VOD film review: His Girl Friday
James R | On 26, Jan 2021
Director: Howard Hawks
Cast: Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Bellamy
“There’s been a light burning in the window for you.” “I jumped out that window a long time ago.” That’s Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell on fire in His Girl Friday, Howard Hawks’ fast-talking screwball classic.
“Fast-talking” is something of an understatement; this film makes Aaron Sorkin look like Terrence Malick, with a script that rivals Airplane! for the sheer number of one-liners and quips stuffed into every possible second. It’s the kind of thing that many actors could stumble over or rush, but Grant and Russell’s timing is impeccable, never once throwing a joke away while still leaving your brain reeling as the gags stack up. They play Walter and Hildy, the editor-in-chief of the Chicago Morning Post and the newspaper’s star reporter, who also happens to be divorced.
It’s a perfect set-up for a comedy; their lightning-fast chemistry isn’t just two movie stars at the top of their game, but also the result of years trying to make a marriage work. From the off, there’s a sense that these characters know each other inside out, and know just what buttons to press to drive the other one up the wall. Hildy finds the biggest button of all, though, when she announces she’s getting married tomorrow to Bruce (Ralph Bellamy), an insurance salesman. Played with a dull, suggestible quality by Bellamy, he’s everything Walter isn’t, and vice versa; Grant’s a man who clearly expects to get his own way at all times, both professionally and personally.
The idea of Hildy leaving the profession to become a housewife, then, is enough to light a fire under Walter and Grant immediately swings into calculating, manipulative mode, even as he twinkles and shines through the suave, confident surface concealing his panic underneath. Grant inhabits all of those moods simultaneously, and Russell goes toe to toe with him, every bit the rapid-fire counterpart to his charisma machine. While Hildy is drawn away from his orbit, they can’t help but drift back together as the newspaper’s campaign to save the lief of a convicted murder – who’s due to hang on the same day Hildy gets hitched – reaches its final act.
Hawks’ film is based on the Broadway play The Front Page by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, but swaps Hildy’s character from a man to a woman, and that romantic edge is used by screenwriter Charles Lederer to give the text a gorgeous spark. Hawks, meanwhile, keeps any fussy visuals to a minimum and simply sits back and enjoys watching his couple in action – and allows us to do exactly the same.