His Girl Friday (1940)

March 5, 2010

You’re wonderful, in a loathsome sort of way.

Our second Cary Grant film, this Howard Hawks-directed comedy from 1940 sees him starring as the cynical and manipulative newspaper editor Walter Burns opposite Rosalind Russell as Hildy Johnson, ex-reporter and ex-wife. Hildy brings her new fiancee to the newspaper, to show him off and to say goodbye to Walter… who has other plans.

We watched a fairly poor transfer of this film to DVD, which could have done with the soundtrack cleaning up and rendered some of the dialogue a little indecipherable. Which is a pity, as it’s largely great. Genuinely funny, in both smart and silly ways, and with a great swagger and amazing pace, it’s a joy to watch. Rosalind Russell is particularly marvellous, lighting up the screen every time she’s on it – she’s both gorgeous and brilliant, her lines fired perfectly, her transitions believable. Grant too is great, if occasionally mugging for the camera, and one can’t help feel sorry for poor Bruce (Ralph Bellamy), who not only gets trampled and torn in Burns’ schemes, but he also gets compared to some no-good Hollywood actor, Ralph Bellamy.

One thing that isn’t quite so hot is the racism. The plot turns around a man (Earl Williams, played by John Qualen) who’s been sentenced to hang for killing a policeman. The corrupt mayor is particularly keen to see him hang, as the policeman was black and “the coloured vote is critical” in the upcoming election. I still can’t quite work out what those bits (there are basically two of them) are doing there – they seem too crafted to have just been thoughtless racism, but not obviously satirical.

That aside, this film is a joy.

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