HIS GIRL FRIDAY (director: Howard Hawks; screenwriters: from the play The Front Page by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur/Charles Lederer; cinematographer: Joseph Walker; editor: Gene Havlick; music: M. W. Stoloff; cast: Cary Grant (Walter Burns), Rosalind Russell (‘Hildy’ Johnson), Ralph Bellamy (Bruce Baldwin), Gene Lockhart (Sheriff Peter B. ‘Pinky’ Hartwell), Porter Hall (Murphy, reporter), Ernest Truex (Roy V. Bensinger, Tribune reporter), Abner Biberman (Louis, small-time hood), Frank Orth (Duffy, Morning Post copy editor), Helen Mack (Molly Malloy), John Qualen (Earl Williams), Clarence Kolb (Fred, the Mayor), Alma Kruger (Mrs. Baldwin, Bruce’s mother), Billy Gilbert (Joe Pettibone), Edwin Maxwell (Dr. Max J. Eggelhoffer), Regis Toomey (Sanders, reporter); Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Howard Hawks; Columbia Pictures; 1940)
“Cary Grant as the ruthless fast-talking sharpie newspaper editor gives one of his finest performances.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A remake of Lewis Milestone’s 1931 The Front Page starring Pat O’Brien that is much better than the stagy original.One of the significant changes was to make O’Brien’s male reporter part into a female reporter, Hildy Johnson, played by Rosalind Russell, who is divorced from her smooth talking managing editor boss Walter Burns (Cary Grant) of the Morning Post–a Chicago tabloid. But he has not given up hope of remarrying her even though she’s slated to marry tomorrow in Albany the stable but dull insurance salesman Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy). It plays as an hilarious screwball comedy using as its theme ‘the battle of the sexes,’ and is perhaps the fastest dialogue film ever made (it uses overlapping dialogue, simultaneous conversations, rapid-fire delivery, sexual innuendo, sarcasm, workable gags, a frantic pace and a hard-hitting farcical script that also points its finger at political corruption, a questionable judicial system and satirizes journalists who would do anything to get a story). Cary Grant as the ruthless fast-talking sharpie newspaper editor gives one of his finest performances. It’s based on the play The Front Page by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur; Hecht’s usual collaborator Charles Lederer provides the spirited script.
Hildy returns after four months away from NYC, as she was busy getting a divorce and vacationing, to tell ex-hubby Walter in his office she’s catching the 4 o’clock train to Albany to marry Bruce tomorrow. Walter tempts her with a raise in salary to do one last story, a gallows case of a simpleminded man named Earl Williams (John Qualen) who killed a black policeman in the park and is being railroaded by City Hall into being executed so that the mayor can win the black votes in the upcoming election. Walter plays on her sense of justice to try and get a reprieve for a man wrongly convicted, and her journalistic instincts to run with a good story. Needing money for the upcoming marriage to the moderately salaried man, Hildy takes the job when Walter says he’ll take out a $100,000 life insurance policy on himself from her would-be husband (whose commission would be $2,500) and get her there on time to board the Albany train. With that agreed upon, Walter begins pulling out all his tricks in the book to keep the couple apart such as using pickpocket ‘Diamond’ Louie (Abner Biberman) to frame the upstanding Bruce by having him jailed for stealing his watch.
Hildy works in the jail press-room, where she’s merrily greeted by a half-dozen or so cynical male reporters who look upon the hanging as a fun story that will sell papers. The fast-working Hildy bribes an official to get an interview with Earl, who mentions he’s not a radical as written about in the papers but was depressed because he lost his job and didn’t mean to shoot the cop–it was an accident. Molly Malloy, who was written up in the papers as the killer’s girlfriend, says she only met him once that day in the park and took him home, where the gentle man never even made a pass at her and told her his sad life story. She feels sorry for him, and that’s the only reason she came to see him. Sleazy Sheriff Peter B. ‘Pinky’ Hartwell (Gene Lockhart) is gleeful about tomorrow’s hanging and gives out tickets to the reporters who rib him for using the execution for his own purposes. The Mayor (Clarence Kolb) refuses to accept a reprieve from his political rival, the Governor, who has it delivered by his messenger Joe Pettibone (Billy Gilbert). The messenger’s offered a bribe of a better paying job and some cash to say he couldn’t get there on time and the Mayor orders the police to shoot to kill the escaped Earl. He escaped when the sheriff absurdly gave him his loaded gun to reenact the crime for the arrogant publicity-seeking court-appointed psychiatrist (Edwin Maxwell). It now becomes a question of what happens to Earl, who is being hidden in the press-room’s roll-top desk by Hildy to get an exclusive story, and if the tricky editor can stop the marriage and once again win back the woman he loves.
It’s a perfectly realized screwball comedy (both in the acting and in the script), the one the other such films shoot for when they’re aiming to make a masterpiece.REVIEWED ON 8/14/2005 GRADE: A+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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