The Criterion Collection add the Hollywood comedy classic His Girl Friday to their UK catalogue. Not content with merely upgrading this old favourite for Blu-Ray, they’ve included the first film version of the play on which it was based, The Front Page, which was produced by Howard Hughes. I’ve included reviews of both films below.
I’m going to review the films in reverse chronological order as this is the order in which I watched them and, let’s be honest, His Girl Friday is the film most people will be buying the Blu-Ray for. The Front Page is even classed as a special feature on the box, which is quite surprising – it could have easily been marketed as a box-set as the older film deserves your full attention.
His Girl Friday
Director: Howard Hawks
Screenplay: Charles Lederer
Based on a Play by: Ben Hecht, Charles MacArthur
Starring: Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Bellamy
Running Time: 92 min
BBFC Certificate: U (although the disc is rated 12)
We like to moan about remakes these days amidst nostalgia-tinted exclamations that “they don’t make them like they used to”, but the Hollywood system was even more rigid and dominating back in the ‘good old days’ than it is now. There were plenty of remakes, sequels, knock-offs and cash-ins in the golden age (roughly 1930-59). It’s just that we only remember the good (or at least most popular) films several decades on. That’s not to say none of the remakes or sequels were any good though. A number of films now regarded as classics were remakes. Ben Hur had already been made in the 20’s before the hugely successful 1959 version came out for instance. Alfred Hitchock even remade one of his own films when he chose to update The Man Who Knew Too Much in Hollywood in 1956, using his British 1934 film of the same name as a template (which is the better version is up for debate on this though). One classic I didn’t realise was a remake until recently is His Girl Friday. Long considered one of the greatest Hollywood comedies of the era, it was based on a popular Broadway play that had already been produced by Howard Hughes almost 10 years previously as The Front Page (which was also the title of the play). The original story and most of the dialogue was kept in tact, but the most notable difference was that Howard Hawks’ 1940 version swapped the gender of the film’s protagonist.
So the male lead Hildebrand ‘Hildy’ Johnson from The Front Page became the female Hildegaard ‘Hildy’ Johnson (Rosalind Russell) in His Girl Friday. The film sees her come back to the newspaper office where she used to work as a reporter to tell her boss and former husband Walter Burns (Cary Grant) that’s she’s leaving town to get married to her fiancée Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy – the gender of this role was reversed too of course – the early 30’s weren’t ready for same-sex marriage stories yet) and won’t be returning. Burns wants her back professionally and personally though, so schemes to give her a taste of a hot story breaking in town. Initially refusing, Hildy can’t resist after a while and gets drawn deeper into the political mess surrounding the proposed hanging of a supposed ‘commie’ who shot a police officer. She desperately tries to get the story tied up before her train is due to take her, her fiancée and mother-in-law to a new life, but juicy nuggets keep dropping in her lap and Burns tries every trick in the book to keep her hooked.