Saturday, December 5, 2015

His Girl Friday


Today, I'm writing about the classic screwball comedy His Girl Friday (1940) starring Cary Grant (left), Rosalind Russell, and Ralph Bellamy. 

This post is part of the Try It, You'll Like It blogathon hosted by Sister Celluloid and Movies Silently. This blogathon is all about gateway movies that may be able to turn classic film skeptics into old movie fans.

I get quite a range of reactions when I tell people I have a classic movie blog. Sometimes their faces light up, and they say "(Jimmy Stewart/Doris Day/Jimmy Cagney) is my favorite actor" or "I watch (The Sound of Music/ The Wizard of Oz/ Gone With the Wind) every time it's on TV." Other times I'm greeted with blank stares or a healthy dose of skepticism. People tell me "old movies are boring" or "I don't like movies made in black and white." 

Well, today I'm here to dispel those myths with one of the best comedies ever made. His Girl Friday (1940) is most definitely a black and white movie, but it is also fast-paced, hilarious, and surprisingly modern. Below, I'll give you five reasons why, even if you're not a classic movie fan, you will enjoy His Girl Friday. But, first, here's a little background.

Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell battle it out in His Girl Friday (1940).
His Girl Friday tells the story of divorced couple Walter Burns (Cary Grant), who is the hard-boiled editor of a big-city newspaper called The Morning Post, and Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell), the ace reporter for the Post who has decided to give up journalism for a life of domestic bliss in Albany, N.Y., with her new fiance (Ralph Bellamy). Hildy's well-made plans go awry when, at the last minute, Walter assigns her to cover the controversial execution of an accused cop killer (John Qualen).

His Girl Friday is based on the 1928 stage play by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur that had already been made into a 1931 movie starring Adolphe Menjou and Pat O'Brien. Director Howard Hawks switched Hildy's gender and created a romance between the two main characters, which changed this extremely funny workplace comedy into one of the great romantic classics. His Girl Friday is still as fresh and funny today as it was when it was released 75 years ago, so ,without further ado, here's five reasons why you'll love this movie.


1. Cary Grant: Grant is one of the great stars of old Hollywood's golden age, and his role as the hard-charging Walter Burns is one of his very best performances. There's virtually nothing Walter won't do in pursuit of a great story, including hiring a mobster to shakedown Hildy's fiance and prospective mother-in-law. Grant sinks his teeth into the part with relish, and he is both charismatic and hilarious while pulling off outlandish scheme after outlandish scheme. Also, as you may have noticed from the photos above, he's pretty easy on the eyes.

2. The character of Hildy Johnson: I think many people believe that female characters in classic movies are delicate damsels in distress who are always waiting for the male hero to save the day. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. Old Hollywood movies are full of strong independent women like Hildy Johnson. Russell gives the best performance of her career as Hildy, who is both an ace reporter and the best writer on The Morning Post staff. Hildy may say she longs for a quiet home and family, but she can go toe to toe with any man, including government officials, her fellow reporters, and, most especially, Walter. 

Rosalind Russell in one of her Rober Kalloch designed costumes for His Girl Friday (1940).
3. His Girl Friday is fast-paced: Another common misconception is that classic movies are long and boring. In fact, most classic movies are quite short compared to modern movies with some great films, like W.C. Fields' comedy The Bank Dick (1940), only lasting around an hour. His Girl Friday flies by at a crackling 92 minutes thanks to a well-oiled plot, and Grant and Russell's fast-paced repartee.

4. The humor is very modern: One of the hottest trends in entertainment is edgy, self referential humor in popular shows like Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Portlandia. His Girl Friday was 75 years ahead of its time with lots of snarky "in" jokes mostly provided by Grant's brilliant ad-libbing. When asked to describe Hildy's fiance, Grant says "he looks like that film star, Ralph Bellamy" and Grant makes several self-referential jokes, comparing a character to the mock turtle, a role he played in the 1933 adaptation of Alice in Wonderland, and referencing his own birth name of Archie Leach.

5. His Girl Friday is easily accessible: Some classic movies can be quite hard to find but that's not the case with His Girl Friday. It airs frequently on TCM and getTV, and it is widely available for free on many online streaming services, so you can fire up your iPad or Roku tonight and enjoy one of the best American films ever made. 


His Girl Friday is available for streaming on Netflix Instant, Amazon Prime, Hoopla Digital and Hulu. You can also catch it on DVD and video on demand.

