His Girl Friday (U)

Review by Rebecca J Madrigal

FOR slapstick, rivalry, dialogue to die for and performances that fairly crackle you would be hard pressed to beat Howard Hawks's version of 'The Front Page'.

His Girl Friday added one vital ingredient that was absent from the stage play and the 1931 Lewis Milestone version, it introduced sex and the battle of the sexes.

By altering the leading characters from two male rivals, it turned the character Hildebrand Johnson into Hildegarde Johnson and boy does Rosalind Russell take flight as the female half of the rivals.

Johnson (Russell) is the star reporter of a city paper edited by Walter Burns (Cary Grant), who just happens to be her ex-husband. When she announces that not only is she leaving the paper, but also plans to marry out and out bore (Ralph Bellamy), Burns plots, connives and manipulates every opportunity in his power not only to keep his best journalist on the team but to keep the woman he can't live with and can't live without.

In order to do this, he dangles a juicy murder story in front of his ex, calculating her hunger and need to follow the story through. The resulting farce makes for essential viewing, driven by two outstanding performances from Russell and Grant, whose overlapping dialogue leaves you breathless. Timing is everything and this movie has it.

As the plot descends into total comedic slapstick, sit back and enjoy the ride and never doubt that Hawks certainly knew what he was doing when he introduced sex into a male domain.

Look out, also, for the poker playing, gum-chomping, nicotine-addicted support cast as hacks - all superbly realised and integral to making the movie tick as well as it does.

Of the leads, Grant does what he does best - roars, delivers lines to perfection and just has a face that always speaks a thousand words; his put-downs of the fiancé are priceless and only Grant could carry them off with such aplomb (not bad for a lad from Bristol!).

Russell, meanwhile, knew girl power before spice and the girls were ever a combination, charging through the film and showing how women got the vote and left weak men hiding under tables. She matches Grant blow for blow, line for line and why neither of them got even Oscar nominations is totally beyond me.

This may be an old one, but it's worth every second of your time at a mere 92 minutes. You'll be asking why they don't make them like that anymore?

Grant partnered many talented actresses, but Russell was one of the few who gave him a run for his money. It's like watching fire crackers go off!!!

Essential info: His Girl Friday, 1940

Cast: Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Bellamy, Gene Lockhart
Director: Howard Hawks
Screenplay: Ben Hecht & Charles Lederer

Adapted from the stage play 'The Front Page' by Ben Hecht & Charles MacArthur
92 minutes/B&W