Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Day 154 - His Girl Friday

His Girl Friday (1940) directed by Howard Hawks

I'm honestly not purposely trying to watch every Howard Hawks film. I just happen to keep finding a bunch of interesting ones that I want to see. Here is a 1940 screwball comedy starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell known for its rapid fire dialogue and witty banter. I really like these kind of movies even though it seems like all they do is talk and talk. As long as what they are saying is interesting I could watch all day. One of my favorite films is 12 Angry Men which is basically twelve guys sitting around in a room talking the entire time. His Girl Friday is not quite as loquacious as say, Claire's Knee, but far more interesting for my tastes.

The movie begins with star newspaper reporter Hildy Johnson (Russell) going to see her ex-husband and boss Walter Burns (Cary Grant) to tell him that she is getting married and quitting the newspaper business. She wants to settle down and be a "real human." Walter obviously still loves her though he is actually even more upset about losing his best reporter, so he does everything to delay their trip to Albany where they are getting married. Walter even goes as far as to get her fiance Bruce arrested over and over again on phony charges. Naturally, a big story breaks loose and Hildy cannot resist the urge to cover the story much to Walter's delight. The movie revolves around Hildy's conflicted feelings between the job she clearly loves, the ex-husband she both loves and hates and the poor sap that she's engaged to.

Cary Grant gets the top billing but I think Rosalind Russell is the real star of the film. Interestingly, in the play The Front Page and its first movie adaptation, Hildy's character was actually a man. It was Howard Hawks's idea to change the protagonist's gender to a woman giving the film a romantic element and a sort of feminist voice featuring a strong and independent woman equal to her male peers. Thinking of the structure of the movie and the dynamic between the characters, I think it works sooooo much better this way. I've never heard of Russell before (and none of her films in her filmography sound familiar) but she is really good here. She goes toe to toe with Cary Grant and comes out on top in many of the exchanges. Obviously the screenplay helps a lot but it takes a strong and confident actress to deliver the lines and she hits all the notes correctly. Despite the fact that his character is so dastardly underhanded, Cary Grant displays his signature charm and smooth moves.

I liked My Girl Friday. It is well written and well acted. I constantly found myself smiling at the jokes, though it isn't quite as funny as I expected based from the reviews (though still pretty funny). I loved the way they talked and acted, fast and full of energy. It works even better with the bustling go go go attitude of the newspaper business and of the big city.

Grade: B+

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