Posted in Film

His Girl Friday (1940)

His_Girl_Friday_posterA fantastic screwball comedy, from Howard Hawks, director of The Big Sleep (1946), Bringing Up Baby (1938), and The Thing from Another World (1951). Inspired by the 1928 broadway comedy, The Front Page, and staring Cary Grant (North by Northwest (1959)), Rosalind Russell (Live, Love and Learn (1937)), and Ralph Bellamy (Rosemary’s Baby (1968)), His Girl Friday follows former news reporter, Hildy Johnson (Russell), as she returns back to work for the first time in months, to inform her boss, and ex-husband, Walter Burns (Grant) that she is about to marry another man (Bellamy), and leave the newspaper business for good. With intense jealously and a desire to win her back, Walter offers her the chance to write one last story for the paper, an interview with a man who is about to be killed for his crimes. Hoping that the thrill of the story will bring her back, Walter attempts to sabotage Hildy’s plans to leave, and show her truly where her heart and head belongs, in the thrill of the chase, and by his side.

The film mirrors the ever changing landscape and whirlwind pacing of the news room. The frantic nature of the characters feels natural with the situation at hand, allowing the viewers to seamlessly slip into the film, and engross themselves within the environment.

Cary Grant, while at his core, portrays a manipulative and jealous man, is infectiously charming. Despite being the unhealthier the Hildy’s two love interests, it’s noticeably hard not to root for him. While much of his charm is due to Cary Grant himself, it’s his inherently hard headed and driven co-star Rosalind Russell that steals the show. Hildy is wonderfully quick witted, and stands shoulder to shoulder with her co-stars. Able to trade blows with the hot headed Walter Burns (no pun intended), and even knock him down a peg. Hildy’s heart is always on the job, and while she knows it’s not always best for her, the news room calls! Bruce Baldwin (Bellamy), Hildy’s fiancée, and the unfortunate fall guy for Walter’s torments and trick, is played in a highly sympathetic light. While Bellamy plays and honest and kind gentleman of the two, paired against Grant’s genuine charm and wit, it’s insistently hard not to simultaneously feel sorry for him, and root against him. The film is perfectly cast, with some of the greatest actors available at the time.

Leaps in technology allowed for the vibrant, witty, and sharp dialogue to be delivered naturally. His Girl Friday was one of the first films to allow for multiple levels of dialogue to be recorded at once, allowing for dialogue to overlap. With the fast paced arguments and quips from every direction, not only Grant and Russell, it’s hard to imagine this film being made any earlier than it was. It is surprising in a culture and society known for remakes and updates of classic properties, it is disheartening to imagine an executive stumbling across it in their archives, and suddenly greenlighting an awkward and out of touch remake. The film works best, and is carried phenomenally well by its cast, and given a 21st century revamp, the film would suffer greatly, from the internet heavy reliance of journalism. The catalyst for trying to win Hildy back, would most likely be shifted from the imminent hanging of a single man, to a cataclysmic, political event, that would uproot the heart and focus of the plot.

A true gem of classic Hollywood, His Girl Friday is the quintessential screw-ball comedy. Seventy-seven years later, the film still feels fresh and original, with dialogue and characters that still hit all the marks. His Girl Friday is well worth your time and appreciation.

 

His Girl Friday is available on DVD and Blu-ray, distributed by Criterion.

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