I don’t know why I hadn’t realised until recently that an incredibly high percentage of my favourite films – His Girl Friday, Spellbound, Notorious, The Shop Around the Corner, Strangers on a Train, Monkey Business, Where the Sidewalk Ends – were at least partly written by one man, Ben Hecht. Maybe it’s because the British boycotted his work in the Forties and Fifties due to his criticism of their policies in Palestine, so he wrote many of his screenplays anonymously.
His screwball comedies in particular show up where modern rom-coms go wrong with their mild embarrassments and drippy mopings. People were tougher in the Thirties and Forties: there’s nearly always something more serious at stake than humiliation. It might be full of wisecracks but His Girl Friday revolves around preventing the planned execution of a mentally ill murderer, and a desperate woman throws herself out of a window halfway through.