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Wick's Review

Created Jan 19, 2013 02:05PM PST • Edited Jul 03, 2016 12:15AM PST

  1. Quality
  2. Great 4.0

    Fast talking, smartalecky comedy hit a peak with His Girl Friday. Still LOL funny today, it’s also plenty clever enough to travel through the ages as intelligent entertainment for movie lovers of any generation.

    How could it not be? It stars the most versatile movie star ever in Cary Grant, is directed by perhaps the most versatile director ever in Howard Hawks, and is based on a Broadway smash by arguably the greatest screenwriter ever in Ben Hecht. Plus it tweaks the self-appointed elite of the media, a cohort in greater disrepute today than they were 75 years ago, a development Hecht would have found unsurprising.

    It all comes together after Rosalind Russell first enters Cary Grant’s office and asks for a seat. “There’s been a lamp burning on the window for you. Here” he replies, patting his knee. Now that’s funny.

    Did I mention that her Hildy Johnson character had divorced him a few months earlier? And had been his ace reporter at the muckraking big-city daily he ran?

    It’s a battle of the sexes set during the dream-era of newspapers. One imagines Watergate-era Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee growing up wishing to be Cary Grant’s swashbuckling editor, with his own Hildy.

    This 1940 battle of the sexes is one that could only happen in the movies, where the woman doesn’t have a care in the world. Thus divorce can be trifled with. It makes for a series of delightful tableaus between Grant and Russell. Two examples among many.

    • While verbally sparring in his office, he claims she can’t get over him. Wrong she replies, “Mama doesn’t dream about you anymore.”
    • Him taking her wrist and pulling it to him across the table so he can light his cigarette with her match, while her hapless fiancé sits across from them and hers goes unlit.

    Want to know what a great romcom looks like, feels like and sounds like? His Girl Friday has the answers.

  3. Really Great 4.5

    Cary Grant’s Walter Burns is consummate-movie-stardom incarnate. Lightning-witted, dashing and graceful, the role shows off Grant at his comedic best. No moviestar ever did it better.

    Rosalind Russell is a revelation to the 21st century moviegoer, not so well known to us as Grant. Her bright, open face and healthy self-regard are ideally matched to Grant’s peerless romantic image and comedic timing.

    Ralph Bellamy’s stolid other-man is plenty fine as the dullard who comes between them.

    The supporting cast includes a bevy of classic character actors from way back in the day.

    • Gene Lockhart as a corrupt and dimwitted Sheriff.
    • Abner Biberman jumps off the screen as a sharp looking crook.
    • Billy Gilbert as a loudly silly messenger.
    • John Qualen as a poor sap.
    • Helen Mack as a kindhearted woman who has a soft spot for him.
  4. Male Stars Perfect 5.0
  5. Female Stars Perfect 5.0
  6. Female Costars Great 4.0
  7. Male Costars Great 4.0
  8. Great 4.0

    Howard Hawks’ peerless direction has the close-quarters complexity of an NFL play, with his players moving precisely in front of, behind and around each other, all the while rapidly talking over one another. The dazzling dialogue comes from a trio of superb writers, led by Ben Hecht.

    Get this: The film is taken from The Front Page, a Broadway smash by Hecht and Charles MacArthur, where the star reporter was a man. Hawks’ secretary read the part of the reporter during auditions, giving the great director the idea of having the story rewritten with the reporter as a woman, which added a battle of the sexes element to the story, thereby elevating the entire production to another level. Brilliant!

  9. Direction Perfect 5.0

    Hawks also directed Grant in Bringing Up Baby, another fast-talking, screwball masterpiece.

  10. Play Really Great 4.5

    IMDb credits the script to Charles Lederer (screenplay), Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur (play The Front Page). Did Hecht also work on the screenplay? It has his flourishes.

    All the guys call Rosalind Russell’s character Hildy. She refers to herself as Hilda, short for Hildegarde Cooper. Now that’s a name.

    The press room scenes are classics, even when Hildy’s not there. For instance, the different reports from the various reporters about an incident are a witty send-up of journalistic sausage-making. One of them ends with “He offered no resistance.” Neither can we.

  11. Music Very Good 3.5
  12. Visuals Good 3.0
  13. Content
  14. Tame 1.5

    The movie shows its pre-Civil Rights roots when a fast talking reporter recounts a wacky story that centers on a “pickaninny”, a pejorative that thankfully has long fallen out of use.

  15. Sex Innocent 1.3
  16. Violence Fierce 1.6
  17. Rudeness Salty 1.6
  18. Glib 1.2

    The story is set in the run-up to WWII, with offhand comments about Hitler and Roosevelt. It shows how times have changed by referring to psychiatrists as alienists.

    It also touches on how they haven’t when one of the paper’s honchos points out they’ve always been a Democratic paper. So it is today with big media organs here and abroad. Each can be reliably expected to always push a line consistent with their chosen side of the aisle, which for most is the Left.

  19. Circumstantial Glib 1.6
  20. Biological Natural 1.0
  21. Physical Natural 1.0


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