HIS GIRL FRIDAY is a film that I hadn’t seen and hadn’t sought because it was one that I thought I would never have had an interest in. I like comedy, but I never had an interest in classic Hollywood screwball comedy. That is until earlier in 2018 when I watched Greta Garbo in NINOTCHKA via FilmStruck (RIP’). I found myself rolling with laughter at deadpan humor exhibited by the amazing Garbo. Had I been wrong all these years? Can I, a man born in the 1980s find humor in classic cinema? I love classic cinema and was surprised that this was an area that I never broke into. I purchased HIS GIRL FRIDAY, during the July 2018 sale at Barnes and Noble. Since this was not only an unopened Criterion, it was a film I never saw as well and therefore was perfect for this November 2018 prompt.
In the supplemental features of the Criterion edition of HIS GIRL FRIDAY, film scholar David Bordwell discusses how the film is one of the most American films ever made. This wasn’t just in terms of the ideology or sensibilities portrayed on screen, but in the filmmaking process. Director Howard Hawks was considered to be one of the great American directors who is not a household name. I can see why this is. Hawks manages to keep your eyes strictly on what is on screen without you paying attention to how he sets up, blocks, lights and all those things related to the process of filming. This is the opposite of someone like Stanley Kubrick (one of my favorite directors), who has your eyes on screen and you notice how he puts it on screen. While both ways work perfectly, you can see why a defined visual style sticks in folks memory much longer. However with HIS GIRL FRIDAY, you don’t need a visual style. For this film, the viewers are given one of the fastest, snappiest and wittiest films ever.
HIS GIRL FRIDAY, is the second adaptation of the play The Front Page by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. The first was directed by Lewis Milestone in 1931 under the same name. That film, also included on the Criterion, I felt had a bit more flourishes in regards to the direction as opposed to Hawks. It also felt like a filmed stage play. Yet while entertaining it lacks Rosalind Russell who outshines Cary Grant like the sun sitting next to a light bulb. Her breakneck delivery of the film’s razor sharp dialogue is one of the best performances I’ve seen. It’s also quite physical without becoming slapstick. This is where my eyes opened to classical Hollywood comedy. It was the delivery that made me laugh, even if the joke itself was outdated. I will say, the Ralph Bellamy bit was a fantastic piece of fourth wall breaking.
This film also doesn’t let you forget that it’s based around the world of newspapers and newspaper writing. The film’s humor never detracts from this premise and also manages to never go into parody no matter what left turns the story takes. Hawks excelled in keeping the whole thing balanced and none of the film’s strengths ever got so high that it felt it was covering up a weakness.
HIS GIRL FRIDAY, is a great piece of cinema comedy and engaging as a look into the journalism business. The back and forth humor was some of the best I’ve ever seen in a film and the world of classic Hollywood comedy is a bit broader to me now and something I seek to understand much more thoroughly.