more going out.
McCUE. Never mind, Sarge. Tear it up.
Although Milestone employs equivalent dialogue in The Front Page, he does not eliminate the pauses between lines, and lets the supposedly "tired" reporters speak slowly, so that the rate of delivery in The Front Page for this scene is 3.2 w/s while Hawks uses it to achieve a rate of 4.5 w/s.
A second device is to have two conversations going on simultaneously so that the pauses in one are "filled" by the dialogue going on in the other (Mast 217). In some instances, the actors pause longer than they might normally, in order to allow for both conversations to be heard, in others, the lines are overlapped. In the case of the brief segment of the scene between Molly and the reporters cited above, the reporters speak between Molly's lines and at a much softer volume. Another example of two conversations occurring simultaneously is the scene between the Sheriff, the Mayor, and Pettibone in His Girl Friday (and also in the corresponding scene in the play but not The Front Page) in which the Mayor tries to bribe Pettibone to say that he never delivered the reprieve while the Sheriff talks on the phone to the officer in charge of the rifle squad, delaying giving orders until the bribe has been accepted. In addition to the scene already mentioned, in which Hildy talks into two phones at once, there is also the duet in which Hildy calls various hospitals, trying to find Mrs. Baldwin, while Walter argues on another phone with Butch.
Surely the most brilliant example of this device is the great final trio between Walter, Hildy and Bruce/Peggy in the pressroom. There are three conversations going: Walter to Duffy, on the phone, is trying to remake the front page; Bruce (or Peggy) confronts Hildy demanding that they leave at once to get married; Walter is trying to get rid of Bruce (or Peggy) while also complaining about the noise the two of them are making that interferes with his concentration. In addition, in the Hawks version, Walter is pressuring Hildy to complete her story. In this scene, The Front Page approaches the speed of delivery of His Girl Friday: 4.3 w/s versus 4.0 w/s. No doubt this speed results from the elimination of pauses as well as the incredible speed of elocution. Hawks's rendition differs from Milestone's in being over twice as long: 2:35 versus 1:15. Hawks also adds dialogue not in the original play that has fun with the way in which the conversations interfere with one another. Thus, Hildy mistakenly types the words that Bruce has reiterated in an attempt to get through to her:
BRUCE. Hildy. Hildy, I'm taking the nine o'clock train.
WALTER. (to Duffy) Well, what's the matter[inaudible] that?
HILDY. (to Bruce) Sure, Sure.
BRUCE. Did you hear what I said? I said, I'm taking the nine o'clock train.
HILDY. (the first four words in unison with Bruce) . . . the nine o'clock train. Oh, Bruce! I put it in here!
In addressing Duffy, Walter also comments on Bruce's remarks, his words doing duty in two conversations at once:
BRUCE. You don't want to come with me, do you?
HILDY. (to Walter, who has taken the sheet of paper she is typing from) I need that! WALTER. (to Hildy) Well, come on!
BRUCE. Answer me! You don't, do you?
WALTER. (to Duffy, but Ralph Bellamy does a double take as if it is addressed to Bruce)No! Take all those Miss America pictures off page six.
Or again, with a cut into a medium shot of Walter alone on the last line, to stress the point of his address:
HILDY. Give me just a second. Can't you see this is the biggest thing in my life?
BRUCE. I see! I'll keep. I'm like something in the ice box, aren't I?
WALTER.(still on the phone but this time obviously to Bruce) Yeah!
The cutting elsewhere in this scene works to pit one conversation against another. There is a cut into the medium shot of Walter when Bruce mentions his money and wallet and Walter checks to make sure the money is counterfeit, and again to bring out his hostile remarks to Bruce, and once again to underscore his complaint that he can not concentrate and to focus attention on Hecht and MacArthur's great line (Walter having eliminated all mention of war and earthquake from the front page): "No, no, leave the rooster story alone - that's human interest."
Finally Hildy brings all the conversations to a halt, banging on the table to get both men's attention. The overlapping of dialogue common in the rest of the scene is reduced here, and pauses are introduced between lines, to further call attention to her words.
HILDY. Hey! Wait, just a minute!
HILDY. There's only question I want to know.
BRUCE. What ?
HILDY. The mayor's first wife - what was her name?
WALTER. You mean the one with the wart on her?
WALTER. Fanny! What did you say, Duffy?
What seems to distinguish Hawks's use of this device, then, is the way he manipulates the structure of the dialogue and the film's editing to play the shards of conversation off one another. Further, the scene has a coherent shape, for the polyphonic texture and rhythm change for the brief moment in which all three characters function on the same conversational plane to highlight an irrelevant detail that caps the scene by indicating Hildy's complete obsession with her work.
Another device for handling dialogue is to have characters interrupt each other, with the floor going to the "winner." One way Hawks likes to use this device is to have one character run roughshod over another - or even two others, as in Walter's first encounter with Bruce:
WALTER. Well, I can see right away my wife picked out the right husband for herself. How do you do, sir?
DAVIS. Must be some mistake. I'm already married.
WALTER. Already married? Tsk, tsk, tsk. Oh Hildy, you should have told me.
BRUCE. Mr. Burns . . .
WALTER. Well, congratulations again, Mr. Baldwin.
BRUCE. Mr. Burns . . .
DAVIS. Oh no, my name is . . .
WALTER. Excuse me will you, I'm terribly busy. Just leave your card with the boy. What did you say Mr. Baldwin?
DAVIS. My name is . . .
BRUCE. Mr. Burns? Mr. Burns?
WALTER. Some other time, I'm busy with Mr. Bruce Baldwin here. I didn't hear what you said, Mr. Baldwin.
BRUCE. But you see, there's some sort of confusion, Mr. Burns, you see.
DAVIS. I was going to say that my name . . .
WALTER. Now what it is it with you? Can't you see that . . .
BRUCE. I'm Bruce Baldwin.
