His Girl Friday (1940)
Forget Friday - My Girl Everyday
Walter, you're wonderful, in a loathsome sort of way - Hildy
It would be a fair judgement to say that great movies never grow tiresome, you can watch them time after time and still get as much out of them as you did the very first time. Howard Hawk's "His Girl Friday" is one such movie, a delightful screwball comedy from the start of the 1940s which sees Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in electrifying form. It's full of clever writing, sexual undertones, witticism after witticism and every time you watch it, it is as good as the first time, never becoming close to being dull with its frenetic energy and comedy.
When his ex-wife and top reporter, Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell), shows up at the paper, editor Walter Burns (Cary Grant - Only Angels Have Wings) is happy to see her that is until she tells him that she's not only quitting journalism but is about to get remarried to insurance salesman Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy - Carefree). Unhappy at the thought of not only losing his best reporter but the woman he still loves, Walter sets about doing everything he can to stop Hildy from leaving which leads her to cover one final scoop the trial of murderer Earl Williams (John Qualen - Firecreek) which turns from a simple 2 hour job into much more.
The storyline to "His Girl Friday" comes from Ben Hecht's and Charles MacArthur's Broadway play, "The Front Page" a play which has been the source for a few movies. But with "His Girl Friday" they change things, screen writer Charles Lederer changes a character from a man to a woman and as such adds a further dimension to the storyline, giving the movie sexual and romantic undertones that add to the general entertainment. So what we get is a fun screwball comedy where newspaper editor Walter Burns does everything he can not just to get the big scoop but keep hold of his best reporter and the woman he loves, Hildy Johnson.
What makes it so good is that "His Girl Friday" has an incredible amount of energy and moves along at a break neck speed. The opening scene where Hildy shows up at the paper and tells Walter that she is not only quitting journalism but is about to get married is mesmerising through the rapid fire dialogue as Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell verbally bounce off of each other. And that same level of energy flows throughout with scene after scene of quick fire dialogue. A lot of credit should go to Charles Lederer for writing such a brilliant screen play but equally to director Howard Hawks for allowing Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell to adlib some of the dialogue; it makes it natural and often humorous.
It is also the clever comedy which makes "His Girl Friday" such a joy to watch from the almost innocent skulduggery of Walter in trying to stop Hildy from leaving through to the far fetched way the story surrounding murderer Earl Williams comes together. It just works; it brings a huge smile to your face which never leaves even when the storyline switches to scenes with greater dramatic emphasis. Plus it's also totally daft and a scene which sees Hildy give chase and rugby tackle a man she wants to question is outrageously stupid but equally outrageously funny. It would be fair to say if you want to watch a great screwball comedy then you couldn't go far wrong with "His Girl Friday".
But whilst the direction of Howard Hawks and the writing of Charles Lederer make "His Girl Friday" good it is the pairing of Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell that makes it great. Grant in particular is so at home with the quick fire dialogue allowing him to deliver witticism after witticism and also combine charming with a more nefarious side. It's a wonderful performance of a brilliant character and you would expect Cary Grant to out shine every one. But Rosalind Russell gives as good as she gets and is Grant's equal in every scene, delivering rapier like banter and wit which makes the verbal sparing between the two of them mesmerising and humorous. And yet whilst the verbal sparring and skulduggery as they try to out wit each other is brilliant it also lays way for it to be believable that deep down they still have feelings for each other.
With two such strong performances it's no surprise that Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell outshine everyone else even a handsome looking Ralph Bellamy as Bruce Baldwin and a comedic Gene Lockhart as Sheriff Hartwell.
What this all boils down to is that "His Girl Friday" is a wonderful movie, a lesson in what makes a movie great. It maybe 70 years old but between the clever writing of Charles Lederer, the brilliant pacing of director Howard Hawks and the wonderful pairing of Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell it is as entertaining as ever putting a smile on your face within minutes and keeping it there till long after it's finished.
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