Film Flick Friday: His Girl Friday

Friday, June 29, 2012

His Girl Friday is typical Howard Hawks. His leading ladies are always tough, cold as steel, equal to men and "masculine" in their portrayal. No wilting lilies to be rescued on his set, Hawks found something sexy about a female who acted like a man. No surprise then, that when he heard a female read one of the lead male parts in Front Page, a Broadway hit he was considering as fodder for his next picture, he decided the lines sounded better from a woman. Cue one rewrite-a short one. Nearly all the lines remained the same; only a few genders were swapped- and the story gets changed to a screwball, romantic comedy.

The final result is a romping comedy, with fast paced dialogue (it's possibly the first to feature characters that talk over one another) that's backed up with some pretty great physical comedy as well. When Hildy Johnson comes back to the office to tell her boss (and former husband!), Walter Burns, that she's quitting the paper to get married and lead a "normal" life, she expects it to take only a moment or two. How wrong she was.Walter promises her money enough to get a nice start on that ordinary life- if she writes one last story. There's series of mishaps in the pressroom, a condemned prisioner on the loose, and one upset mother-in-law-to-be. It leaves both the other newpaper men and the audience waiting to see- can Hildy really let go of  the chase for the best scoop or will the thrill of adventure call her back?

The script was looking better by the minute, but it wasn't just the rewrites that made this a long trip from concept board to silver screen. Cary Grant as the leading man was an almost instantious decision, a seeming perfect fit, but who to act opposite of him? Once the script had been changed to call for a strong woman, they had a hard time finding her! A number of big names- including Ginger Rogers, Kathrine Hepburn, Claudette Colbert and more all turned down the part. Finally Rosalind Russell came onto the project on loan from another studio. Aware she wasn't the first choice, she came to her audition with wet hair, a clear sign she wasn't anymore thrilled to be there than Hawks was to not being getting the actress he wanted. "You don't want me, do you? Well, you're stuck with me, so you might as well make the most of it," she told him during film, and that wasn't all she did on set. Feeling that Walter Burns, Cary Grant's role, got better lines than Hildy Johsnon (her role) did, she hired a writer to punch up her own dialogue. Since Hawks encouraged ad-libbing on-set, only Grant grew wise to this tatic, causing him to greet her each morning with a "What have you got today?" Grant himself did excellent ad-libbing, and had many in-jokes. Referring to Bruce, Hildy's fiance, he ad-libbed "He looks like that fellow in the movies, you know...Ralph Bellamy!" when, of course, that's who Bruce was played by. But he poked fun at himself too.At one point his character talks about the last man, Archie Leach, who ran up against him and the horrible fate he encurred. Archie Leach being Cary Grant's real name.

All in all, while the film might not have been a "revolution" like Hildy's story was going to be, it's worth watching and rewatching for the laughs and smiles it is sure to bring.

PS This film makes a great one to show out of doors.


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