This device is used similarly in the first scene between the Mayor and Pettibone, with the Mayor cutting off almost every one of Pettibone's lines as the messenger finds objections to the Mayor's attempt to bribe him. The same structure of interruptions can be found in the play, but not in the Milestone version, for it crosscuts between Hildy and Woodenshoes in the pressroom and the corrupt government officials in the Sheriff's office and thereby eliminates most of the dialogue concerning the bribe.
The verbal predominance of one fast-talking character is a device that may have originated with Hecht and MacArthur, but Hawks certainly makes it his own, and continues to use it throughout his later career. One finds it almost to the point of parody in Rio Bravo as John T. Chance finds it difficult to get a word in edgewise during verbal jousts with the voluble Feathers, with Stumpy, and, in this paradigmatic example, with Carlos:
CARLOS. Please, please senor. Do not talk. I tell you. It . . . It is better if I tell you.
CHANCE. All right go ahead.
CARLOS. You told me to put the lady on the stage.
CARLOS. The stage, she is waiting, but she don't come down.
CARLOS. I yell at her, "Come down !" She said she ain't coming. I go up and get her. She say she don't go.
CHANCE. Well did she go?
CARLOS. Please! I tell her, you say go. I tell her I am responsible. She say no, she's responsible. And I say, that may be. And I pick her up. Then Consuela say, what are you doing with that woman? And I say, I take her to the stage. The woman, she said she don't want to go on the stage.
CHANCE. Well, did she go on the stage?
CARLOS. Please! Consuela tell me put her down. I say, I am responsible. Consuela, she thinks that means something else. So she gives me this eye.
CHANCE. What did you do?
CARLOS. Do? What can I do? My arms is full of the lady. I can do nothing. I drop her on the floor. She yells and she says I tried to kill her.
CHANCE. Carlos! Did the girl get on the stage?
CARLOS. No, she did not go. Jay say he couldn't wait.
Verbal jousting does not have to work solely to one character's advantage, however. The two interlocutors can interrupt each other, a structure which lends their interchange tremendous forward momentum. This is the structure of one of the fastest scenes in His Girl Friday as well as the fastest in The Front Page cited above, the scene in which, after having ordered Louis to kidnap Mrs. Grant, Walter nonetheless convinces Hildy to stay and write the story of the paper's capture of Earl Williams. Walter has the preponderance of dialogue, as one would expect since he needs to talk Hildy into something. But unlike the scene with Bruce cited above, Hildy does not simply roll over; she manages to claim the floor, although usually for much briefer wisecracks. Sometimes a character will interrupt another in mid-sentence, but most of the speeches in this scene are in complete sentences. The force of the interruption comes from the overlapping of words and also from the fact that the response of the second character turns the conversation in a radically new direction:
HILDY. I'm going after Mother and I'm going to get Bruce out of jail. Walter, why did you have to do this to me?
WALTER. Get Bruce out of jail? How can you worry about a man who's resting in a nice, quiet police station while this is going on? Hildy, this is war. You can't desert me now.
HILDY. (interrupting) Oh, Walter, will you get off that trapeze. You've got your story right over there in the desk. Go on, smear it all over the front page. "Earl Williams Captured by the Morning Post!" I covered your story for you, and I got in a fine mess doing it. Now I'm getting out!
WALTER. You drooling idiot. What do you mean you're getting out?
HILDY. (interrupting) I . . . just what I said.
WALTER. There are three-hundred-and-sixty-five days in a year one can get married. How many times you got a murderer locked up in a desk? Once in a life time. Hildy, you've got the whole city by the seat of the pants.
HILDY. (interrupting) Sure. I know, I know, I . . .
WALTER. (interrupting) You know, you know. You've got the brain of a pancake. This isn't just a story you're covering, it's a revolution. This is the greatest yarn in journalism since Livingstone discovered Stanley.
HILDY.(interrupting) It's the other way around.
And from later in the same scene:
WALTER. Sure, they'll be naming streets after you. Hildy Johnson Street. There'll be statues, you'll be in the park, the movies will be after you, the radio, and by tomorrow morning, I'll bet you there's a Hildy Johnson cigar. I can see the billboards now that say, "Light up with Hildy Johnson! Light up with Hildy . . ."
HILDY. (interrupting) Oh, Walter, will you stop that acting.
HILDY. We've got a lot to do.
Milestone's version of this scene is shorter than Hawks, 1:45 versus 2:29, and Walter is given less dialogue. Thus, in The Front Page and the original play, the Johnson Street speech is simply "Why, they'll be naming streets after you. Johnson Street! You and I and the Governor are going to run this town," which not only tones down Walter's part in the duel but, paradoxically, also gives Hildy's intervention ("Yeah, but you can't keep Williams here") less force. Nevertheless, the opening of the scene in The Front Page (to the line "You've got the brain of a pancake") is virtually the same and has the same thrust-and-parry quality.
The point where Hawks carries this device well beyond anything in either the play or the first film version is the opening scene in Walter's office, which occurs solely in His Girl Friday. Not only Walter's conversation with Hildy, but also his interchanges with Duffy, marked by the repetition of Walter's line "I'm busy," are structured as a series of mutual interruptions. One of many possible examples will have to suffice:
WALTER. Deny it? I'm proud of it. We beat the whole country on that story.
HILDY. Well, suppose we did? That isn't what I got married for! Oh, what is the good. . . . Look now Walter, what I came up here to tell you is that you must stop phoning me a dozen times a day . . .
WALTER. Ah ah.
HILDY. . . sending me twenty telegrams . . .
WALTER. I write a beautiful telegram, don't I? Everybody says so.
HILDY. Are you going to listen to what I have to say?
WALTER. Look, look. What's the use of fighting, Hildy. I tell you what you do - you come back to work on the paper, if we find we can't get along in a friendly fashion, we'll get married again.
WALTER. Certainly. I haven't any hard feelings.
