Day 19 – A Movie Made Before 1967
This entry was originally supposed to be called “An Older Movie,” but that sort of guideline is ridiculously open-ended, so I decided to set the establishing mark as before 1967, or before Bonnie and Clyde, the film that is generally credited with kicking off beginning of New Hollywood in America. I’m a lover of Old Hollywood; the studio system, as draconian and workman-like as it was, churned out some of cinema’s best-loved films, and a few of my favorites. Today’s entry positively drips with the flavor of Old Hollywood, and a movie that they truly, actually don’t make like they used to.
His Girl Friday (1940)
If there’s been a screwball comedy as funny as His Girl Friday made in the last twenty years, I haven’t heard of it, and I’d like someone to inform me about it immediately. One of my favorite forms of comedy is rapid-fire dialogue, and His Girl Friday provides in spades, with stars Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell both playing a furious ping pong match of words at about a zillion miles an hour. So active is the movie and so talkative are the characters, it’s almost exhausting to try to keep up, and the end of the movie invariably leaves me drained. Happy, satisfied, and drained.
His Girl Friday is the story of Hildy Johnson (Russell), a crack newspaper reporter, and Walter Burns (Grant), her boss and ex-husband. Hildy is quitting the newspaper business forever and getting married to insurance salesman Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy), which simply will not do for Walter—not only will he watch his ex-wife leave him for another man, but he’ll lose one of the best newspapermen (-women) he has. The film deals with Walter trying to convince Hildy (who is more reluctant to leave the newspaper business than she thinks) to cover a criminal execution, while, at the same time, he keeps Bruce at bay.
His Girl Friday is chock full of verbal sparring matches, so much so that it's all you can do to keep up.
All of the classic elements for a screwball comedy are here: characters falling reluctantly in love, numerous farcical situations of mistaken identity, kept secrets, and wonderful, flowing character dialogue. His Girl Friday is filled to the brim with zingers, and scarcely two minutes go by in the whole film without some sort of bump-set-spike line delivery.
The characters, too, are wonderful. Grant gives Walter the feeling that he would do anything (anything) for a good scoop, but still manages to make the audience sympathetic to a man that is, really, a manipulative d-bag. Russell’s performance as Hildy expertly alternates between antipathy towards Walter and his whole game with scarcely-concealed excitement over being back in the field. Bellamy is just kinda there, but then again, so is the role, so he does what he can with his poor, mother’s boy, sad sack of a character.
His Girl Friday is one of my favorite movie comedies. From its portrayal of what it was like to work as a newspaperman (I especially enjoyed a scene where five reporters telephone a copy editor and report five different variations on a story, each seemingly competing to see who can sensationalize it the most) to its immaculately-delivered script, it’s a movie whose subtleties and charms reach out to me the more I watch it.
I may just do that right now. Kirk out.