Prior to watching His Girl Friday I thought that I knew what a ‘motormouth’ was. I now realise that the people I had thought were speedy speakers were in fact very slow in comparison to the lightning fast repartee between Gary Grant and Rosalind Russell.
The third outing between Grant and director Howard Hawks sees newspaper editor Walter Burns (Grant) try to win back the heart of his former wife and ace reporter, Hildy Johnson (Russell). Hildy is remarrying and will be leaving the male-dominated world of journalism behind, saying “I want to go someplace where I can be a woman.”
At just 1h 32m there’s a huge amount packed into His Girl Friday.
The usual Grant charm is on full display with fun moments of playful teasing between Walter and Hildy. Ralph Bellamy’s Bruce Baldwin makes a fine third wheel as Hildy’s betrothed, and together the three of them share some comical scenes.
Grant owns the spotlight when on screen but Russell’s Hildy is equally impressive. She’s a driven woman who knows what she wants and when coerced by Walter into covering one last story for him, she makes a bargain to ensure that her and Bruce are getting something out of it as well.
This ‘last story’ is arguably the biggest of Hildy’s career: covering the upcoming execution of Earl Williams (John Qualen), a shy bookkeeper convicted of murdering an African-American policeman. Earl’s sombre storyline balances out the more jovial aspects of the film and stops it from otherwise being a more light-hearted romantic comedy.
The supporting cast deliver solid performances and include not only Qualen but Hildy’s stern mother-in-law-to-be (Alma Kruger), the blundering sheriff (Gene Lockhart) and Hildy’s fellow journalists. There’s a warm camaraderie between Hildy and the other reporters when she returns to the press room, and Hildy easily slides back into the role when there’s a development on the Williams case and Walter needs her to cover it. “Don’t worry, I’m on the job,” she replies.
As noted earlier, the nature of the story that Hildy needs to cover elevates His Girl Friday into a more serious piece, which the cast and Hawks certainly pull off.
His Girl Friday (1940)
Director: Howard Hawks
Starring: Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Bellamy
“A newspaper editor uses every trick in the book to keep his ace reporter ex-wife from remarrying.” – IMDb
This is a great comedy that is so fast with overlapping dialogue and they do not miss a beat. Too bad the 2 leads didn’t make more films together.
I agree, Birgit: it would have been great to have seen these two team up in more films. They had good chemistry. Saying that, I’m yet to watch a film where Grant doesn’t have good chemistry with his co-star.
Sorry for my delayed response; I moved house recently and am only just back online properly!
A great deal of the success of the film must be credited to director Hawks but without the skill of Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, plus poor Ralph Bellamy playing the snook again, it wouldn’t be anywhere near the zany classic that it is.
Cary was Hawks’ choice for Walter from the get-go but he had trouble getting a yes from the half dozen actresses he offered the film after initial choice Carole Lombard proved too costly for Columbia. Rosalind Russell (she’s another great actress I can’t believe didn’t make that 50 greatest stars list) was right on the verge of breaking through-she had made The Women which would be the vehicle that moved her to the top but it hadn’t been released yet-when Hawks turned to her. She was initially reluctant when she discovered she was 8th choice but after reading the script and meeting with Hawks she was cast. Now it’s impossible to envision anyone else doing the same justice to Hildy that she accomplishes. It’s hard to believe both she and Grant were passed over come nomination time, though 1940 was a jam packed year performance wise so with only five slots each someone had to miss out.
Thanks for your comment Joel, and sorry for my delayed response (I moved house recently and am only just back online properly).
I agree: it’s the combination of Hawks’ direction together with the fantastic leads, supporting cast and story that make this such a good film.
Do you know why so many actresses turned the role down? Russell did a wonderful job. I can’t imagine anyone else apart from her either.
Added to my list, I really have to get around to watching this. Sounds like fun!
It really is, Rodney! Hope you get to watch it.