HILDY. Oh, Walter, you're wonderful in a loathsome sort of way. Now will you please be quiet just long enough for me to tell you what I came up here to say?
WALTER. Come and have some lunch and you can tell me everything.
More will be said below about the tempo of this scene. The point here is that the way the dialogue is written helps to motivate the use of overlapping dialogue and the elimination of pauses between lines, to contribute to the speed of delivery.
No film can be fast all of the time, and a fast tempo appears faster when contrasted with a slow one; to understand pacing we need to look at how Hawks achieves variation in tempo. One option, which Hawks seems to have experimented with extensively throughout his career, is to have a voluble fast-talking character pitched against a slower, more laconic one. In Scarface (1932), this contrast is played out between Osgood Perkins's Johnny Lovo and Paul Muni's Tony Camonte. It is particularly evident in the last scene between them, in which Muni says very little, pausing frequently, while Lovo pleads desperately for his life. (Unfortunately most of Muni's lines here and elsewhere in the film are too short to get an accurate count of words per second,(2) although a longer speech, from the first scene in the police station and seeming to me about the same speed, clocks in at 2.5 w/s while Lovo's longest speech, just prior to his murder and beginning"No, no I didn't do it," has a speed reminiscent of His Girl Friday, 4.8 w/s.) The same rhythmic contrast is evident in all of their scenes together with the exception of the scene in which Camonte, glorying in his new-found possession of a machine gun, openly defies Johnny and plans to attack the North Side. Muni talks much faster here, it seems to me finally matching Lovo's speed, the fast staccato rhythm of his words leading to the line "Look out Johnny, I'm going to spit," and the equally fast staccato of the gun going off. A similar bifurcation between fast and slow talkers can be found in Ball of Fire where the brisk slang spoken by Barbara Stanwyck's Sugarpuss O'Shea, assorted gangsters, and working stiffs goes up against the cultivated language spoken by Gary Cooper's Professor Bertram Potts and his colleagues (for examples, listen to the scene where Potts tries to interview Sugarpuss backstage in her dressing room, or the scene in which the professors are amazed by the discursive style of the garbageman). This opposition is also evident in the scene from Rio Bravo between Wayne and Pedro Gonzalez-Gonzalez (playing Carlos) cited above, and in all of the scenes between Wayne and Angie Dickinson.
Given that the calculated use of a slow-talking character seems to be a standard way of achieving variation in speech rhythm for Hawks, I find it very interesting that there is no such bifurcation in His Girl Friday.(3) Possible candidates for this kind of organization are the scenes in which Walter meets Bruce, a subsequent scene in which they are alone together and the first scene between the Mayor and Pettibone. In the first instance, Ralph Bellamy has so little to say that one does not have a sense of an independent rhythm of speech, but simply a sense of a periodic interruption in the stream of Cary Grant's language. The later scene, in which Bruce makes out an insurance policy for Walter, is actually one of the slowest in the film, 2.9 w/s, since Grant slows down to match Bellamy's speech rhythm while describing his vision of an aging Hildy. In the last instance, while some of Billy Gilbert's interjections as Pettibone may seem slow, and his double takes necessarily require a pause, this slowness is countered by the frequent overlapping of dialogue (the Mayor's lines are lapped over his more and more frequently as the scene proceeds) as well as the relative brevity of his responses so that the scene finishes quite fast, 4.6 w/s. Thus, most of the characters seem to talk quickly most of the time in His Girl Friday.
It is not at the level of individual performances, but at the level of the scene that Hawks modulates tempo in His Girl Friday. There are contrasts between the tempo of one short scene and the next, and sometimes within a scene for all of the speaking characters. The most dramatic instance of these contrasts is the change from lots of talk to almost none (3.8 to 0.7 w/s) in the scene where Molly is expelled from the pressroom. The scene of Earl Williams's escape is structured similarly around a pronounced rhythmic shift. In this case the change is a function of sound effects - Hildy's farewell speech to the reporters giving way to rapid volleys of gun shots set against the wail of a siren - and editing - the pace picks up with quick cut graphic matches of the reporters on the phones conveying the news of the jail break.
Modulations are also achieved through more subtle variations in speaking tempo. Consider the scenes leading up to Molly's leap from the window. After having hidden Earl Williams in the desk, Molly and Hildy confront the reporters returning to phone. The reporters' speech as they talk on the phone and pester Molly for news is 4.5 w/s. Then, when Murphy walks over to the window and raises the shade, there is a pronounced six-second pause. Other reporters follow and speculate about how Earl might have gotten into the building. The rate of speech here, including the pause, is 3.6 w/s. Speech rate then picks up over the end of this scene and the beginning of the next, the previous slow passage helping to strengthen the sensation of speed. The reporters begin to get suspicious of Hildy's attempt to get them to leave the room and gather around her. When Mrs. Baldwin enters, her mention of the "murderer" increases their suspicion. At 6 w/s in this short passage, the dialogue is one of the fastest in the film, with the reporters chiming in one after another, and much of the dialogue overlapped. Once Molly begins her attempt to distract the reporters, she speaks somewhat longer lines not overlapped with others, and the scene returns to 4.5 w/s, a speed that continues until she jumps from the window. If one compares this scene with its equivalent in The Front Page, Hawks's version is much less motivated. Spending about three times as long, 1:21 versus 37 seconds, the Milestone version leads up to Molly's flight to the window ledge by showing the reporters hound her (in a prior scene between Earl and Molly, Milestone also introduces the idea of Molly as the "noble" prostitute by having Earl comment on the beauty of her character). I believe that one of the reasons Hawks can get away with the lack of motivation for Molly's leap is simply the speed of delivery, with the accelerating pace of the reporters' questions increasing the pressure on both Hildy and Molly intolerably. And slowing all of the actors down slightly in the previous scene serves by contrast to emphasize the acceleration that is so necessary to his pacing of this event.
