His Girl Friday (1940)
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Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Bellamy, Gene Lockhart, John Qualen, Porter Hall, Roscoe Karns, Abner Biberman, Cliff Edwards, Billy Gilbert, Ernest Truex, Clarence Kolb, Frank Jenks
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|Movie Review by Jarrod |
December 15th, 2010
'His Girl Friday' is one of the most well-crafted comedies ever made; few can boast the credits of Howard Hawks, whose groundbreaking work in the 30s and 40s, made him one of the successful and popular Hollywood directors of his era, and one of the most influential for later generations, with his biggest admirer perhaps being Quentin Tarantino or Brian De Palma (who remade Hawks's 1932 crime drama Scarface with Al Pacino as an ultra-violent ode to 80s excess). 'His Girl Friday' could be seen as a follow-up to Bringing Up Baby, the screwball classic with Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn.
This film is considerably funnier than that one; a delightfully zany, zippy comedy about the newspaper industry, that has not aged at all, and is still as fresh and entertaining today as it was 60 years ago. It proves that, in comedy, timing is everything, and one could not help but be flabbergasted by just how perfect the timing is here. The dialogue, much of it adapted directly from Ben Hecht's play The Front Page, is delivered with rapid-fire pacing, with characters talking so fast, subtitles may actually be required to understand everything that is said.
Dialogue is rarely so intelligent, so witty, and so, well, rhythmic. Hawks, and screenwriter Charles Lederer, must have taken some inspiration from Leo McCarey's masterful 1937 flick The Awful Truth, to which it bears many similarities. The basic plot is meaningless, but centers on Walter Burns (Grant), the suave, ruthless editor of The Morning Post, a publication devoted, above all else, to getting exclusive news items before anyone else, and writing about them in such a way that it generates outrage and controversy. Burns is the kind of journalist who will do anything for a story.
Facts may be twisted, political careers may be ruined, but as long as people keep reading, that is all that matters. Burns' will is absolute; those who work under him are in awe of his audacity, energy, and brilliance, though these same qualities are also extremely infuriating. The only person able to stand up to him, and probably command his respect, was his wife, Hildy (Rosalind Russell), a talented writer and reporter, who is now ready to marry a new man, the soft-spoken insurance salesman Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy).
Their divorce was anything but amicable. They despise each other, and Burns wants to sabotage her new relationship, not purely out of spite, or malice, but because he needs her to write up a feature on his latest story, about Earl Williams (John Qualen), who shot a police officer and is now scheduled to be hanged. Burns intends to argue that Williams is innocent, or at the very least, insane, and should not be held accountable for his actions. Public opinion seems to go the other way. Hildy announces her intention to quit the newspaper industry altogether, and move to Albany, to settle down with Bruce and start a family.
It is not that easy, though, as several exciting developments occur, and she rediscovers just how much she loves this stuff. Grant and Russell are an extraordinary pair; their verbal exchanges are hilarious, and their chemistry flawless. Indeed, having been made in 1940, there are references to Hitler and WWII, which was raging in Europe at the time, and some racially insensitive language that, while harmless and barely noticeable, nonetheless leaves a slightly sour taste, because it is, perhaps the only thing that is not played for laughs, in a movie that finds humor in a variety of dark topics, like suicide, murder, and capital punishment.
When a young woman throws herself from a window into the street below, or when an old woman is carried off against her will and presumed dead, expect a barrage of sarcastic, even cruel remarks, primarily from Burns, who doesn't have a kind word for anybody. How he enjoys tormenting the slow-witted Bruce, and framing him for a colorful assortment of crimes.
Grant is that enduring epitome of style, class, and elegance that few modern actors can hope to duplicate. His dextrous flair for comedy was never more evident than it was here, but then Grant played many different kinds of roles onscreen, but his charm and versatility is what made him so appealing to cinema legends like Hawks, Hitchcock, and Frank Capra.
As for Russell, this was her role of a lifetime, and none of her later work equaled it. The character of Hildy was originally male, and it was Hawks' idea to switch the gender, an infinitely wise decision on his part. The template for all future love-hate relationship, battle-of-the-sexes comedies, and probably the best of them that doesn't feature Hepburn.
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