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25 comments :

  1. A comedy with genuine laughs plus a thought-provoking look at the nature of politics plus hard-boiled romance. "His Girl Friday" is a success on every level and you are so right about its ability to open the eyes of the non-classic fan.

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    1. Agreed about the politics. The more things change the more they stay the same

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  2. I love this film, and you nailed all of the reasons why newbies would like it. Those are also the reasons why those of us who have seen it 40 times *still* love it!

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    1. His Girl Friday is a great rewatch movie. I've seen it a dozen times, and I still laugh. The scene in the prison where both Hildy and Walter are shouting on the phone is just a masterpiece of comic timing.

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  3. I love this film, and you nailed all of the reasons why newbies would like it. Those are also the reasons why those of us who have seen it 40 times *still* love it!

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  4. I just adore the fast-paced, machine-gun rat-a-tat-tat dialogue in this movie. Beautifully written and performed. It's in my top 10 greatest comedies list, and I love to read about it. Nicely done, Amanda!

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  5. Thanks so much for joining in! It's amazing what people who have never seen classic movies get into their heads about these witty, wonderful films. Meta humor is not a modern invention by any means. Great review!

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    1. I think the annual airing of The Ten Commandments on network TV gives people the wrong impression about classic movies. It is really long with the commercials, although Anne Baxter swanning around ancient Egypt is anything but boring

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  6. Great article. I just so happened to have bought this film recently, but I've seen it on TV soooo many years ago and still remember it as one of my favourite.

    And hey, I'll be posting about a Ben Hecht's movie too, Underworld.

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  7. Great article. I just so happened to have bought this film recently, but I've seen it on TV soooo many years ago and still remember it as one of my favourite.

    And hey, I'll be posting about a Ben Hecht's movie too, Underworld.

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  8. Yup, your five reasons are exactly why I love this film. Strong characters, witty script and timeless themes.

    I'm glad you pointed out that classic films are shorter than modern films. So many people think they are too long (?), and it's good that you're working to dispel this myth. :)

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    1. I think if they remade His Girl Friday today, the director would put in a re-enactment of the killing and flashbacks to Walter and Hildy's marriage, which would make it much longer and ruin the pace of the movie

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  9. Great post! His Girl Friday is one of the first movies I recommend to people who are new to classics for all the reasons you mention. I love that you point out the fact that there are a lot of strong female characters in old Hollywood movies. It's something I've begun to notice more with each classic I watch. In general, there seem to be more old movies that tell stories about women than movies do today. It's both fascinating and baffling.

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    1. I agree. I'm doing a series about women in classic films for Film Inquiry.

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  10. Perfect choice. I don't think it's possible to watch this film enough, and you've nailed the reasons why. I don't always enjoy Russell, but she shines in this and Auntie Mame. I have watched the Lemmon version and the later Switching Channels versions of The Front Page too. Even though the script is always good, the chemistry and pacing and Grant make this the one to watch.

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    1. I really like the 1931 version of The Front Page. I think it is one of Pat O'Brien's best roles.

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  11. You proved critics wrong with this post! Yes, This Girl Friday has everything a person doesn't expect to find in classic film. I highlight Hildy's independence and love for her work!
    Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)
    Kisses!
    Le
    http://www.criticaretro.blogspot.com

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  12. LOVE your five reasons. "His Girl Friday" should grease the gates for someone newbie to enter. It's hilarious. I honestly think Roz should have got an Oscar for this performance as Hildy. And here's heresy, but I think Roz was Cary's BEST leading lady. Yeah yeah, Myrna and Irene and Deborah and Carole and Ginger and Laraine and Priscilla and including the great Kate. Wonderful read!

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    1. Yes, in my alternate Oscars, Rosalind would have won in 1940

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  13. Thanks for letting us know how accessible this movie is. Now, I can watch some night when I'm hangin' with the cat. Love the pin-striped suits that Hildy wears. Zer Chic! (I'm slowly making my rounds on this blog fest. I'm at Play off the Page
    )

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  14. I love this movie and the original play, The Front Page. I frequently quote lines like "You're sitting pretty" and "What kind of language is that?" I remember reading an essay where someone thought people today might not be able to follow the dialogue because it is so fast. I have never heard anyone complain about that while watching the movie.

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    1. My Dad always says he can never understand what's going on because they talk to fast.

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