Thursday, September 11, 2014

#1,487. His Girl Friday (1940)

Directed By: Howard Hawks

Starring: Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Bellamy

Tag line: "The Year's Wildest, Wittiest Whirlwind of a Love Battle..."

Trivia: Ginger Rogers wrote that she was offered the role of Hildy Johnson, but after reading the script turned the part down. When she learned that Cary Grant was cast as Walter, she regretted her decision

Over the course of his career, Howard Hawks directed some of the best American movies of all time, covering a wide range of genres including crime (Scarface), film noir (The Big Sleep), war (Sergeant York), horror (The Thing from Another World), action / adventure (Hatari!) and the western (Rio Bravo). He even helmed a musical (1948’s A Song is Born), as well as a historical epic (Land of the Pharaohs), but of all the genres he contributed to, the one he had the biggest impact on was comedy, thanks in part to such wonderful pictures as Bringing Up Baby, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and, of course, 1940’s His Girl Friday.

Former beat writer Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) swings by the office of her former boss (and ex-husband), newspaper editor Walter Burns (Cary Grant), to inform him she’s marrying Bruce (Ralph Bellamy), an insurance salesman from Albany. Unwilling to lose his best reporter (as well as the woman he still loves), Walter conspires to break the happy couple up by luring Hildy back to her typewriter, offering her a chance to cover the execution of convicted murderer Earl Williams (John Qualen), who many people believe is an innocent man. With the promise of quick cash, which she’ll use to start her new life with Bruce off on the right foot, Hildy agrees to stick around for a while. But will the excitement of covering the biggest story of her career prove to be more than she can handle?

A bona-fide classic, His Girl Friday features lots of rapid-fire dialogue, flawlessly delivered by Grant and Russell. When Hildy first stops by to see Walter, he tells her he wishes she never divorced him. “Makes a fella lose faith in himself”, he says, somewhat dejectedly, “almost gives him a feeling he wasn’t wanted”. Grant gives one of the best performances of his career as the unscrupulous Walter, with Russell matching him every step of the way, bringing a street-wise sensibility to Hildy that keeps her from falling for Walter’s lies. Though pushed into the background by his two hyper co-stars, Bellamy does a fine job as Hildy’s kindly but dim fiancé Bruce, a guy who’s no match for the quick-thinking Walter (at one point, Bruce even takes Walter’s side and tries to convince the reluctant Hildy to stay and write the story). Along with its fast-paced humor, His Girl Friday tackles some seriously dark subject matter (public execution), and on a few occasions tugs at the ‘ole heartstrings; the scenes featuring Mollie Malloy (Helen Mack), a woman of questionable morals who’s doing everything she can to save Earl Williams from the gallows, have a hint of tragedy to them.

A movie that Quentin Tarantino regularly lists among his all-time favorites (supposedly, he showed it to Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer prior to shooting the diner scene for Pulp Fiction, hoping it would inspire them to talk more quickly), His Girl Friday is a true American masterpiece, and one of the finest comedies ever made.

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