Cool Things: His Girl Friday

Okay, time for another black and white movie spotlight! This week’s selection is His Girl Friday, another film staring the impeccable Cary Grant as the leading man. This time out, Rosalind Russell takes the leading lady’s role. If you’ve never seen this film, there will be a brief summary in the next paragraph. If you have, feel free to skip it.

Walter Burns (Grant) is the editor of The Morning Post, in an age when newspapers were Serious Business and getting that story justified anything and everything in the eyes of the newspaper man. In fact, Burns has managed to alienate his wife and star reporter, Hildegard Johnson (Russell) with his demanding nature and total devotion to the job. Now they’re divorced and Hildy is looking to settle down with a nice quiet man instead of coming back and remarrying Walter like he wants her too. Worse, the accused murderer that the Post has been defending from it’s editorial page is about to be executed. Sure, he might have shot someone but the only reason to hang him for it is to score the corrupt sheriff and mayor a few political points. Clearly this is a grievous insult to truth, justice and the integrity of the Post’s editorial page! Walter Burns will have to stop the hanging, scare off Hildy’s new suitor and win her heart back – and do it all in one night!

His Girl Friday is a delightful romp. For the most part it enjoys poking fun at people in authority, be they the police, politicians or psychologists, they’re all up for some good natured ribbing. But no one gets it more than the newspaper reporters that form most of the cast. While journalists today seem to view themselves as a very dignified, important profession, the newspapermen in His Girl Friday are just a step above cutthroats, and they know it. I suspect that their two-fisted, winner takes all attitude might still be around in many newsrooms today, just with less of a manic glee for the hunt to go along with it.

Thematically, it’s not a terribly deep movie. Walter suffers from a serious case of misplaced priorities. Yes, his newspaper is a great business and has a clear effect on the people it serves (whether that effect is good or bad is hard to tell). But he’s let his joy in his work override his responsibility to serve the needs of his wife. It shouldn’t take divorce proceedings and her nearly marrying herself to another man to realize her value, but this is Hollywood so that’s what happens.

For her part, Hildy is a bit of an escapist. She flees directly from Walter to a man who’s his total opposite – boring instead of charismatic, stolid instead of ambitious. But she also gives up on using her talents and passions, something that Walter always loved her for and encouraged her in.

By the end of the show, they’ll have learned to appreciate each other again. Even if they haven’t learned anything else.

From a writer’s perspective, His Girl Friday is a study in dialog. The movie is unique in the frantic pacing of the spoke word, with many of the characters simply talking on top of one another. It reflects the lightning pace of the news world that the characters live in, but could also become confusing very quickly. That it doesn’t is a testament to the skills of the writers and director who put the film together. An astute watcher can learn a lot about punchy dialog that informs the listener (or reader) while keeping things moving along.

If you love writing, humor or both, His Girl Friday is a movie for you.

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