Although Milestone's version of Molly's leap is an exception, Hawks usually employs slightly longer scenes that give greater scope to the performers to establish pace and to vary speaking rhythm subtly. For example, Hawks's version of the scene in which Hildy captures Earl is about a minute and a half longer than Milestone's, 3:31 versus 2:00. In the first part of the scene, when Earl holds the gun on Hildy, restricting her movement, the dialogue is slow and quiet, 2.8 w/s. Both tempo and volume pick up in the second part of the scene at Earl's line: "Yes, you'll get them after me again. I won't let you do that! I'm . . ." which is interrupted by the shade on the window rolling up and snapping abruptly. In panic, Earl turns and fires his gun and then lets Hildy take it, saying there are no more bullets. The actress becomes more active at this point, as she runs around the room, closing the door and pulling down the window shades while talking to Earl. As the rhythm of speech as well as movement increases in the section after Hildy gets the gun, the overlapping dialogue reaches the speed of 3.4 w/s. The third part of the scene consists of amedium shot of Hildy talking into the two phones at a rate of 4.5 w/s.
While the Milestone version ends with the actor speaking almost as quickly, it does not have Hawks's gradual acceleration. Moreover, the director seems to have been more concerned with staging and camera movement than with speech rhythm. Earl enters, confesses that his gun has already been emptied and gives a relatively long speech without any cuts and with many pauses at 2.8 w/s:
EARL. I surrender. I couldn't hang off of that roof any longer. I ain't afraid to die. I was telling the fellow that when he handed me the gun. Waking me up in the middle of the night. Talking to me about things he don't understand. Calling me a Bolshevik. I'm an anarchist. It's got nothing to do with bombs, it's the philosophy that guarantees every man freedom. All those poor people being crushed by the system. And the boys . . . the boys that were killed in the war. And in the slums. All of those slaves to a crust of bread. I can hear them crying.
During this speech, Hildy pulls down the window shades behind Earl and studies the room, looking for a place to hide the escaped convict. On the line "Go on, take me," Earl faints and, the shot continuing, Hildy carries Earl to the bathroom, shuts that door, comes forward and exits left to pull down more shades and finally closes the door to the pressroom (the camera having moved to a position outside this door). Cut back inside for the phone duologue. There are thus fifteen seconds of silent action between the first part of the scene, dominated by Earl's speech at 2.8 w/s, and the second part of the scene, dominated by Hildy's phone duologue at 4.2 w/s. Both the extended silence and the shutting of the door contribute to a sense of a break between the two segments, so that one is almost tempted to classify them as two very short scenes. In any case, there is not the rhythmic preparation for the duologue that contributes to the sense of its speed in His Girl Friday
Hawks thus creates a fast tempo through the use of overlapping dialogue in addition to or in combination with devices such as the structuring of the dialogue through interruptions, having multiple conversations simultaneously, or a "choral" structure in which many characters chime in on each other's speech. His dialogue, however, is not simply very fast. As important to the pacing of His Girl Friday are changes in the texture and density of the sound track - evident in the Walter-Hildy-Bruce trio in the newsroom, in the scene of Molly's expulsion from the pressroom, and in the scene of Earl's escape - and subtle changes in tempo - evident in the scenes of Molly's attempted suicide and the capture of Earl. Perhaps most important when considering His Girl Friday in relation to The Front Page is the degree to which pacing in the Hawks film is a function of speaking rhythm. One has the sense that Milestone wanted characters to speak quickly in certain scenes in The Front Page, but the tempo of delivery is not a structuring principle for most of the scenes the way it is in Hawks. Other rhythmic elements, not only editing but also figure and camera movement play a much more vital role. This contrast raises the question of how the rhythm of the actor's movements enters into the pacing of the Hawksian scene.
Movement and Gesture
As I have noted, Barry Salt argues that "business" is one of the elements that makes His Girl Friday faster than The Front Page. This claim requires some qualification. As Salt has also noted, there is a great deal more camera movement in The Front Page than in His Girl Friday, and with a few exceptions this movement is motivated by figure movement. If we are considering how much the actors move about the set, then The Front Page is the film with more and quicker movement by a long shot. In the scene of Molly's suicide attempt, for example, Mae Clark paces back and forth in front of a line of reporters, the camera tracking and panning right behind the heads of the men as she moves to the door and is blocked by McCue and then panning left as she moves in the other direction toward the window. She picks up a chair, swinging it right and left to fend off the cop, Woodenshoes, and the reporters before mounting onto the window ledge. In contrast, Helen Mack simply gets out of the chair she is sitting in and comes forward a few steps to the table, steps back and shrugs off a reporter who tries to take hold of her arm and then runs directly out the window.
An even more instructive example is the scene after the kidnapping, in which Walter convinces Hildy to stay and write the story on Earl. In The Front Page, Adolph Menjou pursues Pat O'Brien, who is walking backwards, around the table in the pressroom. They complete two full revolutions around the table, the camera tracking 360 degrees with them. The speed of the movement and the framing, a tight medium shot, make the out-of-focus background whizz by behind them. The effect of the movement is quite dizzying. In His Girl Friday, Hawks has obviously stolen this blocking, but slows it down considerably. Grant and Russell only make 1 1/4 revolutions around the table, and they walk more slowly, and stop to argue more frequently. The camera movement is both much less obtrusive and also much slower. The two actors are framed in long shot and the background is never out of focus. The camera tracks back to follow them as they go from the door to the opposite end of the table, then it stops and pans right as they go back towards the door. It follows them through the last quarter turn by panning left. Thus, it is as if Milestone wants the camera and figure movement to be obviously fast to keep pace with the words, while Hawks has no such intention.
