His Girl Friday Review
The screwball comedy is a genre you don't really see anymore; the fast-paced dialogue and almost farcical situations seem to have disappeared from our screens. Though modern films can be seen to revive certain aspects of the genre, they can't really capture what made the standout films of the genre so great. None can match the sheer speed and energy of films like, It Happened One Night, Bringing Up Baby and, perhaps the fastest of them all and the subject of this review, His Girl Friday. Criterion has released Howard Hawks’ 1940 classic battle of the sexes on Blu-ray, chock full of extras that expand upon the history of this indomitable whirlwind of cinematic history.
His Girl Friday, follows the struggle between Hildegard "Hildy" Johnson (Rosalind Russell) and Walter Burns (Cary Grant) both ex-reporter and editor as well as ex-husband and wife. This two squabble and feud while the scoop of the century unfolds in front of them, causing chaos not only for themselves but also for those around them, like Hildy's new fiancé Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy), other journalists, the city mayor, and the chief of police.
There is really very little to say about the quality of the film that has not already been mentioned. His Girl Friday is a masterclass in visual and film comedy, an effortless (some may say) masterpiece made by people at the top of their game. Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell's chemistry is mesmerising and entertaining, they provide some of the best lines in cinematic history at one hundred miles an hour without breaking a sweat. Each secondary cast member is still able to hold their own through their memorable performances. Joseph Walker and Gene Havlick, the film's cinematographer and editor respectively have an unobtrusive style that allows the actors time to breathe, while also creatively constructing perhaps one of the most unforgettable and hilarious montages in cinematic history. And at the helm of all this chaos stands Howard Hawks who proves that he deserves to be part of the classical cinematic pantheon. While there is a slight story beat right at the end of the film that I don't really agree with I understand that it might have been a studio mandated amendment and is purely a product of the time. If you haven't gathered, His Girl Friday is a fantastic film that anyone who considers themselves a movie buff needs to see, at least, if not own this essential collection.
This two-disc collection is presented in the standard Criterion fashion with menus that are easy to navigate and helpful descriptions to allow you to select the title you want to watch next. The subtitles are clear though may be a little fast, due to the speed in which lines are read. To be honest, you can't really go wrong with a Criterion Blu-ray, so regarding basic mechanics and user friendliness, this brand always comes top of the class.
Presented in High Definition the black and white cinematography sings. Similarly but perhaps, more importantly, the audio is an uncompressed mono-aural soundtrack. I say that sound is more important because His Girl Friday is a comedy of words, and if the audio of the film is not clear you lose half of the film's charm. Thankfully Criterion has presented a crystal clear audio track that presents every word with clarity.
What makes this release interesting is that it is not just His Girl Friday that is contained in the packaging, rather Criterion have bundled His Girl Friday with Howard Hughes’ and Lewis Milestone’s 1931 film The Front Page. The story of these two films, as the extras on both discs go on to elucidate, is intrinsically linked. Both are adaptations of the Broadway play of the same name written by Ben Hecht, and all the extras on the discs play on that fact delving into the history of the film, the play, Hawks, Hughes and Hecht.
Though technically not an extra but an entire film in itself, The Front Page is essentially the same movie, but instead of a woman at the forefront, Pat O'Brien plays a reporter trying to get married to Peggy Grant. TFP acts more as an almost direct adaptation of Ben Hecht's play, taking place predominantly in the press room at the courthouse. Although, not a perfect restoration there are little continuity errors and jump cuts, it is clear that those in charge of the process took great pains to present a great looking version of a film that provides another perspective on the story presented in His Girl Friday. Similarly, the film is not as fast-paced as its 1940 release, but it is still important to show the nature of adaptation and how film and stories changed over a brief period of time.
Radio Adaptation of His Girl Friday (1940) and The Front Page (1937 and 1946)
These radio adaptations, like the inclusion of the film The Front Page, provide an insight into the nature of adaptation and the changing narrative systems that governed them. Though they are definitely important to the disc and to placing HGF into its proper historical context, it is a little odd to have a purely audio radio play on a Blu-ray disc.
Interview With David Bordwell
David Bordwell is a major figure in film studies, and here he provides an excellent lecture explaining the mechanics of His Girl Friday, the classical Hollywood Style and Hawks as an auteur. Though only twenty minutes, Bordwell covers a variety of topics in an easy to digest and informative way for those who wish to enhance their viewing of the film through the eyes of an auteur film critic and classical Hollywood historian.
The Restoration of The Front Page
Another important extra for amateur film historians, this detailed documentary goes through the process of restoring and digitising classic films ready for Blu-Ray distribution. As someone who has never really thought about the process, it was fascinating seeing the different techniques used to restore the movie as well as the multitude of challenges that a restorer must overcome in order to bring our favourite classic films back from the brink of extinction.
Archival Interviews with Howard Hawks
These short interviews with the director behind a vast library of classical films goes someway to show the way that this great artist saw himself, as well as how he was viewed at the time. He provides some critical insight into the way he worked and how he made films and is vital to gain a full picture of the man and the auteur, Howard Hawks.
About Ben Hecht the playwright and screenwriter
Although his name might not be as well known as Howard Hawks, Hughes or Cary Grant, this short piece goes some way to see how truly influential Ben Hecht was within Hollywood.
Featurettes from 1999 about Hawks, actor Rosalind Russell, and the making of His Girl Friday
While these three separate featurettes are a little repetitive, these slightly puffy and short glimpses into the world introduce Rosalind Russell and Howard Hawks and present them as perhaps some of the the most well-respected film personalities of all time.
His Girl Friday Trailers