A newspaper editor uses every trick in the book to keep his ace reporter ex-wife from remarrying.
Hildy Johnson has divorced Walter Burns and visits his office to tell him that she is engaged to another man and that they are going to get married the day after. Walter Burns can’t let that happen and frames the other man, Bruce Baldwin, for a lot of stuff getting him into trouble all the time, while he tries to steer Hildy back into her old job as his employee (editor of his newspaper).
Frenzied’s the Word for ‘His Girl Friday,’ a Distaff Edition of ‘The Front Page,’ at the Music Hall
They’ve replated “The Front Page” again, have slapped “His Girl Friday” on the masthead and are running it off at the Music Hall as a special woman’s edition of the frenzied newspaper comedy Hecht and MacArthur first published back in 1931. Hildy Johnson is a girl reporter. She has just been divorced from Managing Editor Walter Burns and is threatening to take the night train to Albany, to matrimony and to Bellamy (Ralph). The celebrated curtain line about the so-and-so’s stealing the watch has gone by the board—the State Censor Board—but they have another just as cute if you can hear it.
That goes for most of the picture: the lines are all cute if you can hear them, but you can’t hear many because every one is making too much noise—the audience or the players themselves. Hysteria is one of the communicable diseases and “His Girl Friday” is a more pernicious carrier than Typhoid Mary. It takes you by the scruff of the neck in the first reel and it shakes you madly, bellowing hoarsely the. while, for the remaining six or seven. Before it’s over you don’t know whether you have been laughing or having your ears boxed. The veriest bit on the strenuous side, if you follow us.
Charles Lederer, who wrote the adaptation, has transposed it so brilliantly it is hard to believe that Hecht and MacArthur were not thinking of Rosalind Russell, or someone equally high-heeled, when they wrote about the Hildy Johnson who once had a printer’s ink transfusion from a Machiavellian managing editor and never again could qualify as a normal human being. It was a wild caricature, of course, and, if there ever were newspaper people like that, they went into limbo when Hecht and MacArthur, Gene Fowler, Joel Sayre and Nunnally Johnson died (journalistically) and went to Hollywood. Still, caricatures are fun if you don’t have to put up with them too long and if they don’t insist on being taken too seriously.
Under Howard Hawk’s direction, the cast has acknowledged the clamoring script with performances that are hard, brittle and strained to the breaking point, if not somewhat beyond, as though they were waiting for the camera to look the other way so they could collapse with honor. Cary Grant’s Walter Burns is splendid, except when he is being consciously cute, Mr. Bellamy’s woe-begone insurance man, Gene Loekhart’s Sheriff Hartwell, Ernest Truex’s sob-brother, Helen Mack’s Mollie Malloy, John Qualen’s Earl Williams, and—most especially—Billy. Gilbert’s governor’s messenger, Joe Pettibone, are faces that stand out in the swirling hubbub.
Except to add that we’ve seen “The Front Page” under its own name and others so often before we’ve grown a little tired of it, we don’t mind conceding “His Girl Friday” is a bold-faced reprint of what was once—and still remains—the maddest newspaper comedy of our times. –Frank S. Nugent, NY Times, January 12, 1940
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