#203 His Girl Friday

(1940, Howard Hawks)

“You’re wonderful in a loathsome sort of way”

You know, I have no idea why today’s movie is called His Girl Friday. Aside from not making much grammatical sense, there’s no girl called Friday, the movie doesn’t explicitly state that it’s set on a Friday (nor would that be important), and the words are never uttered in the movie. It’s an adaptation of a play called The Front Page, which is a title that makes a lot more sense. So what’s it actually about?

Hildegard “Hildy” Johnson (Rosalind Russell) is a writer for the Morning Post in New York, and the ex-wife of its editor, Walter Burns (Cary Grant). She announces to Walter that she’s quitting the newspaper business and getting married to insurance salesman Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy), a fairly bland and mild-mannered man. However, uncomfortable with this, Walter sends her on a new assignment, to cover the upcoming execution of murderer Earl Williams (John Qualen). Cue a series of mishaps involving Walter trying to get rid of Hildy’s fiancée and keep her with the paper while she attempts to cover the rapidly developing story.

I actually really enjoyed His Girl Friday. I knew next to nothing about it prior to watching, but the basic plot definitely caught my attention when I started watching. Part political drama and part romantic comedy, this movie was actually a lot of fun.

A lot of this centred on Hildy herself, as Rosalind Russell’s performance was fantastic. She was brash, stern, and downright determined to deal with the awkward situation she’s been dumped in. It was highly entertaining to watch her get angrier and angrier with the events of the movie, as she attempts to channel her energy into getting a piece written so she can get out and carry on with her original plans. Her arguments with Cary Grant felt realistic, and the two had great chemistry.

Grant was also pretty impressive. He plays a pretty terrible person, but he’s somehow charming despite his increasingly absurd actions to try and get Bruce arrested every five minutes. Almost all of Grant’s lines were delivered with superb comic timing and, while a little cheesy at times, he was entertaining to watch whenever he came on screen. Not quite as good as his leading lady, but very close.

His Girl Friday was a movie that made me laugh. A lot. Quick-fire dialogue with a lot of wit combined with absurd circumstances meant that there was never a dull moment in this movie. Grant and Russell play well off each other, and some scenes were just outright hilarious. The corrupt mayor trying to convince a messenger to hide something from the press was particular standout, as the informant fails to understand what the mayor’s getting at, and dithers over the bribe he’s being given.

There are also some real moments of excitement, particularly in capturing the heated atmosphere of a busy press office during a prison break. It’s easy to get swept away in the excitement with the heated phone calls and rush to get a story to the papers as fast as possible.

However, this also presents my first issue with the movie. Director Howard Hawks admitted at the time that he was trying to make the dialogue seem realistic by making it overlap just like real speech. While commendable that Hawks was trying to make things sound natural (and they often do), it trips up when the movie frequently descends into chaotic noise as everyone shouts over everyone else. Since recording technology of the 1940s wasn’t quite as nuanced as today, it’s very easy to lose track of who’s talking and what’s being said. It’s my first real issue with the movie.

My second issue with the movie was simply that it was far too easy to tell its origin as a play. The movie spends most of its time in a single room, and while this isn’t a problem most of the time, there do seem to be some contrived reasons for keeping characters in that room and it can be a little tiresome to see that same backdrop in almost every scene.

But these are minor gripes for a movie that is surprisingly funny and highly entertaining throughout. I just wish I knew what the hell “His Girl Friday” actually meant.

Starring Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Bellamy & Gene Lockhart
Written by Charles Lederer, Ben Hecht & Charles MacArthur
Produced by Howard Hawks
Music by Sidney Cutner & Felix Mills
Cinematography by Joseph Walker
Edited by Gene Havlick

Favourite Scene: Grant and Russell’s bickering at the start of the movie very quickly sets the tone.
Scene That Bugged Me: There were times when I wish I could just slap Grant’s character for not being able to let things go. He’s entertaining, but sometimes it does get a little too ridiculous.

Watch it if: You like fast-paced comedies about reporters
Avoid it if: You like characters to only speak one at a time

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Posted on July 21, 2013, in 1940s, Comedy, Crime, Romance and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Nice post! His Girl Friday is my favorite movie, ever. The overlapping dialog gets more enjoyable wtih repeat viewings. FYI, American Heritage defines a girl Friday as “an efficient and faithful woman aide or employee.” That description doesn’t do justice to Hildy’s character, though it does probably capture Walter’s view of her. I agree that it’s not a great title.

    • Thanks for the explanation of the title! It was driving me mad trying to find out. Still a really odd title, as you stated, because Hildy just feels like a much more well-rounded character than that.

      Glad you liked the review! Thanks for the comment!

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