His Girl Friday (1940)

His Girl Friday (1940)

Synopsis:

When New York newspaper editor, Walter Burns (Cary Grant, The Philadelphia Story), finds out that his ex-wife, and ace reporter, Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell, Auntie Mame), is retiring to marry insurance agent, Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy, Trading Places), he uses every trick in book to destroy her plans.

Reaction & Thoughts:

Here is one of those anomalies — a remake that pulverizes the original. Director Howard Hawks (The Big Sleep and Rio Bravo) took the 1931 film The Front Page, which was an adaptation of Ben Hecht’s and Charles MacArthur’s stage hit, changed the gender of one of the characters, and created one of best romantic comedies of Hollywood’s Golden era.

The rapid-fire, overlapping dialogue anticipates Robert Altman’s similar style by almost thirty years. Characters talk so fast, often interrupting each other, making some of what they say unintelligible. I had to replay certain scenes like three times so I could hear what everybody was saying. Normally, this kind of thing is the kiss of death — last thing a movie wants to do is confuse the viewer — but I found myself totally bewitched by all that jumbled talk. I challenge anyone to find another classic screwball comedy that can equal that.

Charles Lederer’s script is full of great lines: “The guy who looks like the actor Ralph Bellamy” and “The last man who said that to me was Archie Leach (Cary Grant’s real name!), just a week before he cut his throat.” Hawks encouraged spontaneity and ad-libbing so a lot of what you see was improvised.

Also, I was very much taken aback by the movie’s forward-thinking attitude regarding gender roles. I certainly didn’t expect that. Hildy is every bit the equal of the men — she is shown to be smarter than her boss/ex-husband and Hildy is clearly the best reporter of the lot. And unlike, let’s say, George Stevens’s Woman of the Year (1942), in which the leading female character is literally sent back to the kitchen, Hildy’s ambition and talent are celebrated.

Grant and Russell are superb. I just don’t know how they managed to talk so fast! The great supporting cast includes Gene Lockhart (Algiers), Porter Hall (Double Indemnity), Clarence Kolb, and Cliff Edwards.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

His Girl Friday is a lot of fun. However, you may need to keep the DVD player remote control close by so you don’t miss any dialogue. B&W, 92 minutes, Not Rated.

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11 responses to “His Girl Friday (1940)

  1. I agree totally with your comment about portrayal of a professional woman — ahead of its time — but I disagree slightly with your take on the end of “Woman of the Year.” Yes, she goes back to the kitchen, but he tells her that’s not where she’s supposed to be. She needs to figure out how to be both wife and working woman, not give up one for the other. For the record, I’m not fond of that ending, I would have preferred a show-not-tell way of expressing that thought. I love your blog, by the way, I hope you know this comment is meant to be conversational and not confrontational!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hmm … I need to re-watch Woman of the Year. You have certainly given me food for thought. I’ve read that Hepburn was very angry about the ending. She thought it was degrading. But next time I watch the movie, I’m going to keep in mind your interpretation. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t think any of the writers or key players in the film were happy with the ending. I’d read somewhere that the original ending had Tess covering a boxing match and Sam doing something similar for her, and they understood each other’s worlds much better after that. However, studio execs forced them to change it. But I’ve always liked the line (I’m paraphrasing), “you don’t have to be either Tess Harding or Mrs. Sam Craig. You have to figure out how to be Tess Harding Craig.” To me, it hits at the heart of what women are faced with everyday: not fading into a role of wife and mother, but expanding your role, re-shaping it so you remain true to yourself. I should re-watch it, too, to make sure I’m not projecting my own thoughts there, but I don’t think I am. Thank you for listening to my viewpoint!

        Liked by 1 person

          • It’s far from the best ending that film could have had. Not true to the characters. After I wrote my last response, I did a little research and found the original ending used the part I liked (“Tess Harding Craig”). So, I guess maybe my sunny side (ha) chose to focus on the value in the “lesser” ending. I would really like to see the original!!!!

            Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Footsteps in the Dark (1941) | Diary of A Movie Maniac·

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