His Girl Friday is a 1940 film adaptation of The Front Page, a play by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. It is presented in the vein of a classic screwball romantic comedy. Such a genre is suitably complemented by the actors’ strong performances. If you are looking for a classic-styled comedy that is infused with romantic tension, it would befit you to watch this movie.
The story centers around Hildy Johnson, a top-notch reporter who has decided to retire from the business as she is set to get married to Bruce Baldwin, a wealthy life insurance man. Johnson’s former editor, Walter Burns, is also her ex-husband. When Johnson informs him of the upcoming changes and the fact that she is scheduled to marry Bruce the following day, Walter sets out to sabotage their plans and prevent the wedding. The situation is complicated as it becomes very evident that Walter still loves Johnson. These narrative aspects create an environment conducive for tension and humor.
His Girl Friday’s pacing is well done. The film takes place within a twenty-four hour window. This decision allows for the pacing to be tight, contained, and fast-moving. Numerous infelicitous events befall the characters, keeping the developments exciting, and adding to the comical, exaggerated nature of the film. As the movie progresses, one unforeseen event occurs after another. Viewers may ask themselves, “What else could happen?” before another event takes place. This may be a bit much for some, but it is part of the film’s personality and whimsy.
Love, tension, comicality, corruption, sabotage, and satire saturate His Girl Friday’s tone. However, these elements all are intrinsically linked to the narrative. The diversity of the tonal elements make for a film that appeals to a wide audience. The actors and their respective characters are vital in augmenting the tonal features and making them tangible pieces of the film as a whole.
Cary Grant’s Walter Burns, an unethical newspaper editor, is excellently performed by Grant. Burns’ brash, brazen behavior is balanced by the fact that he has been unable to get over his and Johnson’s divorce. He also still likes her and sets out to disrupt her future plans. Further, he does not want to lose his best reporter. These features of Burns’ character are brought to life in a great way by Grant.
Rosalind Russell’s Hildy Johnson is the stand-out character of the film. Russell’s portrayal of Johnson’s tenacity, and the fact that she stands up for herself and does not tolerate other people’s nonsense, especially from Burns, is terrific. Johnson’s desire to retire from her journalism job and settle down with Baldwin and start a family is commendable and Russell’s acting make her a great character to watch. Additionally, the rapid dialogue delivery provided by Russell, Grant, and the supporting cast is quite entertaining and exacerbates the tension and captures the break-neck pace at which their jobs are conducted. It also heightens the romantic tension.
Ralph Bellamy’s Bruce Baldwin provides a nice balance. On the one hand, Johnson has a history with Burns and is proficient in detecting his wily schemes. On the other hand, Burns is very manipulative and pragmatic and often opposes Johnson. This allows Baldwin to carve out his own niche.
Baldwin’s traits of being nice, too trusting, and, as a result, often naïve, make him particularly susceptible to manipulation. When Baldwin runs into these obstacles, the audience cannot help but feel bad for him, because of his innocent demeanor. Such empathy would not have been possible without Bellamy’s nuanced performance. It was also nice and fun to hear the name Ralph Bellamy mentioned by one of the characters, evidence of the level of comical awareness in the film’s writing. In short, movie has great character archetypes and developments.
The film’s cinematography is great. The jump cuts from character to character in frenzied scenes where numerous people are talking on telephones is excellent and entertaining. Not only does this technique capture the stress and comedy of these portions, but it fits neatly into the film’s overarching nature of depicting characters in the media. Other shots are wonderfully composed and add to the quality of the film.
The production design is very strong. From the various sets outfitted with assorted items to the wardrobe, His Girl Friday is a very aesthetically pleasing film. A roll top desk is also solidly used to great narrative and humorous effect.
Howard Hawks does a respectable job in his direction of His Girl Friday. He is able to get very strong, nuanced performances from his cast, which is important in any film. His management of the production and cinematography are also great. Hawks’ communication of the diverse tonal elements and highlighting corruption and unethical behavior is well done and funny, though unrealistic, especially in the third act.
Overall, His Girl Friday is an entertaining film that functions as a satire of the media and politicians, specifically their stereotypes of being deceitful and immoral. There are definitely some laugh-out-loud moments, but I was hoping there would be more throughout the film. Nevertheless, the character touches and the story’s complexity and unpredictability are impressively mixed with the strong performances by the cast. All of this reflects well on director Howard Hawks, too. If you are looking for a film pertaining to the media or if you simply want to watch a classic 1940s screwball comedy, His Girl Friday should be added to your list.
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Production: Columbia Pictures
Director: Howard Hawks
Producer: Howard Hawks
Screenwriter: Charles Lederer (screenplay); Ben Hecht (play); Charles MacArthur (play)
Director of Photography: Joseph Walker
Editor: Gene Havlick
Art Direction: Lionel Banks
Music: Sidney Cutner; Felix Mills
Costume Design: Robert Kalloch
Release Date: January 18, 1940 (USA)
Cinematographic Process: Spherical
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Copyright Holder: Columbia Pictures Corporation
Cast: Cary Grant; Rosalind Russell; Ralph Bellamy; Gene Lockhart; Porter Hall; Ernest Truex; Cliff Edwards; Clarence Klob; Roscoe Karns; Alma Kruger; Frank Jenks; Frank Orth; Regis Toomey; Abner Biberman; Billy Gilbert; John Qualen; Marion Martin
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Running Time: 1 hours and 32 minutes (92 mins.)