The next scene is also instructive on the differences between the two styles of staging. In Milestone's version, when Mary Brien (Peggy) enters, Menjou, talking on the phone, is standing beside the large table that dominates the room, in a position to the left of the door. O'Brien is seated typing at a smaller table off to the right of the door. Brien faces Menjou, then goes to O'Brien who rises, holding onto the typewriter. The movement that follows reprises the previous scene: Brien pursues O'Brien, who walks backwards, holding onto his typewriter. The camera tracks around the table with them (this shot, however, is interrupted by cutaways to Menjou). Brien and O'Brien walk almost a full revolution around the table, finally catching up to Menjou, who, of course, is still on the phone. O'Brien puts the typewriter down at the end of the table, the door directly behind him and Menjou off to the left. They finish the scene in this position, with Menjou moving directly behind O'Brien, so that he can exchange lines with Brien on her way out the door. In the Hawks version, Russell is seated at the end of the table with the door behind her and Cary Grant to her left. The only actor who moves during the scene is Ralph Bellamy who comes forward from the door and then exits out of it. There is no camera movement.
It is not figure movement, but gesture (and this may be what Salt means by "business") that underscores the fast tempo of delivery in His Girl Friday. Take the example of the "Napoleon pose," a man standing with one hand resting in the lapels of his jacket. Menjou employs this pose in the scene in which he discusses women with Hildy. He holds the gesture for eighteen seconds, from the line"I was in love once, with my third wife," to the line ". . . end of story." Cary Grant steals this gesture and uses it twice: the first time in the scene with Rosalind Russell in his private office where he holds it for just over three seconds, during the line "nobody else on the paper that can write. This will break me. Unless . . . Hildy," and the second time in the scene in the pressroom, where he holds it for the duration of the phrase, "there'll be statues of you in the park," for about a second. The gestures of Hawks's actors tend to be light and rapid, like Grant's use of the Napoleon pose. In some respects the acting style reminds me of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century elocution manuals, which provided appropriate poses and gestures for oratory. His Girl Friday calls for an acting style that suits bodily gesture to verbal discourse, and the grace and speed with which Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell accomplish this is nothing short of breath-taking. This acting technique is the primary way that Hawks achieves a match between his dialogue and his mise en scene.
The nine-minute scene between Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell at the beginning of His Girl Friday is indicative of the way Hawks and his actors deploy gesture. There are three types of gesture - catalytic, phatic and symbolic - used here and elsewhere in the film. Catalytic gestures, which help to flesh out the narrative sequence of events, are composed of actions such as Grant putting a flower in his buttonhole or checking the knot on his tie, Russell putting on lipstick and powder or throwing her purse, and large scale components of blocking such as the actors getting up, sitting down, walking around the table,n Phatic gestures, which refer to the communicative interaction, include the interlocutors pointing at themselves and each other, such as Grant pointing to himself with his thumb during the line "Been seeing me in your dreams?" or, from later in the film when Mrs. Baldwin accuses him of kidnapping her, "Madame are you referring to me?" in which Grant points a finger at Bruce's mother and then uses his thumb to refer to himself. Other phatic gestures include claps on the back, one actor grabbing another's wrist to stress a point, holding up a hand in negation or assent. Symbolic gestures include the Napoleon pose and others that give an indication of a character's psychology or mental state, and also gestures that more directly illustrate the words being spoken: Russell making a running movement with her fingers on the phrase"chasing after fire engines" or Grant making a sweeping gesture with right hand palm up on "policies to the right of them" and with the left hand on "policies to the left of them."
The symbolic gestures can only be explained as an illustration of the character's mental state or of the words being spoken. But many of the catalytic and phatic gestures perform symbolic functions as well.(5) Thus as he sits down at the table, Grant leans over, putting his head close to Russell's to suggest the intimacy between them on the line "I've still got the dimple. And in the same place." Russell opens her compact and stares at herself in the mirror, applying lipstick, to indicate her distance from Walter's problems and his outrage over the supposed defection of Sweeny. Grant pursues Russell around the table and she physically pushes him away, as he puts the pressure on her to come back to take Sweeny's place on the paper and she refuses. The reliance on catalytic gesture helps to naturalize what would otherwise be an obviously stylized use of gesture to "match" the meaning of the words. This naturalization of gesture is what distinguishes the acting style deployed here from that codified by the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century rhetorics of gesture referred to above.
Gestures of whatever sort can function rhythmically and need to be understood in relation to the complex rhythmic structure of this scene. It begins with a five-second pause following Louis and Duffy's exit. In this first section, which lasts for just under a minute including the pause, the rate of delivery is quite slow, 2 w/s. Grant sits on his desk chair, and Russell moves to sit on the table behind him. Gestures alternate with lines of dialogue. Russell asks for a cigarette, Grant throws one to her. She catches it and taps it down on the table. A slight pause, then Grant lights his cigarette. Russell asks for a match, and so on.
When Grant moves over to stand, and eventually sit, beside Russell on the table, the rate of delivery increases to 4.2 w/s and is maintained there for 1:46. The actors make small gestures, usually involving the hands holding the cigarettes. Grant is more active than Russell, turning his body to look toward camera and then back to look towards her several times, and at one point pacing in front of her. There are fewer and smaller gestures in the conversation after he sits next to her on the table, which concludes this section.
The third section, with a duration of 40 seconds, continues the acceleration begun in the second. It begins with Grant and Russell both rising from the table, their argument getting more heated and the delivery rate going from 4.2 to 4.7 w/s. A great deal of the dialogue :is overlapped, and they interrupt one another frequently. Russell walks off right in disgust and stares in horror at the suggestion that they might get married again after she returns to the paper. She moves back to Grant's position in front of the table, they face off in profile, and the segment ends with short clipped lines of overlapped dialogue and an almost physical bout between them.
(Grant and Russell standing in front of table. He puts both hands on her arms.)
WALTER. Come and have some lunch and you can tell me everything.
HILDY. I have a lunch date already
WALTER. Well break it. (He grabs her right hand with his right and pulls.)
