His Girl Friday
, Film, 1940, Columbia
Hildy Johnson has decided to quit her career as newsperson and move to Albany to live with her soon-to-be husband, Bruce Baldwin. Walter Burns, her editor and former husband, has other plans. Shortly after Hildy informs Burns of her imminent departure, Burns sets upon keeping his ace reporter in town. Later that evening, Burns has successfully waylaid Hildy, getting her to write a story about a convicted felon on death row. The film moves to the criminal court press-room, where the story literally finds Hildy before she can find it. By this time Diamond Louie, under Burns’ orders, has framed Bruce, and Hildy’s opportunity of a slower life with her fiance is visibly slipping away. A corrupt mayor, an escaped convict, and a mindless bureaucrat fill in some of the blanks.
Behind the Camera:
Howard Hawks, Director, Producer.
Charles Lederer, Screenplay.
Joseph Walker(I), Cinematography.
Cary Grant as Walter Burns
Rosalind Russell as Hildy Johnson
Ralph Bellamy as Bruce Baldwin
Gene Lockhart as Sheriff Peter B. Hartwell
Porter Hall as Murphy
Ernest Truex as Bensinger
Cliff Edwards as Endicott
Clarence Kolb as Mayor
Roscoe Karns as McCue
Frank Jenks(I) as Wilson
Regis Toomey as Sanders
Abner Biberman as Louis
Frank Orth as Duffy
Helen Mack as Molly Malloy
John Qualen as Earl Williams
The film begins with Hildy asking a telephone operator, “Tell me, is the Lord of the Universe in?” Soon, we meet Hildy’s ex-husband, Walter Burns: “I wish you hadn’t done that, Hildy... Divorce Me. Makes a fellow lose all faith in himself... Almost gives him a feeling he wasn’t wanted.” The following 92 minutes of fast paced, witty, highly charged comedy pull the audience in, and don’t give them time to exhale. Each verbal barb is delivered directly on top of the previous, quickly snowballing into a well played battle of the sexes. The physical interplay of the actors only compliments the superb dialogue and well timed delivery: after yet another undermining jab to his ex-wife, Hildy hurls her pocketbook at Burns, only to miss due to a well-timed (but unintentional) duck: “You’re losing your eye. You used to be able to pitch better than that,” replies Burns.
My review is only one of many to invoke the adjectives rapid-fire, razor-sharp, breakneck, witty, sardonic, ironic, screwball, cartoonish, hysterical, and tour de force. All of these words ring true to the movie. This is one of cinema’s best comedies, and ranks as the American Film Institute’s 19th funniest film. The dynamic interplay of Russell and Grant brings to mind some of the better comedies of our time, including Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis in Moonlighting. Friday’s influence is immediately recognized in characters such as Amy Archer in the Coen Brothers’ comedy The Hudsucker Proxy.
Reportedly, the actors talk at rates up to 240 words per minute (a normal pace might be 110 words per minute). Hawks directed the actors to move twice as fast as normal, to add to the frantic pace.
His Girl Friday was one of several Howard Hawks comedies, including Bringing Up Baby and I Was A Male War Bride, all three starring Cary Grant. Originally, this comedy was a Broadway play written by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. In 1928, The Front Page became the play's first Hollywood adaptation. His Girl Friday added a new twist to the story: the character of Hildy Johnson became female. Later, the movie was remade (keeping the female twist) in 1974, and on film in 1988 (as a television show, Switching Channels).
I love this movie. I discovered it one lazy morning on A&E, and I have been hooked ever since. Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell turn in great performances. Beware of the numerous DVD releases currently in existence- each one has a different transfer.
Tagline: She learned about men from him!
MPAA: Unrated, but probably G or PG.
Runtime: 92 minutes
Color: Black and White
Sound Mix: Mono.
Sources and Thanks:
The Internet Movie Database (http://www.imdb.com/)
A library of film criticism. American film directors. Edited Stanley Hochman. Frederick Ungar Publishing Co, New York. 1974.
American Movie Classics: Classic Movie Companion. Edited, Robert Moses. Hyperion, New York. 1999.
The New York Times Guide to the Best 1000 Movies Ever Made. Cincent Canby, Janet Maslin. Edited Peter M. Nichols. Random House, New York. 1999.
TVGuide Online review (http://www.tvguide.com)