comedy films "His Girl Friday," directed by Howard Hawks, and "Bedazzled," directed by Harold Ramis. Specifically, it will discuss these two comedies made at least 45 years apart, and comment on their similarities, their differences, and the societal changes that make films obsolete, or keep them classic.
COMEDIES IN TIME
Comedies are some of the most popular film genres of all times. They entertain, they make the audience laugh, and they all contain certain formulas that make them successful. Most comedies have a happy ending, likeable characters, and some ridiculous situations, and these two films are no exception. Even though they were made over 50 years apart, they contain some of the same compelling and humorous features, and some major differences.
Selling your soul to the devil for good fortune or a group of wishes is a topic written about numerous times. Goethe did it in "Faust," and it comes up again in the 2000 film "Bedazzled," directed by Harold Ramis of "Ghostbuster" fame. This remake of a 1967 film starring Dudley Moore and Peter Cook stars Elizabeth Hurley as the Devil, and Brandon Fraser as the befuddled computer nerd who sells his soul for seven wishes. (The first one, a Big Mac and a Coke that he has to buy, should not count, but it does.)
Bedazzled" centers on Elliot, an abrasive computer help-desk worker infatuated with a girl who works in the same building, Alison. After Allison ignores Elliot in a bar, he meets the Devil, (Hurley), who grants him seven wishes after he signs an enormous and unreadable contract. Each subsequent wish turns out worse than the last one, even though he learns to be more specific about what he wants as the movie progresses. This is also classic comedic scripting, where it seems as if nothing can get worse, but it does, and the situations become increasingly unbelievable. The same thing happens in "His Girl Friday." Hildy gets mired deeper and deeper in the Williams case, and In an ironic twist, Alison never loves Elliot in any of the sequences, and all of his co-workers show up at one point or another in minor roles in each sequence, as does the Devil. Elliot finally discovers himself during the course of his wishes, and learns he just wants Alison to be happy, which frees him from the contract, and he keeps his soul, and even meets the perfect "girl next door" at the film's end. Elliot's conflict is that he really does not know who he is, or what he wants, and has to discover this in order to live "happily ever after." "His Girl Friday" relies on similar twists in the story. Hildy never really stopped loving Walter, but it takes all of Walter's cunning for her to realize journalism and Walter are both in her blood, and a life with Bruce is not really what she wants at all. The twists and turns of both plots illustrate comedic timing and excellent scripts for both films, and these are both comedic techniques that are timeless. Hildy's conflict is basically the same as Elliot's she does not know what she really wants, and she has to discover this to live "happily ever after." Thus, two movies, made a half-century apart contain the same message and theme, to be happy, you must know yourself.
Nothing that happens seems out of the ordinary to the modern viewer, because after all, we are dealing with a story about the devil, and a man who sells his soul. What could be more fantastic than that? The film does the same thing through the magic of special effects, and this is one area where it departs from "His Girl Friday," because special effects were not nearly as special in the 1940s, in fact today, they seem more than tame. Nothing is too much for Eliot to believe, because after all, the devil is behind his adventures, and the devil, if he can make himself look like beautiful Elizabeth Hurley, can do anything.
The main theme of "Bedazzled" is of course, not to trust your soul to anyone but yourself, and that you can be happy with your circumstances, as long as you are happy with yourself. Elliot's co-workers respect him as he learns not to take their constant abuse, and he also learns how to respect, and stand up for himself, even as far as standing up to the Devil when he realizes what he has done is wrong. Elliot is portrayed as a pitiful loser at the beginning of the movie, and he really is not very different at the end, except he has a newfound confidence that is apparent to everyone around him. In "His Girl Friday," the main theme is love, and knowing yourself. Walter really knows Hildy better than she knows herself, and it is clear from the outset they belong together, Bruce is simply in the way. Elliot, on the other hand, does not know himself or Allison well enough for them to belong together. In fact, they do not. The Devil comes to know him better than anybody else, and to recognize he is a good and decent man.
Where these films really diverge is in how they were filmed, and what was available at the time. "His Girl Friday" does not rely on special effects or elaborate makeup for its sight gags, as "Bedazzled" does, because in 1940 the effects were not nearly as sophisticated as they are now. "His Girl Friday" relies on an excellent script filled with snappy and delicious dialogue, delivered perfectly by Russell and Grant. "Bedazzled" has a good script, with its own extremely witty dialogue (the basketball scene comes to mind - the announcers were a hysterical parody of sports announcers), but it depends on diverse makeup and special effects for some of its humor and punch, which many modern films manage to do. Older films could not rely on these additional "crutches," and so they were more honest, and relied more on good scripting, direction, and of course, great acting. There is more attention to the staging of the film in older films too, as several scenes in "His Girl Friday" illustrate. For example, the opening scene uses one long dolly shot to introduce the chaos of the newsroom, chaos Hildy moves through with poise and comfort. This one scene shows Hildy for what she really is, a journalist. In "Bedazzled," the shots are mostly short and establish the characters too, but differently. The traveling shot of the pool ball that introduces Hurley as the Devil serves a similar purpose, but it not nearly as dramatic. Directors had less to work with 50 years ago, and so used lighting, camera angles, and long, traveling dolly shots for maximum effect. Today, there are many more ways to illustrate a point in film besides the camera.
Acting has changed too, and not always for the better. In both films, two main characters carry the comedic weight of the film. Granted, Grant and Russell are two of the best actors recognized in classic Hollywood, but the styles are very different, partly due to changes in how audiences view films. In the 1940s and 50s, filmgoers viewed films in a theatre on a widescreen. They viewed a film perhaps once or twice, so the jokes had to be quick and easy, the slapstick understandable the first time, and the in-jokes broad enough for nearly everyone to enjoy. Today, many filmgoers never see the film in a theatre; they view it on video or DVD. If they view a widescreen version, they can experience the film just about as it appeared in the theatre, in the privacy of their own home. They can stop it, back it up, watch their favorite parts again, and view it many times if they choose. This means scripts can be less broad and more convoluted. Viewers often see things in the film after viewing it several times that they did not catch the first time they saw it. While this may enhance the modern viewing experience, it also opens up films to more scrutiny, and older films, made for a broader, one-time audience, may not have the staying power to stand up to numerous, intense viewings. "His Girl Friday" has enough quick and snappy dialogue to keep the interest up for more than one sitting, but it falls short in other areas, and is not the kind of film viewers might watch dozens of times. With the advent of short music videos and newsbytes, society also has a shorter attention span now, and without short and complete scenes, such as "Bedazzled" offers with the variety of wishes, many modern viewers may become bored or tired of nothing but slapstick romance and snappy dialogue.
Society changes and so do society's values. "His Girl Friday" might seem hopelessly outdated to many viewers today. They would probably wonder why the reporters were not using computers on their desks, and…