2016 Blind Spot: His Girl Friday Review

For my next Blind Spot feature, I wanted to go back to the classics and, since I have an interest in journalism of the time, along with being a fan of fast paced, dialogue heavy comedies, His Girl Friday seemed like the obvious choice for me and after watching the film, I made the right choice.The film follows journalist Hildy Johnson who has left the newspaper she works for, The Morning Post, and is going to marry insurance salesman Bruce Baldwin. When she goes to inform her ex-husband, newspaper editor Walter Burns, of the news, mainly so he would stop calling her all the time, Burns does everything in his power to sabotage the marriage as he still has feelings for Hildy. At the same time, an execution is planned for convicted murderer Earl Williams, which the mayor and sheriff want to be carried out so they can keep their jobs, and Burns wants reprieved so he has a better story, getting Hildy involved, which reignites her passion and skill at journalism, although things take a turn for the worse when Williams escapes from jail just before the planned execution, and takes refuge at the newspaper office.  The thing that makes the film work so well is the dialogue. The fast paced nature of it allows for some great comedic moments to come out, mainly in the scenes involving Hildy, Walter and Bruce. This is aided by the performances which I’ll talk about later, which allow for the dialogue to be bounced off at such great speed, which helps make it so funny. The overlapping nature of the dialogue, covering multiple conversations, is brilliant to see, and it’s clear to see how this film influenced other comedies in the future, such as the films of Robert Altman.  There are also some great satirical elements at play, mainly in relation to the politics, mainly the crooked nature of the mayor and how him and the sheriff are willing to let someone die in order to get better approval ratings.

The performances matched with the dialogue are what really make the film though. This is actually the first film with Cary Grant in that I’ve seen and this was a great introduction to him. His fast delivery of the dialogue is excellent and he does a good job showing his love for both journalism and for Hildy, along with the amoral components of the character, it feels completely believable that he would have someone arrested on false charges because of his jealousy and using the diritest tricks possible to get a story, showing his lack of morals. This performance is matched by Rosalind Russell as Hildy. There’s a clear commitment to the character throughout the film, aided by Russell hiring someone to help write her lines to ensure she had good material and it works for the character. The love-hate relationship between Burns and Hildy works because of how well Grant and Russell bounce off each other, especially when the dialogue gets faster and faster. Russell also does a good job at showing that, whilst she does have affection for Bruce, Hildy is too good at reporting and cannot resist the allure of it to settle down with Bruce. Speaking of which, Ralph Bellamy does a good job as Bruce, showing that he is a nice person but too boring for the likes of Hildy and Burns, his timid demeanour being a great counterpoint to the amoral nature of Burns, which helps show why Hildy finds herself more drawn to Burns than too Bruce. Good performances are also seen from Abner Biberman, who’s delightfully slimy as Burns’ hired goon Louis, Gene Lockhart and Clarence Kolb who do a good jobs showing the corrupt and incompetent nature of Sheriff Hartwell and Mayor Fred, John Qualen, who gives a quietly sympathetic performance as Earl Williams, and Billy Gilbert, who’s a good comedic foil as Joe Pettibone. The only weak link is Alma Kruger as Bruce’s mum, mainly because of the stereotypical nature of the mother in law jokes made at her expense.

Overall, His Girl Friday is a really entertaining film, mainly due to the strong performances from Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, with excellent dialogue that helps accentuate the performances, whilst also having a bit of a satirical air, particularly to the relation between journalists and politicians. It’s easy to see how this film has helped influence other comedies in the years since it came out and I’m glad I saw it.

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