His Girl Friday (Howard Hawks, 1940)


Cary Grant (Walter Burns), Rosalind Russell (Hildy Johnson). Screenplay by Charles Lederer. Directed by Howard Hawks. Rating: U. Running time: 92 minutes.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a comedy quite like His Girl Friday. It’s an extremely fast screwball, and for 1940 it doesn’t half take its humour from daring topics. There’s the classic scenario of a man attempting to woo a woman providing the framework, but making jokes around the death penalty and the deception and corruption of the press, police and politicians couldn’t have been commonplace then never mind now, and the film plays with us for a while with regards to whether it is a comedy-cum-drama with some serious principled points. Then the ascent to unbridled anarchy is made, and we realise even the fate of a man’s life is to be the source of laughter.

Phone calls are taken trimultaneously and the lines literally fly out of the characters’ mouths. Grant is in his element without overshadowing anyone, adding his own spark and ingenuity as he always does. I only caught about a third of the screenplay and the very general jist of the plot, but even then you become so entranced by the rhapsodic rhythm of the frantic dialogue’s delivery that as the pace reaches new peaks you can’t help but continue to smile. It’s like Sorkin’s script for The Social Network on an LSD trip; His Girl Friday is half an hour shorter but I wouldn’t want to place bets on which film soars higher with on a word count.

Common sense says comedy like this should have a bad shelf life, the humour being way too generation-dependent in a way the early silent slapsticks can avoid. Common sense is wrong, or at least here we have an exception. Simply marvellous.


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