HILDY. I cannot break it.
WALTER. Certainly you can. Come on.
HILDY. (She frees herself from his grasp.) Will you take your hands off me. What are you playing?Osteopath?
WALTER. (He holds both his hands up fully open at chest height.) Temper, temper.
After this extremely fast and heated passage the pace abates somewhat. Grant lowers his hands, Russell puts hers down to waist height. She speaks: "Ah, listen Walter. You are no longer my husband and no longer my boss. And you're not going to be my boss," speaking more slowly and with a pause after "Walter" and the first "boss." Then she mo yes toward the desk in front of them to crush out her cigarette in an ashtray. What is most interesting about this section is that in just under thirty-nine seconds it moves from a moment of relative calm and a relaxation of tension to the fastest speaking pace so far, 5.0 w/s and an incredibly rapid flurry of gestures. It is necessary to quote at length to demonstrate how this acceleration occurs. Note that it begins at Grant's line "Ah, ah," with the resumption of overlapped dialogue.
(The camera is tracking back to follow Russell 's forward movement to the ash tray on the desk.)
WALTER. What's that supposed to mean? (Track continues. She pushes the rim of her hat back.)
HILDY. Just what I say. (With her left hand, she extinguishes her cigarette in the ashtray on desk.)
WALTER. You mean you're not coming back to work on the paper?(He takes one step toward her.)
HILDY. You are right, Mr. Burns, for the first time today. (At "you" she points at him with her right hand without looking back. The left hand remains with the cigarette on the table.)
WALTER. Ah, ah. Got a better offer, huh? (At "ah, ah" he lifts his left hand with the cigarette.)
HILDY. You bet I've got a better offer. (At "offer" she picks up a mirror off the desk and starts primping her hair.)
WALTER. All right, go on, take it. Work for somebody else. That's the gratitude I get.
HILDY. Oh, I wish you'd stop hamming.(She puts the mirror down.)
WALTER. (He moves closer to her, they are standing side by side facing camera.) What were you when you came in here five years ago? A little college girl from the school of journalism. I took a doll-faced hick . . . (At "five" he points off in the direction of the larger office, i.e., toward the door, with his right hand. At "doll-faced" he raises both hands. She folds her arms.)
HILDY. Well, you wouldn't take me if I hadn't been doll-faced.
WALTER. Well, why should I? I thought it would be a novelty - have a face around here a man could look at without shuddering. (He looks off right at "novelty" and then raises his shoulders several times and blinks as if shuddering.)
HILDY. (She puts her hands down and turns to face him. They both step back toward the table and assume a face-to-face pose. The camera starts to reframe left and moves in on them, which it does through to "you know it.") Listen, Walter . . .
WALTER. Listen I made a great reporter out of you, Hildy, but you won't be half as good on any other paper and you know it. We're a team that's what we are. You need me and I need you and the paper needs both of us! (At "I made" Grant points at her with his left hand and holds it to "'you." At "We're a team" he raises an open left hand to gesture at her. At "team" Russell starts making her nonsense noises, left hand on her hip, and right resting on the table. At " I need" he beats quickly three times on his chest, then turns and looks out at the general office and points in that direction, at "both" he points with his left hand at the office, reaching across his body to do so. At the same time, Russell hits the table with her right hand, both gestures punctuating "sold.")
HILDY. (making nonsense syllables in the manner of an auctioneer) Sold American!
Although all of Grant's gestures at the end of this section make sense - he gestures at Russell when he says "you" and when he refers to them as a "team," he gestures to himself and to the paper at the appropriate points - the rhythm is surely more important than the meaning, the rapid series of gesticulations the visual equivalent of Russell's nonsense syllables. This equivalence is emphasized by the fact that his biggest gesture, when his left hand crosses his body to point to the office to his right, is timed precisely to coincide with Russell's banging on the table and the stressed word "Sold" in the line which ends this passage.
The fifth section slows down to 3.8 w/s for 1:22. I see this section as preparation for the next, which is the fastest part of the scene. Grant cedes the floor, raising both hands in mock defeat and saying, "Oh, all right. Go on." They both sit side by side on the table. Speaking softly and somewhat sadly, she tells him that it just didn't work out. Although the rate of delivery remains slow here, the use of gesture picks up quite a bit at Walter's insult: "And I still claim I was tight the night I proposed to you . . ." Russell throws her purse at Grant, in front of her. Grant ducks without looking behind him, and upbraids her for losing her "eye" while moving forward to answer the phone on the desk. What follows is the gestural equivalent of having two conversations at once. Grant pretends to be talking to Sweeny on the phone. Once he hangs up, he begins complaining that Sweeny has left his post to "have a baby" and paces back and forth, moving from the desk towards the windows rear right. Meanwhile, Russell stands still, taking out her compact and lipstick, applying lipstick, putting it away, and powdering her face. It is interesting to note how these two activities, two lines of business, as it were, come together and lead into the next section.
HILDY. (She laughs, opens her compact again and begins to powder her face.) Well, he didn't do it on purpose, did he?
WALTER. (In response to her question, he turns and comes forward again.) I don't care whether he did or not. He's supposed to be coveting the Earl Williams case, and where is he? Walking up and down in a hospital. Is there no sense of honor in this country? (At "he's supposed to be covering," he gestures, lifting his left hand. At "where is he?" he puts his hands behind his back and resumes pacing, in imitation of Sweeny in the hospital. At "walking up and down," she turns and looks at Grant. At "is there no sense of honor," he turns toward her, puts his cigarette in his mouth with his left hand, and adjusts the knot in his tie.)
HILDY. (She turns back to powdering her face.) Well, haven't you got anybody else?
