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His Girl Friday

Screening on Film
Recently Restored
Directed by Howard Hawks.
With Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Bellamy.
US, 1940, 35mm, black & white, 92 min.
Print source: UCLA and Swank

The newspaper comedy subgenre that flowered in the 30s and 40s arguably finds its apotheosis in this hysterical, briskly told tale of high-stakes New York journalism, a revved-up reboot of the Broadway hit The Front Page. Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, in performances of both verbal and physical virtuosity, form a harmonious comic duo as editor Walter Burns and investigative reporter Hildy Johnson. As soulmates joined at the hip one minute and foul-mouthed opponents the next, the actors motor through Ben Hecht’s verbose, quick-witted dialogue like seasoned veterans in the newsroom, walking all over each other’s lines when they’re not literally tripping over each other to handle the next task. Just when Hildy begins considering ditching this stressful career for good, a controversial death-row trial reels her back in, and His Girl Friday ultimately offers a stirring evocation of the idea that true love only grows out of mutual passion and adversity, however demanding these pursuits may be. Matching his performers’ dexterity beat for beat, Hawks stages the film with a remarkable economy of movement, minimizing montage editing to instead choreograph frenetic action around the frame, all while finding startling uses of the dolly to synchronize with the story’s understated tonal shifts.

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