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SPECIAL SCREENINGS

Hawks' 'His Girl Friday' Still a Hit Any Day

April 12, 1993|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Most young journalists would find it hard to believe that the colorful newspaper types populating "His Girl Friday" (Thursday at UCLA's Melnitz Theater at 7:30 p.m.), Howard Hawks' justly celebrated 1940 reworking of "The Front Page," once actually existed.

Its humor, expressed through rat-tat-tat overlapping dialogue, remains hilariously timeless, but its world of rambunctious, do-anything-for-a-story reporters and editors has pretty much gone the way of linotype, unless you count the supermarket tabloids. In any event, Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur's Hildy Johnson, star reporter, has been turned by writer Charles Lederer into a woman (Rosalind Russell) who's just announced to her ex-husband, who also happens to be her unapologetically shameless editor (Cary Grant), that she's marrying Ralph Bellamy and quitting journalism. Information: (310) 206-8013.

William Wyler's handsome, intelligent film of Sinclair Lewis' "Dodsworth" (Saturday at LACMA at 8 p.m.) surely has a different impact today than intended when it was released in 1936. Walter Huston, re-creating his stage role, plays a middle-aged Midwestern car manufacturer who retires so that he and his wife (Ruth Chatterton) can take off for an extended vacation in Europe. Although determinedly unpretentious, Huston is no hick, but a knowledgeable appreciator of the European culture he's so eager to drink in.

For his substantially younger wife, however, travel represents a new freedom that leaves her giddy enough to be vulnerable to the overtures of such suave, debonair types as David Niven and Paul Lukas. Wyler and writer Sidney Howard, drawing from the novel and his own play, let us understand that the wife dutifully endured a suffocating small-town social life while her husband was meeting the exciting challenge of becoming a captain of industry. They have also endowed her with considerable self-awareness.

Consequently, the film's conclusion, praised for remaining true to its source, ironically now seems false, a betrayal of the film's most likely unconscious feminist spirit. What's more, Chatterton is such a brilliant actress and has made the wife so human in her frailties--indeed, a 20th-Century Madame Bovary--that one feels at the film's climax that she is unjustly punished for a foolish display of bravado that masks an understandably wounded pride. Information: (213) 857-6010.

In "Naked Spaces" (Saturday at 8 p.m. at Beyond Baroque, 681 Venice Blvd.) Trinh T. Minha-ha makes a stunningly successful effort to immerse herself into the rhythms of the daily village life in six West African nations. She accompanies her long, incessant pan shots with the spoken words of three off-screen women's voices--one of which is her own.

The voices at once narrate the film, reveal the myths and beliefs that give meaning to everything seen on the screen and finally comment, in terms of Western thought, upon all that we are witnessing and experiencing. There is an abiding concern with habitations, a continual movement between interiors and landscapes that allows for a shimmering play of light and shadow and links society and nature.

The non-linear "Naked Spaces" is wearily demanding, stately in pace and lengthy (135 minutes)--but worth every ounce of effort. Information: (310) 827-7432.

In his 1935 "Toni" (at the Monica 4-Plex Saturday and Sunday at 11 a.m.) Jean Renoir, re-creating an actual incident, brings his characteristically clear-eyed compassion to a pair of miserably mismated couples. Toni (Charles Blavette) and Josefa (Celia Montalvan), both Spanish immigrant workers in rural France, are in love but circumstances dictate that they marry others.

"Toni" is a romantic tragedy, rendered in a seemingly spontaneous documentary style and acutely observant of the interplay between socioeconomic factors, custom, the human heart and even the terrain in the determining of fate. One of the least-revived yet clearly major Renoir films. Information: (310) 394-9741.

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