WALTER. (He continues adjusting his tie and comes forward to her. He takes his cigarette out of his mouth with his right hand and puts his left, Napoleon style, inside his jacket.) No. No, there's nobody else on the paper that can write. This will break me. Unless . . . (He pauses at "unless" and then turns to look directly at her.) . . . Hildy (He takes his left hand out of his jacket making a broad gesture towards Russell as he says her name. She looks directly at him. Cut. Camera angled to show office door and file cabinets to the left and three-quarter view of Russell.)
HILDY. No! Uh, uh. Not a chance, Walter. Don't bother me. Will you get going! (Russell snaps her compact closed on "No," shakes her right hand in a "no" gesture as she moves away from Grant, toward the rear of the set, and the camera reframes right. Grant tries to stop her, his hands on her arms, and after she moves out, Grant starts to follow her. At "get going," Duffy tries to come in the door, and Grant pushes him out, as he continues in his pursuit of Russell.)
WALTER. Hildy you're going to help me out now, just this once, now will you listen to me. . . Get out of here, Duffy, I'm busy. Now look Hildy, look darling . . .
A number of the gestures have important rhythmic functions as the two lines of business give way to a single chase. A clear sequence follows the word "unless." Grant pauses, turns to look at Russell, then takes his hand out of his jacket and gestures toward her. Both the pause and the movements underscore the moment in which he springs his trap and forcefully claims Russell's attention. She finally looks directly at him instead of in her mirror, and the sound of her compact snapping shut is timed to coincide with the stressed word "no" which, like the gunshot at the beginning of a race, initiates the flight and pursuit around the table.
The sixth section is comprised of a 36 second chase around the table. All of the dialogue save for three lines is overlapped and the rate of delivery is 6.3 w/s. Note the interruption of the action as Duffy tries to get Walter's attention, putting his head in the door and getting pushed out again. In a way that is analogous to the verbal interruptions discussed above, this interruption helps to pick up the pace by increasing the density of events occurring within a fixed duration. The rest of the blocking and gestures are rapid and extensive, as Grant tries to grab hold of Russell but she manages to push him away while still holding purse and compact, turning back to hurl insults as she moves ahead and, when he finally catches up to her, punctuating her epithet "Scram, Svengali!" with the action of throwing her compact in her purse. About three fourths of the way around the table, they stand in place facing one another and argue in the fastest verbal part of this section. The segment ends with Grant moving up to the desk to answer the phone, in the position in which the chase began, and Russell following behind, tearing off her glove to show him her engagement ring.
There is a pronounced pause after Russell's line "Engagement ring." In the 3:20 remaining, the rate of delivery never goes higher than 3.4 w/s, and it slows down to 2.7 w/s near the end of the scene, after Hildy tells Walter that she is getting married tomorrow and Walter begins to think about how to prevent this event. As in the beginning, there is a tendency to alternate speaking and gesture. Here, Grant's gestures fit in the frequent pauses in Russell's speech.
(They stand a few paces behind the desk, Russell leaning on the back of the desk chair, her purse in her right hand.)
WALTER. Baldwin, Baldwin, Baldwin . . . Oh, I knew a Baldwin once. A horse thief in Mississippi. Couldn't be the same fellow, could it? No. (At "I knew" Grant adjusts the knot on his tie with his right hand; his left is in his pocket, and he is looking front.)
HILDY. You're not talking about the man I'm marrying tomorrow. (After this line, she stands up straight, her purse in her right hand.)
WALTER. (His hand still on his tie, he turns to look at her in surprise after registering her line. He waits a beat before he does the turn and another beat before he says his line.) Tomorrow. As soon as that? (He takes his hand down to waist height. She puts her purse under her right arm and starts to pull on her glove with her left hand.)
HILDY. Hmm Hmm . . . (Grant pushes out his lips, rubs his hands together briefly, and moves forward of her position to the edge of the desk. She begins to play with her glove, which she does throughout.)
HILDY. Well, at last I got out what I came up here to tell you . . . (On "at last I got out," he taps on the phone with his fingers. H e picks up a flower from the desk and puts it in his button hole.) Guess there isn't any more to the story . . . So long, Walter. (He leaves his left hand on his chest and rubs his lapel with the fingers of his right hand as she says "so long.")
WALTER. (He stays in position, looking ahead and continuing the gesture.) So long, Hildy.
HILDY. And better luck to you next time. (She exits behind him, to the left. He stays in position, continuing the gesture.)
WALTER. (He pauses before turning left to look after her, tapping on his lapel with his fingers.) Thanks. Oh, Hildy!
Hawks's much vaunted classicism should be evident in the pacing of this scene, which begins and ends at approximately the same speed, and slowly builds to a high point in the middle. The acceleration from 2.0 to 6.3 w/s is not steady, but a measured building of pace with intermittent ritardandos. Thus the pace jumps from 2.0 to 4.2 w/s, then to 4.7 w/s, and then drops off briefly before climbing to 5.0. There is a "slow" section of 3.8 before the fastest segment in the scene, 6.3 w/s, and then a precipitous decline to 3.2 and finally 2.7 w/s over an extended stretch (more than 3 minutes) as the scene winds down.
The scene is typical of the film as a whole in the important structuring role assigned to speaking rhythm. Note that many of the changes in tempo are keyed to important steps in the narrative. The falling off of pace at the beginning of section 4 occurs at the moment in which Hildy reveals that she is not going back to the paper to work, the decline from 6.3 to 3.2 w/s occurs when she reveals her engagement to Bruce, and the final reduction occurs when she discloses that she will be married the next day. Both gesture and blocking are integrated with the rate of delivery. In the slowest sections gestures tend to alternate with phrases. In the fastest sections, gestures keep pace with the dialogue, and often a word or sound effect or both will punctuate the beginning or ending of a series of gestures (this is the case with "Sold American" and "Unless . . . Hildy"). There is one section where Russell's actions are independent of her words, as she puts on make up but says very little in counterpoint to Grant's telephone conversation and complaints about Sweeny. The dramatic point here, however, is precisely to stress Hildy's distance from Walter's crises and concerns and, with a punctual snap of a compact, her words and gestures are pulled back into the rhythm of the scene in the next section.
