Thursday, May 30, 2013


The following post is an entry to the Howard Hawks Blogathon, hosted by twitter pal and movie blogging wonder Ratnakar Sadasyula aka @ScorpiusMaximus of the site. No matter what your favorite film genre is, Howard Hawks aims to please. Director/Producer/Screenwriter Hawks covered a multitude of film genres with stunning success. From westerns, action thrillers, crime dramas, screwball comedies and even a musical, he made over 45 films from 1926 to 1970. While his work was obviously prolific, it was the outstanding quality of his work that is most memorable. One in particular stands out for me... Howard Hawks' HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940).

From the very beginning of this film, HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940) sets a tone of fast-paced dialogue and non-stop screwball hilarity. We are introduced to our main characters- newspaper editor, Walter Burns (portrayed dashingly by my all-time favorite leading man, Cary Grant) and his ex-wife and former top newshound, Hildy Johnson (portrayed brilliantly by leading lady Rosalind Russell.) The fun begins when Hildy shows up at Walter's office to inform him of her new engagement to Bruce Baldwin (portrayed perfectly by Ralph Bellamy.) The banter between Hildy and Walter is so rapid-fire and razor sharp that you almost miss some lines, if you don't pay close attention because of laughing between zingers. 

It's also in this early scene where we see the heated dynamics of this relationship ignite. Walter shows off his energetic charm and wit while pitching verbal lobs with Hildy. And Hildy doesn't miss a beat, keeping pace with Walter with every clever quip, "Walter, you're wonderful. In a loathsome sort of way." After repeated attempts, Hildy finally grabs his attention by showing her engagement ring and you see him pause pensively for the first time. You can practically see the wheels turning in his head as he ponders his next move. He knows he must entrap Hildy long enough that she can smell the intoxicating scent of reporting... so she'll be back in his life again.   

After Walter cons his way into joining Hildy and Bruce for lunch, it's obvious that Hildy and Walter are cut from the exact same cloth and it's Bruce that sticks out in the threesome as the odd man out. But Hildy will be difficult to sway as she explains her desire for a simpler life. A life that a simple man like Bruce assuredly will bring with all the 'comforts of traditional gender roles'. Or so she tries to convince herself. 

From here, the roller coaster ride speeds along. Walter hooks her into staying longer by giving her the scoop on an exciting story of a feeble man wanted for murder and facing the death penalty. She agrees to cover the story with an edgy angle that only Hildy can pen; but only if Walter keeps his word to buy a big life insurance policy from her fiance. (Yes, OF COURSE Bruce is an insurance salesman.) Meanwhile, Walter works every corner with every trick up his sleeve to ensure Hildy sticks around. Once she gets back into the non-stop pace of the wise-cracking and hard-nosed press room, she absolutely shines as 'just one of the boys', but SO much better. 

There are endless reasons why I adore HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940). From a visual perspective, the fashions on Russell and Grant are impeccable and the cinematic style is beautifully film noir wrapped up in a screwball comedy- marking a transition into the early 40's. Every role is matched perfectly by outstanding performances- from Cary Grant to Rosalind Russell to Ralph Bellamy and every character actor. But the chemistry between Grant and Russell is unparalleled. The snappy dialogue is delivered at a pace that became legendary. 

But what I really love is the example Rosalind Russell's character as Hildy set for women, especially in 1940. Hildy showed that women can be as feminine as they are talented, tough, sharp and bright... and on equal footing as a man. She also shared the journey of a female torn between 2 choices- taking a traditional gender role with society pressure or ultimately choosing the best role for her, a career woman able to display all of her talents as a reporter in a man's world. Highly progressive and feminist for 73 years ago. Kudos to Howard Hawks for pulling together a perfect gem of a film. Happy 117th birthday, Mr. Hawks.