Break out your mothballs and rotary phones because it is time for another installment of Classic Movie Monday, where I sift through Netflix’s Classic section so you aren’t stuck watching There’s No Business Like Show Business’ ninety-seven renditions of “Alexander’s Ragtime Band”.
Netflix seems to have a love affair with Howard Hawks screwballs starring Cary Grant so this week I chose a personal favorite, His Girl Friday (1940). Far less goofy and arguably more charming than last weeks pick, this stars Cary Grant as newspaper man Walter Burns and Rosalind Russell as his ex-wife and reporter Hildy Johnson. In the beginning of the film Hildy comes in to tell Walter that she’s quitting the newspaper business and, by the way, she’s getting married. Tomorrow. To a boring insurance salesman. I know, you’re all thinking how any woman divorces Cary Grant and then goes off to marry a salesman from Albany, but you’ll fall in love with Hildy Johnson so fast that you’re sure Cary was a real asshole to deserve it.
Before he gives his blessing and lets her quit, Walter convinces Hildy to do one last story before she packs her bags and lives the Good Housekeeping life until she dies of boredom. What will end up being the biggest story of Hildy’s career involves covering the execution of Earl Williams (John Qualen), convicted cop killer.
While Hildy’s busy getting the scoop on Earl Williams and discovering whether or not he’s been rightfully convicted, Walter spends his time trying to get Hildy’s fiancé Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy) out of the picture. In the beginning Walter tries some playful psychological torture…like pretending that he thinks Bruce is an old man or buying a very expensive life insurance policy from him and making Hildy the sole recipient. As the movie goes on and Hildy is still adamant about living a life of wedded bliss with Bruce and his mother (yes, the plan is to live with his mother…I think you all know where this is going) Walter’s methods get a little more extreme.
The best scenes and most of the action happen in the journalist’s bullpen, across the street from the jailhouse where the execution is scheduled for the next day. Hildy gets a couple of phone calls from her poor fiancé asking to be bailed out of jail (thanks Walter), her future mother-in-law gets carted off by a James Cagney wannabe, and she ends up uncovering a pretty significant political scandal.
For me, the “big story” plot plays second fiddle to Hildy and Walter’s snappy dialog. There are so many rapid-fire jokes that I caught a few for the first time when I rewatched the film this week. Which isn’t to say the execution of Earl Williams and Hildy’s investigative journalism doesn’t grab your attention, it’s just that the comedy and characters are the true stars of the show and definitely the reason why you need to watch this movie.
Will the thrill of chasing after a scoop and being a feminist figure win out over a life of missionary sex every Wednesday and dinner on TV trays? Luckily Hildy snaps out of her Betty Crocker fantasy before its too late and we’re left with a Meghan Trainor music video.
If you haven’t seen His Girl Friday yet, you need to. If you have, you need to watch it again. Unless you’re a miserable human being and hate laughter and looking at gorgeous people.
While you’re at it, here are some interesting facts:
– This is one of the first films where the characters were allowed to talk over each other.
– Rosalind Russell thought Cary had funnier lines than she did, so she privately hired an ad man to write her jokes that she passed off as ad-libbing.
– The only music in the entire film is in the first two and last two minutes of the film.
– Ginger Rogers (who starred opposite Grant in Monkey Business) was offered the role of Hildy Johnson but turned it down because she didn’t know Grant was cast as the male lead. Obviously she regretted it.