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 the 1940s.
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.