The His and the Girl Friday in His Girl Friday
His Girl Friday (1940) starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell has long held a place on my list of favorite films. For many years I was a slightly obsessed Cary Grant fan, so I watched the movie for his portrayal of newspaper editor Walter Burns. I focused on the His in the movie as a Cary Grant comic masterpiece. The fast-talking, unscrupulous swindler Walter Burns is the perfect vehicle for Cary Grant’s charm. With just a shift of his eyes and the slightest of facial expressions he says so much, without saying a word – and this in a film known for its fast talking dialogue. Cary Grant is truly at his comedic best in this role.
In recent years I have become a true Rosalind Russell fan, so for a showing of His Girl Friday, I focused my attention on the Girl Friday.
This role is a great vehicle for Russell as she plays crack “retired” reporter Hildy Johnson. She’s a conflicted working woman of her times, trying to get out of the journalism game in favor of settling down with a suitable man. But a brief return to the newsroom sparks her curiosity and ignites her love of the action. She simply can’t turn in her typewriter and hang up her career. Indeed, the film centers around her inability to deny the career she loves, and ultimately the man who understands her most.
I’ve written before about Russell’s portrayal of a working woman who uses her wits to get ahead. Here as Hildy she out maneuvers her fellow reporters to get the scoop on a big story. Throughout the film, her character must think on her feet to get the story while keeping two suitors – Grant as her ex-husband Burns and Ralph Bellamy as her fiance Bruce Baldwin – at bay. It’s wits all the way for Russell as she weighs her choices and ultimately realizes she needs to be true to herself.
Ironically, a “girl Friday” is defined as an indispensable female helper, a personal assistant to an executive. In His Girl Friday, Russell is anything but to Grant’s newspaper editor. Yes, she’s indispensable, but she’s also his equal – in ability, skill, intellect, and wit – and his superior as a reporter. Grant’s character needs her, but for so much more than a helper. She’s the yin to his yang, the salt to his pepper – in one of the most charming movie pairings of equals ever in one of the greatest comedies of all time.
Thanks to this marvelous performance by Rosalind Russell, I now love and appreciate the Girl Friday as much as I love the His in this wonderful film.
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