His Girl Friday

  • Title:  His Girl Friday
  • Director:  Howard Hawks
  • Date:  1940
  • Studio:  Columbia Pictures
  • Genre:  Comedy, Romance
  • Cast:  Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Bellamy
  • Format:  Standard, Black and White
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“There’s nobody else on The Paper who can write!”  — Walter Burns

“All they’ve been doing is lying, all they’ve been doing is writing lies, Why don’t they listen to me?”  — Molly

“There are 365 days in a year one can get married, How many times – you got a murderer locked up in a desk?”  — Walter

His Girl Friday” is based on the play, “The Front Page“, but whereas in the original play the reporter was a man – in this version, he’s a she, — and therein lies the fun.  Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) goes to her old stomping grounds, the Morning Post, to officially resign and tell her ex-husband, Walter, that she’s going to get married again, to an insurance salesman named Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy).  Walter, still in love with Hildy, but even more, in need of her talent as a writer, does everything he can to stop this, including get poor Bruce thrown in jail three times.

Meanwhile, a convicted murderer is going to be hanged the next day.  Walter and his paper have maintained the man’s innocence, and tried to get a reprieve for him.  Walter manages to get Hildy to go and interview the condemned man.  Hildy does, and when she’s out of the room one of the other hardened “newspapermen” read her story and remark on the quality of the writing.  But Hildy, angered at yet another of Walter’s jokes on Bruce, rips up the story.  She swears, yet again, to quit.  Then Earl Williams, the convicted man, escapes.  Hildy, like all the other reporters, starts covering the story, and really gets caught up in it when first Williams, then his girlfriend, Molly, show up in the press room.  Hildy calls Walter over to the courthouse, and they are trying to decide what to do.  The sheriff, police, and mayor show up.  Williams is found in the roll-top desk, Hildy and Walter are arrested.  Then a process-server arrives from the governor — for the second time that night he tries to deliver the governor’s reprieve for the convicted man.  Hildy and Walter are freed.  Walter convinces Hildy to marry him.  Hildy also realizes that she is:  “a newspaperman”;  as the story has fired her blood, and the dream of marriage to a dull insurance salesman and a boring life in Albany is just that – a pipe dream, not her at all.

His Girl Friday” is a great film — it’s funny, and the main plot of a manhunt for a escaped felon is still relevant today.  The film is known for it’s incredibly fast, overlapping dialog, which it does have, and it definitely adds to the warp drive feel of the film.  Grant and Russell have great chemistry together, and the audience knows from their first scene together that Hildy belongs with Walter – not plain vanilla Bruce. But the film is also interesting in that it’s very much a woman’s liberation film.  Hildy, a woman, is successfully making her way in a career that is still, seventy years later, traditionally held by men, thus the use of the term “newspaperman” throughout the film rather than reporter or journalist, though those terms pop-up as well.  And though Hildy talks about giving up her career for marriage, family, children, etc — in the end she chooses something very novel for the 1940s – to have both, her career, and her marriage.  Because Walter would expect her to work right alongside him, just as she had done before, and Hildy’s realized that what she really wants is to have both.

It should be noted that the popular 1980s romantic detective series, Moonlighting and Remington Steele, were referencing “His Girl Friday” in particular, with their use of fast paced, over-lapping dialog, and both a strong man and a strong woman in a adversarial romantic comedy.  That is, Hildy, wasn’t exactly going to sit around and wait for “her prince” to come to her — or even to go out searching for a man, but she was capable of  being happy with both a man who loved her and a career.

