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