Review: His Girl Friday

His Girl Friday, also known as How To Systematically Destroy A Love Rival’s Masculinity, stars Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell as quarrelling journalists in Howard Hawks’s classic screwball comedy.

Watch as Cary Grant’s Walter Burns connives to prevent his ex-wife Hildy Johnson from getting married to her fiancé Bruce. The date is tomorrow, so he wastes no time in preventing her from leaving town, cajoling the soon-to-be wed pair into an impromptu lunch, where things subsequently steam ahead into wacky territory soon after.

For the first half of the film obstacles are thrown in Walter’s way, like midway through their impromptu lunch he learns he actually has two hours till Hildy has to catch a train out of town with her fiancé, leading him to improvise reasons for her to stay. The premise is delivered so smoothly, it’s a joy to watch.

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According to IMDB trivia, this film was one of the first to feature characters speaking their lines over each other, rather than waiting their turn. For the first of its kind, the film handles it expertly, never losing the audience’s attention, though you do have to keep up and not blink for a second, or you’ll miss deft comedic timing from the loveable pair of hardened journo-misfits.

Walter attempts to win the newspaper’s best journalist back (who doesn’t want to be a journo anymore) through convoluted methods, trying to stop her from leaving through lies, ultimatums, deceit, feints, cajoling and pure simple money. It’s both a rom-com and has time to turn into a procedural as the journalists get involved in a criminal case with a life at stake. There is the cloud of corruption between the mayor’s office and police department to uncover, and all the while Bruce must be kept at an arms-length using any means necessary.

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Yet despite this, Hildy is actually the main character, commanding the screen in nearly every single scene. This is a classic example of the screwball genre depicting a strong capable woman. It’s a genre sadly not in force anymore, and in need of a revival.

The screwball genre is one of my favourite genres, featuring strong women throwing witty rejoinders at hapless men and getting embroiled in madcap adventures, it’s crazy fun and I can’t get enough of it. Women who aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and get shit done.

Hildy ultimately gets back in the spirit of things with gusto, literally tackling an interviewee to the ground for a scoop. Her passion for her job is reignited, though she is blatantly manipulated by Walter. Yet she’s so good at what she does, you can’t hep but grin when she starts furiously typing the story of her career while simultaneously ignoring her fiancé who pleads her to leave the life and catch their train.

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Through the (albeit ridiculous) investigative journalism depicted, the film is an interesting contrast to Citizen Kane which came the year after. The film strikes a nice balance between showing the cocky power of a journalist, and how they can pursue truth and use it for good or manipulate it for personal gains. There’s a great scene when the camera tracks past a bunch of journalists on phones, each one giving a more embellished version of an incident than the person before.

Are you in the mood for a fast-paced assault of snappy dialogue delivered by a spunky woman being manipulated by a smooth debonair? Clear your day and watch His Girl Friday. Available free online via archive.org or even Youtube, as the film is in the public domain. Do the right thing and buy it if you like it.

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