Written by: Charles Lederer
Starring: Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Bellamy, Gene Lockhart, Porter Hall
Some people are simply born to do a particular job, either through natural talent making them a perfect fit or matching the necessary desire in order to succeed. Moving away from it can be quite difficult, even if you vigorously try as seen in the rapturously comedic His Girl Friday. A film unafraid to make its morally and ethically questionable characters shine brightly in this delightful and nearly dizzying screwball comedy.
Editor of the Morning Post, Walter Burns (Cary Grant) learns that his ex-wife, Hildy (Rosalind Russell) is about to get remarried to another fella. With that in mind, he maneuvers a way for her to cover one last story before she moves away and stays home as a dutiful wife and future mother. However, with the criminal case she’s asked to cover, things get much more complicated, as does the relationship between the two.
When you put together Cary Grant and a screwball comedy, I need no further information, my eyes are ready for consumption. Starring in several of my favorites, including Arsenic and Old Lace and Bringing Up Baby, Grant has this magic about him when he takes on absurdly comedic stories and to no surprise, he knocks it out of the park once again as the slimy but ever-charming Walter Burns. A character who would not give a straight answer to his own mother on her deathbed, he’s career-driven to the point where it cost his marriage with Hildy. Filled with regret with her getting remarried, he hatches a dubious plan, and as the audience, we’re simply along for the ride.
With a high-profile case, Hildy attempts to cover and a train waiting to take her and her new husband away to Albany, it becomes a time crunch for Walter to find ways to delay and hopefully permanently cancel this trip. Pushing forward as the narrative gets closer to an impasse, it becomes clear Walter is not a great guy and obviously only has these revitalized feelings for his wife because of her new marriage. His methods of manipulation become a bit absurd as the narrative progresses, but it all gets made worse by the sincere kindness of Hildy’s groom, Bruce (Ralph Bellamy).
From the very first scene they share a scene together, it becomes crystal clear Bruce has plenty of love for Hildy, which makes it difficult to see his kindness met with manipulation by Walter. It really pushes the limit of how nice an individual can be with a fast-talking dealmaker like Walter, the editor. From being forcefully asked to lunch and then seeing his wife continue to pursue this case and, as a result, closer to her ex-husband. His niceness does not belong in the same room as Hildy and Walter and the messaging of this film makes it very clear with how the story plays out and how the chips get laid.
As with any screwball comedy, the jokes per minute arrive at an almost dizzying degree with the hope of it disorienting the audience to the point of exhaustion. Quick talk and movements allow for the physical elements to complement what gets spoken by these characters. Grant and Rosalind Russell represent worthy adversaries as they duel for who gets the upper hand from their exchanges. Both with different goals and ulterior motives, each joke they throw at each other has the heat of a premier boxing match up and it became such a joy to see them land a blow on each other. Not having as much experience watching Rosalind Russell’s work, which is disgraceful on my part, she truly dazzles here with her delivery. Stands toe-to-toe and goes blow-for-blow with Grant in imparting the incisive and biting comedic jabs they get armed with from the hilarious script. The pace becomes everything and it certainly works to an immense degree in this feature.
As the trip to Albany continues to get pushed back, the case Hildy gets commissioned to cover receives plenty of new wrinkles, which allows this film to resoundingly earn its screwball comedy genre placement. It becomes about more than just covering the case as the said case comes to them, which leaves Hildy and Walter in precarious and advantageous positions they will certainly explore if we have learned anything else from their work together. From someone hiding in a desk to battling it out with other reporters in the room, this feature also throws its jabs at journalism as a whole and what it takes to succeed in it as demonstrated by the ruthlessness of Walter and Hildy in the narrative.
Veering from presenting cold hard facts, to tabloid fodder, journalism has ridden a proverbial pendulum for much of its existence, but the one that remains clear through all of it comes from the importance of getting the exclusive. Being the first one to break a story or get the important bombshell interview guarantees eyes on your product and more advertising dollars as a result. That gets made very clear in this picture as both Walter and Hildy play a game they know all too well. A job meant to simply cover the facts with what occurs because of a man shooting another becomes a whole game of who can attain what information and assure it gets received before the competitors.
A Howard Hawks directed screwball comedy with Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell headlining had all of the ingredients to be a tremendous production and it certainly did not disappoint. This film creates characters with unlikeable aspects of their personality, but they become so compelling that it becomes difficult to hate them. It shows why people like Hildy and Walter were born to do this job and the journey this film takes us one with all of the wackiness looks to solidify this message through its brilliant comedy.