HIS GIRL FRIDAY: DVD
Fearful that his ace reporter and recently divorced wife Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) will run off and marry dull insurance salesman Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy), conniving newspaper editor Walter Burns (Cary Grant) gets Hildy's creative juices flowing again by conning her into covering the imminent execution of mild-mannered murderer Earl Williams (John Qualen). When Williams escapes and hides out in the prison press room, Hildy hovers on the scoop of the century. There's political skulduggery afoot and when Walter arrives at the scene he is there for the love of a good story and the love of a good reporter.
Review by Keith Lofthouse:
At times it is brutal, heartless and cynical. But some people say it's the finest comedy ever made; if not the funniest, it's certainly the fastest and one of the 100 or so movies you must see before you die. This Howard Hawks classic reworks the Ben Hecht - Charles MacArthur play (and 1931 film) The Front Page simply by changing the sex of reporter Hildy Johnson. The idea came to Hawks at a private dinner party. He expressed the view that Hecht/MacArthur had written the finest dialogue of their era, then asked a female guest to read the reporter's part while he read the editor's and realised, that with minor adjustments, he was onto a winner.
The press had considered the original sacred, studio boss Harry Cohn needed convincing and leading ladies seemed to have a mindset too. A veritable Hollywood Who's Who turned it down...Katharine Hepburn, Jean Arthur, Ginger Rogers, Carole Lombard, Irene Dunne and Claudette Colbert - quite remarkable given that the new Hildy was a ground-breaking role for women. Hildy wants to marry Bruce because the dour but solid salesman treats her like a woman and offers traditional family values and security.
Walter on the other hand, if he is ever going to win her back, must seduce her with a taste of the thrill and excitement she thrives on as a newshound. Neither Hawks nor Grant were enthusiastic about Russell, since she was "seventh cab" off the rank but Russell's Hildy is smart, sassy and sharp as a tack. She stands toe to toe in her sparring with Grant and pulls off the crowning achievement of her career. There were no such casting difficulties with Grant...he was the man they wanted and the man they got but his image - suave, urbane, cultured - hardly fits that of a bustling big city newspaper editor.
And, of course, he was much too handsome. But if ever you doubted Grant's skills (as in his weaker moments, you might), His Girl Friday is testimony to his talent. The film is all about timing and is famous for its overlapping dialogue, zinging along at the rate of 240 words a minute when the average is around 130. Grant's timing is immaculate - in Walter's office, at a favourite restaurant and in the pressroom when surrounded by gaggling hacks. With all the "charm of a snake," Walter barks orders down the line to his minions at the Morning Post. He wants to "rip out the front page" to get Hildy's story in headlines and is told of an earthquake in China. "I don't care if there's a million dead," he cries coldly. It's the blackest line in the movie but a throwaway that was never quoted or challenged because political correctness didn't concern us then as it does now - when no-one would dare to say it.
Watch when Walter learns for the first time that Hildy plans to remarry. He tries to maintain composure, but he betrays his nerves by scratching a hand, fiddling with a phone, plucking a carnation from a vase and sticking it into his lapel. It's great "business" and sublime direction...Hawks keeps his characters confined to cluttered interiors but they are constantly on the move and the pace is, like the dialogue, electrifying. We won't spoil all the surprises (a gag against Ralph Bellamy is one of them), but for those unaware, Walter's line "the last man who said that to me was Archie Leach just a week before he cut his throat" is a reference to Grant's real name. The film boasts a marvellous cast in character support: Gene Lockhart as Sheriff Hartwell, Clarence Kolb as the corrupt mayor, the familiar faces of Roscoe Karns, Regis Toomey and Frank Jenks as colourful hacks.
Oh, and there's that magnificent bowling ball Billy Gilbert as the governor's messenger Joe Pettibone, the lone duck egg in a nest of vipers. The DVD includes a comprehensive package of Bonus Extras; vintage features on its stars; fascinating background and a glowing tribute from critic/writer Todd McCarthy. Rip out The Front Page all right, because His Girl Friday is the Rewrite Of The Century.
Published December 30, 2004
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HIS GIRL FRIDAY: DVD (PG)
CAST: Rosalind Russell, Cary Grant, Ralph Bellamy
DIRECTOR: Howard Hawks
SCRIPT: Charles Lederer
RUNNING TIME: 88 minutes
PRESENTATION: 1.33:1 Full Screen Languages: English, French, Italian, Greek, German, Spanish, Arabic, Bulgarian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Icelandic, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Swedish, Turkish[BREAK]
SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio Commentary By Film Critic/Author Todd Mccarthy; Cary Grant: Making Headlines, The Funny Pages, Rosalind Russell: The Inside Scoop and Howard Hawks: Reporter's Notebook; New Behind-The-Scenes Featurettes, Vintage Advertising Gallery, Talent Profiles, Original Movie Trailer
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia Tri-Star
DVD RELEASE: December 15, 2004