When we talk screwball comedies we usually look to Howard Hawks, specifically films like Bringing Up Baby or Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Me? I was never huge on those two. Sure, they’re great and all, but I always felt there was a disconnect between the reality of the stories and the delivery of the dialogue. They’re ridiculous, and that’s on purpose, but even ridiculous should follow its own rules. The one Hawks film that nails that so very perfectly? His Girl Friday!
The film follows Walter Burns (Cary Grant), a divorced man running a newspaper so obsessively that it is, in fact, the reason he is now single. His ex-wife, Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell), is set to marry a rather pleasant but boring individual named Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy). The upcoming execution of a criminal that is still contesting his conviction gives him an idea, and he pushes his horny-for-a-story ex-wife to take on the investigation for the paper. Hilarity ensues, and I’m not kidding. There’s this weirdly delightful moment where Grant wiggles his bigass fingers over his itty-bitty-skinny tie and I couldn’t stop giggling, and that’s one of the LEAST entertaining moments of the film.
In a recent podcast episode, actor/comedian/host/goofball Griffin Newman discussed Harrison Ford’s weirdly long pointer finger and how he weaponized it in his films, saving it for moments that needed driving home. It was compared to an artist that knows their instrument. Screenwriter Charles Lederer is an artist that knows his instrument – perfect dialogue. Grant and Russell have to execute this dialogue, but it’s astounding how well-written this whole affair is. Bits are built on each other, but it’s hard to execute them realistically. When you watch a film everyone waits their turn to speak unless an interruption is specifically needed for the plot. His Girl Friday, however, has characters that speak a mile-a-minute and talk over each other the whole time. It’s not hard to follow if you can listen to an average conversation but it’s so very different than what you’re used to.
Hawks had this gift for these dialogue-heavy stories, films set in noir-esque visual pastiches and featuring a ton of shadow that looks incredible in these black-and-white films. Right down to the wardrobe, it’s all designed to work in this specific color palette and I cannot believe how gorgeous it is. You just WAIT till you see Hildy’s big hat, that thing should have its own zip code and it’s a stunning shade!
This isn’t one I should have to go on and on about. Cary Grant was always a wonder, but his chemistry with Russell is wonderful and unparalleled through the rest of his career. Rarely do you see two people enjoy playing off of one another this much in a film, but every moment of His Girl Friday is so much delicious fun to watch and an interesting look at what holds people together in a relationship. You’re locked up: maybe it’s alone and maybe it’s with someone else, it doesn’t matter, but if you’re cozy and happy then you know what makes it work. So sit back and judge these two characters as they discuss why it didn’t and one tries to make the case that it still might. It’s some of the most fun I’ve had watching a comedy, and has that tie moment that left me in stitches.
His Girl Friday is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.