His Girl Friday (1940)
There's nothing terribly original or fascinating about "His Girl Friday" much like today's romantic comedies don't feel like wonderful innovations of cinema, but that's not their intention. The movie is a tried and true 'age of golden cinema' cliche factory and if anything it's a marvelous success at pumping out great acting and watchable moments.
What is most curious about the movie is how it delightfully skips from one feeling to the next so quickly that you're not quite sure what you're watching. It seems like a stereotypical romantic comedy about a man who connives his way back into the heart of his ex (who, like most female characters in this era, wanted it anyway) then it moves to a politically charged thriller, and resolves with a commentary of the press as an entity. But maybe that's too much for one movie, after all, the title card does line this up as a fairy tale, letting the viewer know that this takes place in the decades when to be a journalist meant doing anything for a story and never could ever be representative of the press of today. It's comments seem insincere and, frankly, just lies.
Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) is leaving the press. She's met a man in insurance and she has "fallen in love" and is coming back for one more confrontation with her ex Walter Burns (Cary Grant) who coincidentally is also her boss and runs a democratic newspaper of some prestige. It's not just that Walter still has feelings about Hildy, she's also one of his best reporters and he doesn't want to see her go. So the scheming begins, and to trick her into staying he attempts to sabotage her relationship. One character jokes that to keep the train from leaving they could dynamite and it seems that in Walter's world, this might be a possibility. Remember, this is clearly not an accurate representation of the press...right.
In a stroke of evoking empathy and ingenuity, Walter references a current hot story going around town about a man who shot a black police officer. The mayor has sentenced the man to hang, but the governor seems to disagree with this decision and a political tsunami ensues. It floods so many issues, considering also that the election is a few days away.
So with all this consideration, it's likely that at some point the shit will hit the fan. And it does. But it's fun to watch.
If I could be a little politically correct for a moment (and it's my blog so I can) I think an interesting way to watch the movie is within its commentary on gender. Hildy wants to move on because her new lover treats her like "a woman" where as Walter sees her as a "newspaper man". It's curious to watch how Bruce (Ralph Bellamy) is treated as a set piece who comes and goes and the movie would be completely different should it be his story.
As the movie reaches its climax, it actually holds a lot of intrigue and surprise. It's not as enjoyable as something like "Bringing up Baby"; but it's certainly remained in the canon for a reason. Russell is charming, Grant is smarmy, and the movie is filled with easy jokes and quick-witted writing.
Posted by Micah Jones