02 June 2005

'His Girl Friday'

Dir. Howard Hawks :: Script: Charles Lederer :: Photography: Joseph Walker
Cast: Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Bellamy, Gene Lockhart, John Qualen, Clarence Kolb
US :: 1940

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"It all happened in the 'dark ages' of the newspaper game - when to a reporter 'getting a story' justified anything short of murder. Incidentally you will see in this picture no resemblance to the men and women of the press of today. Ready? Well, once upon a time..."

So begins the frenetically-paced Howard Hawks screwball comedy 'His Girl Friday'.

Based on a successful play by Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht (a pair of script doctors from the golden age of the silver screen), it pitches Chicago newspaper editor Walter Burns (Cary Grant) up against ace reporter - and ex-wife - Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) in a battle of wits.

She's quit the paper and is about to disappear off with new fiancé Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy), a rather dull insurance salesman, and no match for the wiley Burns - but our Walter has no intention of letting Hildy go without a fight. "You've got some old-fashioned sense that divorce lasts forever, 'till death do us part'..." he tells her. "Why, divorce doesn't mean anything these days, Hildy, just a few words mumbled over you by a judge!"

But Hildy is adamant that she's had enough, that she's leaving the world of journalism behind her, and choosing a life of babies and housework in Albany... Not that Walter takes any notice, preferring instead to use any means necessary to hook her once more on the excitement of a good story. He stitches up Bruce in all manner of ways, whilst persuading Hildy to take on one last assignment - covering the impending execution of cop-killer Earl Williams.

Before long we're knee-deep in escaped prisoners, corrupt politicians, amoral hacks and a whole load of great lines, beautifully delivered machine gun-style by our two leads:

"Walter, you're wonderful, in a loathsome kind of way"

"This other fellow, I'm sorry I didn't get to meet him - I'm kind of particular, the kind of man my wife marries"

Anyway, rambling, sorry. It's a great film, full of tasty moments and snappy dialogue - which constantly overlaps, fitting the pace perfectly - and nothing too fancy in the visual department; just a really enjoyable story that trundles along at a proper gallop. It's no wonder it's been filmed four times - besides this twice as 'The Front Page' and then as 'Switching Channels' - with lines like this: "Take Hitler and stick him on the funny page! ...What? The rooster story? No, leave it, it's human interest!"

All that, and I never once mentioned Cary Grant is a Bristol boy... ;-)


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