HIS GIRL FRIDAY
Review by Gordon Justesen
Grant, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Bellamy, Gene Lockhart
Director: Howard Hawks
Audio: PCM Mono
Video: Aspect Ratio 1.33:1
Features: See Review
Length: 92 Minutes
Release Date: January 10, 2017
“There’s a guy waiting in a taxi in front of the criminal courts building. His name is Bruce Baldwin.”
“What does he look like?”
“He looks like, um, that fellow in the movies. You know, Ralph Bellamy.”
In the realm of classic comedies, His Girl Friday should have a place in every movie lover’s heart. In the 76 years since its release, it remains as edgy and hilarious as ever. It also carries an energy about it that few films in general have been able to surpass.
Director Howard Hawks expanded on his already diverse directorial resume with this comedy, having been widely known at the time for his 1932 film Scarface. He also did something mostly unheard of at the time; taking an already well known film and reinventing it. That film was 1931‘s The Front Page, itself an adaptation of the popular stage play from 1928.
Cary Grant perfectly establishes his comedic move star persona with his great performance as Walter Burns, newspaper editor of The Morning Post, who’s constantly clashing with his top reporter, Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell), who’s also his ex-wife. The main crust of the story involves Walter attempting to prevent Hildy from leaving town with her new fiancee, insurance salesman Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy). He has two reasons for doing so; there’s a hot scoop concerning the impending execution of a prison inmate...and the second reason is, well, he still loves her.
Much like the stage play it was reinventing, His Girl Friday astounded audiences and broke quite a few rules with its seamless balancing of dark moments and super light humor (how many films have even thought of following a suicide attempt with a witty Cary Grant one liner?). It was also marketed as the first film to include dialogue delivery at a speed much faster than your typical feature. Hawks also ended up pioneering the overlapping dialogue technique that would become later a prolific trait in the films of Robert Altman.
The fast dialogue, unbeatable chemistry between the actors and comedy that was simply ahead of its time. There are so many elements that make His Girl Friday the classic comedy that it is. It’s also one of those films that you’ll grow to appreciate more on multiple viewings. The reason for this is because you’ll be laughing so much you may end up missing other jokes or classic bits of dialogue.
Criterion astounds once again with what has to be one of their finest visual presentations of any film from the time period. Courtesy of an HD digital transfer, the B&W picture is a remarkably detailed one. The black levels are superbly deep and the overall contrast is nothing short of spectacular. Not a single image flaw is in sight here. Yet another fantastic Criterion release!
The PCM Mono mix wonderfully captures all of the high energetic dialogue between the actors, which is undoubtedly the main ingredient here. Numerous background sound effects are also very well captured. All in all, about as great as one could ever hope for a release from 1940.
Not only do we get this movie provided to us on this wonderful Criterion release, but also offered on a second Blu-ray disc is The Front Page, also presented with a PCM Mono mix and a terrific 4k transfer. As far as additional supplements go, on Disc One we have a new and fantastic interview with film scholar David Bordwell, as well as archival interviews with director Howard Hawks. Also featured are various featurettes from 1999 and 2006 about Hawks, Rosalind Russell, and the making of the film, a wonderful Radio adaptation of His Girl Friday from 1940 and a Teaser and Trailer for the film. On the second disc, there’s a new piece about the restoration of The Front Page, as well as a new piece about playwright and screenwriter Ben Hecht. We also get radio adaptations of the play The Front Page from 1937 and 1946., Lastly, there’s an amazing insert, formatted like a newspaper (one of the best to date from Criterion), featuring essays on both movies by film critics Farran Smith Nehme and Michael Sragow.
His Girl Friday remains of the great, dialogue driven comedies of all time. It remains as hilarious and edgy as it was 76 years ago. The Blu-ray from Criterion is an absolute must own for collectors and lovers of great films alike!