I had a spare hour and a half (very unlike me, I must say) and decided to watch a movie, but what? I sit for a while and ponder my options, I still have Monsoon Wedding sitting on my shelf, what about my DVD of Kath and Kim? More Arrested Development (on which subject, more in the near future), but finally I decide on my copy of His Girl Friday, because Cary Grant, yes he IS a reason all of himself.
Billed as a screwball comedy, the film stars Cary Grant, as a machiavellian newspaper editor Walter Burns, in whose veins printers ink most probably runs and Rosalind Russell, as his star reporter Hilde Johnson, who is also his ex wife and is just about to marry Bruce, an insurance salesman from Albany.
Hilde comes to see Walter to let him know about her impending marriage to the stolid and reliable Bruce, but Walter seeing his star reporter about to become a wife and mother, starts to scheme and knowing Hilde's curiosity and sheer newspaper acumen, he sets her on the story of Earl Williams, a man on death row, convicted of killing a police officer; whose hanging is being used for political aims by the governor. I thought that the capital punishment storyline was a trifle heavy for a screwball comedy, but I feel that perhaps Howard Hawks had a satirical aim in mind and as it works out, Earl's plight counterpoints the lighter comedic touches and although Earl is a pitiful man, you never feel that he is the joke. The joke is the lengths that newspapers and newspaper men will go to get a story and then how the telling of that story changes upon how it is told.
Hilde is dispatched to the jail to get an interview with Earl Williams in an effort to sway the public opinion of him as a cop killer and get his reprieve. Hilde talks to Earl, realises that he probably is a few crumbs short of being the full cookie and starts to write her story in the press room, where all the other assorted newspaper men are assembled.
The camaraderie of the reporters is evident as they joke and insult one another, smoke incessantly and wait for the next big development, when they will each grab a phone and attempt to scoop the others. They wouldn't only stab their granny in the back for the best story, they would bludgeon her into a pulp and then take pictures! The idea that they are hard hearted son's of bitches is easily developed, but these guys, despite their gruff, hard boiled and tough exteriors, do have a heart, as you see in a superb scene, where Earl Williams sweetheart Molly Molloy arrives to give the assembled press a piece of her mind for sensationalising her innocent relationship with Earl.
When she leaves tearfully, after not a few insensitive jibes about Earl hanging in the morning ("They're fixin' up a pain in the neck for your boyfriend."), they sit and stand awkwardly, chagrined by Molly and her words. A shot with no mawkish music or cuts, just the long shot silence of six rather shamed men.
Suddenly the silence of the press room (where incidentally most of the movie takes place), is shattered by sirens and gunfire. The reporters rush to the window, where they find out that Earl Williams has escaped.
They rush from the room leaving Hilde alone, when Earl Williams far from having escaped from prison, climbs into the room and threatens her with gun, he discharges the bullets into the wall and the empty gun is taken from him. Hilde calls over Walter to take charge of Earl, in the meanwhile stashing him in a conveniently placed rolltop desk.
Hilde has since gotten a phone call, telling her that Bruce, her fiance, has been arrested for the third time this evening, for the heinous crime of "mashing". As this involves a nubile blonde, set on the stolid Bruce by the scheming Walter, I dread to think, what that is slang for.
Hilde is keen to get away, but has to keep anyone from discovering Earl in the desk, so she waits for Walter, who when he arrives, manipulates her into writing the story of Earl's "rescue" by his newspaper "The Morning Post".
As she does this, Bruce arrives, having bailed himself out of jail, and exhorts Hilde to come away with him on the train, well they are getting married tomorrow. Hilde ignores him in her enthusiasm to get her article finished, and Bruce slinks away to catch the train and leaves Hilde to carry on being a "newspaper man".
Meanwhile Earl's reprieve arrives with a rotund messenger, who we did meet earlier in the film, we knew Earl was going to be reprieved which left us able to laugh at the jokes.
Earl is discovered in the desk and taken back to prison, but not his death, the story is filed, by telephone and Hilde and Walter decide to marry again. But Walter still doesn't carry Hilde's case, the gentleman!
The film is chock full of funny lines and situations, my above precis does not do the film justice. The film belongs to Rosalind Russell, who would be a modern woman in any age. Feisty, go-getting, ambitious and intelligent, she's is everything that a woman ought to be in movie, she strikes a far more feminist note than many modern day film heroines. O.K she does have a brief hankering for a quieter life full of domesticity and babies, but Walter wears her down.
Cary Grant is his usual charming and gorgeous self and although Rosalind Russell gets the lions share of the movie, Grant pretty much steals the scenes that he's in. He gets many of the best lines, for example, when dispatching the girl to enable Bruce to be accused of mashing, he tells the blonde that he looks like the movie star, Ralph Bellamy. Bruce of course is played by the hunky Ralph Bellamy himself.
Ralph Bellamy does have a pretty thankless role, as all he has to do is be the cuckold to Grant's schemer, but he does his job well and you feel for the poor man, as Walter plans his downfall and Hilde's eventual return to him.
Walter also avers that he was the last one who spoke to Archie Leach before he slit is own throat. Archie Leach is of course, Grant's real name. A real belly laugh is evoked when Bruce shows $450 to Hilde (that was given to him by Walter and is counterfeit) and Walter grabs it, takes a good look and gives it back, saying that he only wanted to have a look, thank you very much.
A great film to watch, I'd recommend that you look it out, if you get the chance!