If the gestures thus seem to "keep up" with the words, it should be noted that all the decisive reconfigurations of the blocking can be correlated to shifts in tempo: Grant sitting on the desk chair and Russell on the table in section 1, Grant standing beside Russell, and then sitting next to her at the end of section 2, Grant and Russell both rising from the table as the tempo builds in section 3, Russell walking up to the desk to put out her cigarette as the pace slackens in 4 and then returning to Grant's side as the pace builds up again, Russell standing still and fussing with her make up while Grant paces off to the right in 5, the circling around the table that defines section 6, and, in the last section, a return to the desk and Grant pacing back and forth, and then, after the final deceleration, to a position in front of the door for the exit. Thus, unlike Milestone, who seems to want to establish some kind of equivalence between the rate at which characters move and the rate at which they speak, it is tempo changes that seem most important for Hawks's blocking. An actress does not need to stand still if she is speaking slowly, but a decrease in speaking tempo might well be accompanied by a movement away to an ashtray.
The important distinction between His Girl Friday and The Front Page, then, is not that His Girl Friday is faster, but that the changes in speaking tempo are more finely calibrated and articulated with gesture and figure movement in another way. Hawks uses gesture to keep pace with dialogue, and often establishes rhythmic equivalencies between specific gestures, sounds and words. Gestures in The Front Page tend to be much slower and fewer and are not in general exploited for rhythmic purposes. Hawks tends to have changes in speaking tempo mirrored by changes in blocking, while Milestone aims to correlate figure movement much more directly with speech. This said, it must be noted that in many respects the films are quite similar to one another. As Barry Salt has observed, they are cut the same way in several passages, and my analysis has indicated elements of blocking and even gesture taken over by Hawks. The differences would seem to be minor: a re-arrangement of blocking and 30 seconds subtracted from the scene of Molly's leap from the window, some extra lines of dialogue and a minute added to the scene of Bruce, Hildy, and Walter in the pressroom. But I hope to have demonstrated that these small differences are the result of a more fundamental divergence in the way the two directors have handled the rhythmic articulation of the performance. Pacing, like genius, lies in the details.
I would like to thank Jane Greene for her help with the transcriptions of dialogue for this essay.
1 It is not obvious that counting the number of words per second is the correct way to approach the problem of measuring the tempo of English speech. There is a longstanding tradition among prosodists that English is a stress-timed, as opposed to syllable-timed, language; that is, the time between stressed syllables is equal, however many unstressed syllables intervene (Couper-Kuhlen). Thus, it takes the same amount of time to say "I like American cheese," and "I like French cheese," because the sentences contain the same number of stressed syllables. Tempo, according to this view, is determined by the number of stressed syllables per second rather than the total number of syllables (or words) per second. Aside from the disagreements among linguists about how isochrony could be measured, I was faced with the practical problem that an analysis of the interlocking stresses in a 21 word phrase can run to a full page. Thus, there did not seem to be any way to make this kind of analysis compatible with the study of anything so long as a complete film, not to mention two. Here, I have made the assumption that when one is comparing relatively long stretches of speech the number of stressed syllables will be approximately proportional to the number of words, and hence the difference between measuring words or stressed syllables is less important. I have found that when measuring words per second for the duration of a scene, for example, I get results that accord with my intuitive perception of speaking tempo (scenes that seem "faster" to me, do turn out to be so when I count the words per second). At any rate, this technique does provide a rough way of comparing scenes, although measurements of stressed syllables if feasible might have enabled me to refine the analysis considerably. I have not attempted to measure speaking tempo for individual lines of dialogue.
2 See note 1.
3 Mast claims that Bellamy's delivery is slow compared with Grant's, but as I will show, this is not really demonstrable with a stopwatch (214).
4 The term "catalytic" derives from Roland Barthes's "Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narrative" which proposes two sons of units for breaking down the chain of narrative events: cardinal functions which constitute the "hinge points" of a narrative, the actions which have a decisive impact on the unfolding of the plot, and catalysers, which merely "fill in" the narrative space separating the hinge functions (93).
5 Although these terms are my own, Russell Merritt makes a similar argument about how some of Mary Pickford's gestures in Simple Charity have both an everyday logic and a symbolic function.
Barthes, Roland. "Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narrative." Image-Music-Text. Ed. and trans. Stephen Heath. Glasgow: Collins, 1977.79-124.
Bordwell, David. Narration in the Fiction Film. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1985.
Couper-Kuhlen, Elizabeth. English Speech Rhythm: Form and Function in Everyday Verbal Interaction. Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 1993.
Genette, Gerard. Figures III. Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1972.
Hawks, Howard, dir. His Girl Friday. with Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell and Ralph Bellamy. (1939).
-----, dir. Rio Bravo with John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson and Angie Dickinson. (1959).
Hecht, Ben and Charles MacArthur. The Front Page. 1928. New York: Covici-Friede, 1933.
Mast, Gerald. Howard Hawks, Storyteller. New York: Oxford UP, 1982.
McBride, Joseph. Hawks on Hawks. Berkeley: U of California P, 1982.
Merritt, Russell. "Griffith's Depiction of the New Acting Style (1908-1913)." International Summer School. Riga, Latvia, August 1995.
Milestone, Lewis, dir. The Front Page with Adolphe Menjou, Pat O'Brien, and Mary Brian. (1931).
Salt, Barry. Film Style and Technology: History and Analysis. London: Starword, 1992.
Sarris, Andrew. The Primal Screen. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1973.
Lea Jacobs (firstname.lastname@example.org) teaches film at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is the author, with Ben Brewster, of Theatre to Cinema: Stage Pictorialism and the Early Feature Film.
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|Title Annotation:||filmmaker Howard Hawks; Style in Cinema|
|Date:||Sep 22, 1998|
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