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His Girl Friday: the fastest-talking movie in the world?

Watch Cary Grant at 240 words per minute

His Girl Friday poster
His Girl Friday poster

I have always loved the word “loquacious.” I also love the word “screwball.” And I especially love when the two come together in screwball comedies. If ever a rash of movies was by definition loquacious, it was those screwball comedies from the ’30s and ’40s. First up, the movies of Spike Jones and his City Slickers. Second up, and this surprised me, anything Cary Grant. That Cockney boy knew how to deadpan fast-talking funny. So when I heard they were doing a season of screwball comedies at The Athenaeum in La Jolla, I knew I had to cancel everything and go and see that motormouth masterpiece His Girl Friday. It played last week, at 240 words per minute, maybe the fastest-talking movie in the world. (Most old movie dialogues coast along at 90 words a minute. Even today, in real life, we normally talk no faster than 140. And one thing is for sure, whatever the speed, current movies just seem to have way less dialogue, period. We have to face it: we moderns aren’t as... loquacious. So let’s bring back the fast-talking dames! Bring back Humphrey Bogart with his endless plot reveals while he’s holding a gun to some malheureux’s stomach. More tell, less show!

Sponsored
Sponsored

My loquacious friend Clive — he’s a software, neuroscience guy — reckons the Internet is turning us into monosyllabic zombies. And that many of us write a lot because we don’t get to talk much anymore. “Raymond Chandler was a prolific letter writer; it’s also clear he was a lonely man. He wrote in the night. And because I have health issues, I am housebound over covid precautions, and I think lack of contact has had effects on me. When I see how my tongue gets turned loose when I do talk to someone — talk of loquaciousness, I can’t stop! — I realize how much we actually need the conversational element as social beings. I’m thinking on the level of the human animal, what our brain needs. We really need to interact. And if you had one of those medical research gizmos where you can see what part of the brain is working, with a fast conversation, you’d see whole areas lighting up, billions of connections, neurons, like a galaxy of stars. It may be that if we don’t exercise [this conversational element] because of covid isolation or too much iPhone-staring, we literally drain ourselves of life.” 

In this case, at the Athenaeum, where the compulsive rat-a-tat-tat to-and-fro of Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell is so funny and simpatico, you’ve got to concentrate. But thanks to the screwball effect and the infectious laughter, you’re so glad you did afterwards.

So what has happened in the 80 years since His Girl Friday? Have we surrendered to the machine, AI, special effects, let our fingers do the talking? “As they say, and not just about the brain, use it or lose it. We’ve gotta fire up that neuron light display between the ears,” says Clive. Where to start? “Good conversations. Start some! I’m shy, but I’m making myself do it, with real people. No surrender to the small screen!” 

Uh, but the big screen? Screwball comedies still have a couple of weeks to go. They’re showing Thursday nights at The Athenaeum.

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His Girl Friday poster
His Girl Friday poster

I have always loved the word “loquacious.” I also love the word “screwball.” And I especially love when the two come together in screwball comedies. If ever a rash of movies was by definition loquacious, it was those screwball comedies from the ’30s and ’40s. First up, the movies of Spike Jones and his City Slickers. Second up, and this surprised me, anything Cary Grant. That Cockney boy knew how to deadpan fast-talking funny. So when I heard they were doing a season of screwball comedies at The Athenaeum in La Jolla, I knew I had to cancel everything and go and see that motormouth masterpiece His Girl Friday. It played last week, at 240 words per minute, maybe the fastest-talking movie in the world. (Most old movie dialogues coast along at 90 words a minute. Even today, in real life, we normally talk no faster than 140. And one thing is for sure, whatever the speed, current movies just seem to have way less dialogue, period. We have to face it: we moderns aren’t as... loquacious. So let’s bring back the fast-talking dames! Bring back Humphrey Bogart with his endless plot reveals while he’s holding a gun to some malheureux’s stomach. More tell, less show!

Sponsored
Sponsored

My loquacious friend Clive — he’s a software, neuroscience guy — reckons the Internet is turning us into monosyllabic zombies. And that many of us write a lot because we don’t get to talk much anymore. “Raymond Chandler was a prolific letter writer; it’s also clear he was a lonely man. He wrote in the night. And because I have health issues, I am housebound over covid precautions, and I think lack of contact has had effects on me. When I see how my tongue gets turned loose when I do talk to someone — talk of loquaciousness, I can’t stop! — I realize how much we actually need the conversational element as social beings. I’m thinking on the level of the human animal, what our brain needs. We really need to interact. And if you had one of those medical research gizmos where you can see what part of the brain is working, with a fast conversation, you’d see whole areas lighting up, billions of connections, neurons, like a galaxy of stars. It may be that if we don’t exercise [this conversational element] because of covid isolation or too much iPhone-staring, we literally drain ourselves of life.” 

In this case, at the Athenaeum, where the compulsive rat-a-tat-tat to-and-fro of Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell is so funny and simpatico, you’ve got to concentrate. But thanks to the screwball effect and the infectious laughter, you’re so glad you did afterwards.

So what has happened in the 80 years since His Girl Friday? Have we surrendered to the machine, AI, special effects, let our fingers do the talking? “As they say, and not just about the brain, use it or lose it. We’ve gotta fire up that neuron light display between the ears,” says Clive. Where to start? “Good conversations. Start some! I’m shy, but I’m making myself do it, with real people. No surrender to the small screen!” 

Uh, but the big screen? Screwball comedies still have a couple of weeks to go. They’re showing Thursday nights at The Athenaeum.

Sponsored
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