Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Tax Man, Yea-ah, I'm the Tax Man

Actually, I'm done with mine, but am reprinting another vintage Girls on Film article due to anticipated light posting for the next few days. Too much to write, not enough time.

Enjoy, and good luck with your W-2's and whatnot!

Nice Work If You Can Get It

It's lurking over there. On your desk. Your unfinished 1040 long form. Aaaiieee! Don't be scared. Procrastinate. In honor of tax season, here are two romantic comedies set in the workplace to keep you from itemizing your deductions for at least a few more hours.

1957's DESK SET features the classic pairing of Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. Kate is Bunny Watson, head of the Federal Broadcasting Company's Reference Department. Staffed by extremely smart chicks, her office regularly fields inquiries on everything from baseball stats to "Song of Hiawatha," which Bunny can recite cold.

Peg (Joan Blondell) is the resident zaftig wisecracker, constantly tweaking Bunny about her sometime beau Mike Cutler (Gig Young). Network exec Mike takes Bunny very much for granted, but she's content for now. More or less.

Into this happily buzzing hive comes Tracy's Richard Sumner, an avuncular nutcase who turns out to be an efficiency expert. Uh oh. Armed with a degree from MIT and a tape measure, Richard gets underfoot as he makes plans to bring an "electronic brain" onto Bunny's home turf. Suddenly everyone's thinking pink slips. Despite this, our heroes begin to warm to each other. Richard, with his easygoing style and appreciation for intelligence and wit, has much more in common with Bunny than executron Mike.

The computer, when it arrives, is a massive blooping, blinking contraption more on the order of the bridge of the Enterprise than today's beige boxes. But not to fear, the reference staff neatly cleans its clock, as the vaunted machine confuses Corfu and "curfew," spewing punch cards hither and yon. It's a little surprising that IBM worked so closely with this film: not only do computers (temporarily) fulfill everyone's fears of being replaced, but they screw up royally at their first chance out of the gate. Just like Windows!

Another classic film couple star in 1940's HIS GIRL FRIDAY, Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant. You'll have to search a long time before you find a script this funny and sharp, delivered with such crackerjack timing.

Russell is Hildy Johnson, ace reporter. News flash for her editor and ex-husband Walter Burns (Grant): she's quitting to get married. Tomorrow. The groom-to-be is affable but dull insurance salesman Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy), who wants to whisk Hildy away, far from press rooms and late editions. Worse, Hildy apparently wants to be so whisked.

Walter is none too happy to see her go: he hired a skywriter to announce, outside the divorce court, "HILDY -- DON'T BE HASTY -- REMEMBER MY DIMPLE." Grant has the charm cranked up to 11 as he keeps Hildy from getting on that train, mostly by repeatedly getting Bruce arrested. Walter is not going quietly into that Hildy-less night.

As great a role as Walter Burns is, Russell's got the real showcase part. Hildy is a reporter nonpareil, equally able to give the "woman's touch" (cough, whatever) to a story and physically tackle a fleeing interview subject. She's no fool, either, seeing through Walter's attempts to bollix her impending marriage. The one thing she doesn't see coming is how much she loves her work, and that she's incapable of giving it up. A breaking story about an impending execution puts her and Walter to the test, as they both find out what -- and who -- is most important to them.

The script goes beyond one-liners to deal with politics and corruption, and doesn't make any apologies for egregiously biased newspapers, or for the hyena-like behavior of cynical, misfortune-hungry reporters. HIS GIRL FRIDAY also sneaks in some in-jokes, such as Walter sending someone after Bruce, saying he looks like "that guy in the movies, Ralph Bellamy."

Why don't films like this get written or made anymore? For that matter, I don't know of two contemporary actors who could handle such material as well as Grant and Russell. They don't call those the golden days of Hollywood for nothing.

Now back to your Schedule ZX-1002 and Form 2p.4.L. The sooner you finish, the sooner you get your refund, the sooner you can blow it all on movie rentals. I know I will.

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