His Girl Friday is a breathless film in the word’s truest denotation: a clinic of witty, politically refined, mile per minute dialogue that leaves absolutely no room to breath for both the characters on screen and the audience in the seats.
The film takes place on five locations, but manages to explore the field of journalism and the ideologies behind the profession with more perspective than any film to date.
Directed by Howard Hawks (adapted from and by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s play The Front Page) this iconic 1940 screwball comedy is about a newspaper woman who’s retiring to move up to Albany, get married, and begin a comfortable life.
Hildy Johnson’s (Rosalind Russell) plan for normalcy with Bruce Baldwin (a kind but naïve salesman who she’s engaged to played by Ralph Bellamy) is squashed when her conniving ex-husband and boss Walter Burns (Cary Grant) dupes her into covering just one last career-making story on the execution of convicted negro cop-killer Earl Williams (John Qualen).
As William’s case unravels Hawks’ allows his ensemble cast of brilliant actors (all of whom either play rival journalists, police men, or politicians) to jab and verbal combat with one another. The rapid-fire repartee script entails that everybody talk over one another, finish each other’s statements, and insist that Hilly’s marriage with a well-intentioned (but still bland) salesman will last six months tops.
Her talent as a reporter is superlative to her colleague — as seen with an interview with Earl Williams where she cogently connects the idea of “made for use” (a concept that says everything that is made, is made to be used) to the convict’s motive for firing off the gun. The more invested she gets into the story, the more she begins to makes some realizations.
These epiphanies lead to His Girl Friday ingeniously balancing the story of a journalist morally conflicted with how to continue her life, and a love story of two equally passionate people who know they couldn’t possible live without one another.
A film of this nature — entirely driven by rat-a-tat dialogue – lives and dies by who’s front and center. Hawk’s lucked out when casting Grant and Russell who buoyantly play off each other with such ease and excitement that imagining the film without the two is impossible.
The two classic actors manage to strike notes of playfulness, professionalism, and romance into a perfect blend of cinema. Which is why by the end of this 90-minute infusion of laughter and intelligence we still care what Hildy will do with her life.
Even after all the hoopla Williams provides, the story doesn’t dare shift away from Russell’s character: We’re dazzled by both her beauty and brains that we’re willing to go anywhere her story takes us.
Coincidentally we, like Mr. Howard Hawks, lucked out as viewers with His Girl Friday. An ageless film that may just be the greatest motion picture not only adapted for the silver screen, but written.
It’s odd, you know, the whole movie and what it contains and what it represents is something of a paradox. Through its perpetually cynical lens comes an end result of pure idealism and romance.
I don’t know how or why it happened – and I’m not positive I necessarily need or want to. What I do know is that I’m awfully gladHis Girl Friday exists: if not for a seminal display of writing and acting, a joyous celebration of love and a love for journalism.