In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.
His Girl Friday 
Director: Howard Hawks
Writers: Charles Lederer (screen play), Ben Hecht (play “The Front Page”) and Charles MacArthur (play “The Front Page”)
Starring: Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Bellamy
Running Time: 92 minutes
Reason for inclusion: This has appeared on countless “best of” lists, and I am always looking to see more of Cary Grant’s work.
Accolades: National Film Registry, #19 on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Laughs
A lot of classic films have rapid-fire dialogue, but His Girl Friday may just take the cake. I would love to see the size of this script, which seems to pack three hours of dialogue into just 90 minutes.
Rosalind Russell stars as Hildy Johnson, a former news reporter who is eager to leave that fast-paced lifestyle, going so far as to get engaged to a rather plain insurance salesman, Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy). On the eve of her trip to Albany to make the marriage official, Hildy drops by the newspaper to tell her ex-husband (and editor of The Morning Post), Walter Burns (Cary Grant), about her plans. One problem: Walter is still in love with her and will do anything possible to win her back.
Played to manipulative perfection by Grant, Walter quickly gets to work at devising plans to keep Hildy from going to Albany. His methods are cruel but effective — he manages to get Bruce arrested no less than three times (including once by planting counterfeit money on him). This gives Walter more time to make his move.
It also helps that the “story of the century” is happening right now — the alleged wrongfully accused murderer, Earl Williams (John Qualen), is set to be hanged the very next day. The story is so juicy that Hildy cannot resist getting involved, even interviewing the man in hopes of getting him acquitted. The news story gets even bigger when Williams escapes from prison, making this a full-blown front page story. This series of events prompts Walter to amusingly exclaim “Take Hitler and stick him on the funny page!”
As a screwball comedy, the series of events grows wilder and wilder, and Hildy finds it increasingly difficult to get away and leave for Albany on time. It becomes apparent that Walter and Hildy are cut from the same cloth — both are “newspapermen” that get such a rush from breaking a big story, yet struggle to separate their personal and work lives.
In most cases, it would be hard to sympathize with either of these characters, but c’mon, it’s Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell! These two play off each other beautifully, and their chemistry is undeniable. Even though both play such dastardly characters, they are so much fun to watch.
The aforementioned rapid-fire dialogue is a real highlight of the film as well, even though it’s sometimes hard to keep up with the constant overlapping chatter. This is a film that benefits considerably from subtitles, and I was almost afraid to laugh just so I didn’t miss another great line. Regardless, the script (and its cynical look at the newspaper business) is relentlessly engaging, still providing fruitful exchanges so many years later.