Recommendation:  See it!  You simply must!
Rating:  5 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Raiders of  the Lost Ark (Indiana Jones)
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Carefree

  • Title:  Carefree
  • Director:  Mark Sandrich
  • Date:  1938
  • Studio:  RKO Radio Pictures
  • Genre:  Musical, Romantic Comedy
  • Music and Lyrics:  Irving Berlin
  • Cast:  Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Ralph Bellamy
  • Format:  Black & White, Standard
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“We all try to escape reality. We all want to be something entirely different than we really are.”  Dr. Tony Flagg

Carefree is one of the less well-known Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musicals. And it is somewhat unusual in that it’s one of the few, if not the only one, where Fred and Ginger are not playing professional dancers – thus the film is more like a romantic comedy (especially a screwball comedy) than a musical. In this film , Fred is Dr. Tony Flagg, a Freudian psychiatrist and hypnotherapist.  Ginger is his patient, Amanda Cooper, brought to see Tony by his friend Steven (Ralph Bellamy) because she’s afraid of matrimony. Also, whereas in most of the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musicals, Fred meets Ginger and falls for her, in Carefree, it’s Amanda (Rogers) who falls for Dr. Flagg (Astaire) almost as soon as she meets him. It takes Dr. Flagg a while to realise his true feeling for Amanda.

Also, Carefree, is a very dreamy, effects-laden film, well, for 1938, that is. Dr. Flagg, as an expert in psycho-analysis, asks Amanda to tell him her dreams. Told that she doesn’t dream, he takes her to dinner with friends and has her eat a variety of strange foods – to induce dreams. And dream she does, but not of Steven, instead she dreams of Tony. And the dance in her dream includes a slow motion sequence that’s a joy to watch.

Later, at the country club, Amanda sings “The Yam”, bringing Tony into the dance with her. The dance is interesting because in the first part of  the dance, she’s actually the one leading. Though that changes to Fred leading as the dance becomes more elaborate. As a whole, “The Yam” is elaborate partner tap dance, with ballroom moves, and swing, that’s also light and humorous. The dance also moves through several rooms of the country club, and at the conclusion, Fred flips Ginger over his leg several times (bracing the leg against a table, flipping her over it like a gymnast’s bar, dancing to the next table, bracing his leg, flipping her over it, going to the next table, etc, in a complete circle around the room). It’s impressive in the pure strength and athleticism it took to do that – as well as Astaire’s natural grace, and Ginger’s balance. Astaire often manages to look like he’s floating in air. It’s amazing.

Finally, in desperation, after Amanda admits she’s fallen in love with him; Tony hypnotizes her into thinking she loves Steven and that Tony’s “terrible, and should be shot down like a dog”. Poor choice of words on Tony’s part. Because, yet again, he leaves her alone – this time having a conversation with himself in the mirror, in which he realises he’s fallen for his patient. He returns, only to discover, yet again, she’s escaped while under the influence. This time – she goes to a skeet-shooting contest and starts shooting up the place with a rifle. Tony must figure out how to undo what he did …  when Steven, and his pal the judge, are determined to not let Tony see Amanda again.

Carefree also has the ballroom number, “Change Partners, and Dance”, with Dr. Tony attempting to hypnotize Amanda during their dance, which is also quite a nice number.  (She’s in a black dress, he’s in full black tux with tails).

As always the dances are shot full-frame (Fred and Ginger are shown from head to toe), and the dance is filmed in a single shot, without a lot of edits and cuts. This method of filming makes it easier to follow the dance, but also means the dancer’s pure talent can shine through.

Eventually everything works out. Tony gets in to see Amanda at her wedding, Steven accidentally knocks out Amanda, Tony reverses his negative post-hypnotic suggestions, and Tony and Amanda marry. Ralph Bellamy, of course, is left alone and single as always. Carefree is also a short film, only 82 minutes, but still very fun, light, and funny.

This film is fun, and the novelty of Ginger chasing Fred instead of the normal Fred chasing Ginger makes it a bit unusual. It’s a screwball comedy classic, but with singing and dancing.

List of  Musical Numbers

Since They Turned Loch Lamond into Swing – Fred (tap)
I Used to Be Color Blind – (Fred, vocals), Fred and Ginger (Ballroom dance)
The Yam – Ginger (vocals), Fred and Ginger (Partner tap)
Change Partners and Dance – Fred (Vocals)
Change Partners and Dance – Fred and Ginger (Ballroom)

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  4
Next film:  Casablanca