Ah, the things we’d do for love. Love for that special someone. Or maybe, love for the career that you built. Those with the deepest of passions would be driven to do the wildest of things, and that’s the key to the classic comedy His Girl Friday (1940). Based loosely off the Broadway comedy The Front Page, this film stars Rosalind Russell as Hildy Johnson, a former star journalist and reporter for The Morning Post. Hildy is looking leave the news industry for good and finally settle down with her new fiancé in Albany, New York, but her ex-husband and editor Walter Burns (Cary Grant) entices her to cover one final story before the marriage. A story, that perhaps, holds influence over the entire town, Hildy can’t easily turn this opportunity away!
Right off the bat the film gets to the point extremely fast and sets the plot in motion, wasting little time in giving audiences the historic rundown between Hildy and Walter in a comedic exchange between the estranged lovers. At this point and onward, I felt like I was watching an actual drama production on stage, as a lot of what drives the story forward is the dialogue that takes place between two characters. Rarely does the setting change places, and for the most part the entirety of the film takes place within one day. Specifically, Hildy meets with Walter in the morning and informs him she is leaving to Albany with her new fiancé on the evening train. As an audience, we take mental note of the deadline that our heroine has to make, and in doing so the comedic shenanigans that take place are laced with an added amount of pressure. Part of the comedy comes from the fact that our characters are in such a rush, which makes them desperate and over-the-top. Much to our pleasure!
What separates this film from typical comedies is the variety of serious social commentary and themes that are intertwined with the plot. Underneath the laughs are some rather grim affairs, particularly the story that Walter has Hildy look into. A man is to be put to death after the killing of a Black police officer, but there is a question of whether or not he can plead insanity. The story itself is so big, that a bunch of other social issues make their way to the surface. There’s a question about the integrity of the press and corrupt politicians in the midst of this breaking story, and this is all intertwined with the whacked-out romance plot that opened our movie. But the dichotomy of it all displays itself in how little our characters seem to care about these serious issues. This film seems to hit a happy medium where it won’t go as far to outright satirize these social comments, but it never gets to dark with its tone and message.
What’s most important in this film is the comedy. I love how our main characters use different ways to bring in some of the humor. Hildy is our snapping lead character who holds her own against the “wise guys” she worked with in the newsroom. She’s so smart and quick to respond with her sharp tongue, which is useful in her battle of wits against her ex. Walter, on the other hand, is doing everything in his power to prevent Hildy from remarrying (whether through jealousy, or to keep a talented worker), and his cunning schemes are enough to throw the other characters into an abundance of hilarious situations. However, the unfortunate beneficiary of the battle of wits is Hildy’s fiancé, Bruce (Ralph Bellamy), as his gentle and naïve nature causes him to receive the back end of the shenanigans. It’s easy to sympathize with this man who is caught in between the ex-lovers, but I couldn’t help but smirk at the outcome of all of these jokes. The chemistry between our three main characters truly is a great formula for some humorous fun.
I wouldn’t go as far to say that this classic is laugh out loud funny. Instead what we have here is a super-fast paced story that is driven by its witty dialogue and situations. There is rarely time to breathe in between comedic moments. When one ridiculous situation resolves itself another will seamlessly arise. There is so much that goes on, that you can’t help but be in awe with how much the story is able to fit in within its 92-minute runtime. Some might think that this film is messy, and somewhat confusing. But I would say the opposite, and recommend powering through until the end. This is the kind of film that finds beauty in the disastrous mess it’s made, and absorbing it as a whole will make you appreciate the comedic genius of this great classic!
Where to Watch this Film: His Girl Friday (1940) is available for rent/purchase on YouTube*, Amazon Video, VUDU, Google Play, iTunes, and Netflix DVD.
*As of April 9th, 2017, you can watch the entire film for free on Youtube with this link.