Old Classics…? Newly Reviewed | His Girl Friday (1940)
Editor Note: Gini has another Old Classic film from her Turner Classic Movie Collection watching. Since Atlanta is home to Turner Classic Movies it is only right that Gini should be reviewing them with her view of the world.
What can it be this time?
Gini is tackling what Turner Classic Movies says is a classic screwball comedy with 1940’s His Girl Friday.
His Girl Friday
As with King Solomon’s Mines, this movie has been remade a variety of times and ways, usually entitled The Front Page. It’s about a newspaper editor trying to hang onto his best reporter. In this version, that reporter’s gender is flipped from male to female, and this version is considered the best. But is it?
Cary Grant plays that editor, Walter Burns, and Rosalind Russell is his very recent ex-wife and top reporter, Hildy Johnson. Hildy’s about to marry well-to-do insurance agent Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy) and leave the life of a reporter, and her ex-husband, in the rearview mirror. Walter, however, doesn’t want to lose his star, in no small part because he’s still in love with her. So, Walter goes about enticing Hildy with the latest lurid case – a black policeman has been shot and Hildy can get the story from the man who supposedly shot him. Hilarity and hijinks ensue.
There’s a lot going on in His Girl Friday – solving a murder case, clearing an innocent man, a love triangle, the work versus homelife debate – but you’ll need to use closed captioning to catch most of it. This is one of those screwball comedies where everyone is talking so fast and, in this movie’s case, over each other, that you’ll be hard-pressed to hear half of the lines. But that’s seemingly not considered a bad thing in screwball comedies.
However, what this movie no longer is is…funny.
The hubs and I barely chuckled. I remember the version of The Front Page from 1974 starting Jack Lemmon and Walther Matthau, and I remember it as being quite funny. I would swear I saw this version when I was younger, and found it quite funny. But this time, no laughs.
How Hildy clears the accused and finds the real murderer is great. But this isn’t a mystery movie. That Burns feels that Hildy is more of a career woman – and wants to continue to support that – versus a homemaker is showing that he does understand his recent ex far better than anyone would suspect (well, other than the viewers). But this isn’t a relationship movie. This is supposedly a comedy. And comedies are supposed to make you laugh. A lot.
The hubs liked nothing about this movie, and I was hard-pressed to try to convince him otherwise. I found everyone, even Grant and Russell, both of whom I normally adore, to be strident, grating, and flat. They’re so busy talking fast that they don’t bother to feel three-dimensional. Unlike Bringing Up Baby which has ludicrous situations that seem real and hilarious, this movie’s real-life situations seem staged and non-threatening, and Grant’s chemistry with Russell seems forced, unlike the immediate chemistry between him and Katherine Hepburn in Baby.
This was a movie I expected to love and want to see again and again, but instead I’m more interested in seeing if the Lemmon-Matthau version still holds up than re-watching His Girl Friday. Currently, this is tied with Topper and My Fair Lady as the movie that’s disappointed me the most.
2 stars out of 5
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3 thoughts on “Old Classics…? Newly Reviewed | His Girl Friday (1940)”
Gini, I’m pretty sure you’re my clone…soul sister…something…
I too had a very hard time even smiling at this particular effort. Had a hard time sitting through it. I’m pretty sure that at some point yawning overcame intelligibility of the fast-talking actors. I guess “snappy dialogue” = “dialogue spoken too loudly and too fast to understand.”
Huh, I missed this post back in October. But yeah, I did not care for this one. Of all the Screwball Comedies I’ve seen this is by far my least favorite. I much prefer the criminally underrated The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek. With His Girl Friday, honestly I really only cared about the B-plot. The A-plot was at best boring and at worst annoying. Oddly enough this is also how I felt about Terminator Salvation. Hmm.
The point is, while I appreciate the style of dialogue in this movie (a style that inspired the likes of Kevin Smith’s early films and the TV series Gilmore Girls), this movie’s story was not good enough to carry it.
It is disappointing that of the Screwball Comedy era this one gets all the love while Morgan’s Creek is largely forgotten. *sigh* At least Bringing Up Baby manages to be both good AND remembered.
Bringing Up Baby is so fun to watch, I agree. Additionally, you are fair in giving a 2 (I would have given a 3) as it is not the best rendition of this formula. But it is always great to see classic actors/actresses as work. So many fond memories.