Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) is about to get hitched to dull insurance agent Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy) — that’s if her ex-husband, ruthless newspaper publisher Walter Burns (Cary Grant), doesn’t succeed in winning her back in this battle-of-the-sexes screwball comedy. Meanwhile, reporters salivating for the scoop on a local voting conspiracy is just a minor distraction as Burns pulls out all the stops for the woman he loves.
Rating: 9 out of 10
Acclaimed director Howard Hawks was behind the camera on “His Girl Friday” and it was released in the golden year of 1940. “His Girl Friday,” which stars Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell and Ralph Bellamy, is hands down the best romantic comedy ever made. Hawks’ film is the template to which all other in the genre are made. It is, at its core, a fast, frivolous screwball escapade. Russell and Grant are an estranged, divorced couple who happen to be newspaper people. Russell being the crack reporter to Grant’s editor in chief. Grant will go to any length to win Russell back as she readies for an impending re-marriage to a lethargic and dull insurance agent played with incredible accuracy by Ralph Bellamy. So how good is this “winning the girl back” comedy? It is insanely funny and very charming.
The chemistry between Grant and Russell is a marvel to behold. Comedies like this are rare because they were completely in tune. In classic Hawks’ fashion, the comedic delivery and timing is outrageously brilliant. They talk fast, furious, and loud. Dialog overlaps and multiple characters are in frame constantly poking and jabbing verbal bullets at each other. The film even goes as far as to make a statement about sexism in the workplace, capital punishment and love. But it is never all too serious or solemn. Even a wrongly convicted man falls prey to the gag-filled machinations between Grant and Russell. Characters are hilariously thrust into outrageous situations while the love triangle between Russell, Grant and Bellamy grows increasingly complicated.
Special mention has to go to Bellamy. He is finely tuned in this role as the dour, serious and predictable third wheel. Even his poor mother is thrust into the fray and his performance contrasts the frenetic, heavily-fueled slapstick provided by Russell and Grant. “His Girl Friday” is complex, funny and full of insanely spontaneous gag pieces. I must admit, though, that back in the 1940’s comedic actors were bold, challenged and never refined. All the adlibbing in this film is a testimony to that. Watch it soon and you will be impressed by how original and funny this gem is.