by Allan Fish
(USA 1940 92m) DVD1/2
Take Hitler and stick him on the funny page
p Howard Hawks d Howard Hawks w Charles Lederer play “The Front Page” by Charles MacArthur, Ben Hecht ph Joseph Walker ed Gene Havlick md Morris Stoloff m Sydney Cutner art Lionel Banks cos Robert Kalloch
Rosalind Russell (Hildy Johnson), Cary Grant (Walter Burns), Ralph Bellamy (Bruce Baldwin), Gene Lockhart (Sheriff Hartwell), Porter Hall (Murphy), Cliff Edwards (Endicott), Ernest Truex (Roy Bensinger), Clarence Kolb (Mayor), Roscoe Karns (McCue), Helen Mack (Mollie Malloy), John Qualen (Earl Williams), Abner Biberman (Louie), Frank Jenks (Wilson), Regis Toomey (Sanders), Frank Orth (Duffy), Alma Kruger (Mrs Baldwin), Billy Gilbert (Joe Pettibone), Pat West (Warden Cooley), Edwin Maxwell (Dr Egelhoffer),
“It all happened in the dark ages of the newspaper game – when to a reporter ‘getting that story’ justified anything short of murder.” So saieth the introduction and you’d better believe it, brother. Never in the field of cinematic wordplay have so many words been delivered so brilliantly and so quickly by such an immortal few. His Girl Friday truly is the fastest, wittiest, sassiest and most hilarious comedy of its day, so cynical as to be typed in venomous ink but with just enough heart to touch the soul. This is a film that film buffs eulogise over from morning to night, speaking fifty words to the dozen in respect of their idols. The 1931 straight (if you can call it that) version The Front Page was a fine film in itself, but it pales into near insignificance besides Hawks’ masterpiece. There are too many lines to quote here, partly because they’re spoken so fast. But who the hell cares when delivered by actors such as these.
Hildy Johnson, ex star reporter and wife of Morning Post editor Walter Burns returns to tell her recently divorced ex-husband/boss that she’s leaving the business to get married to a slow-talking dolt in Albany. Burns cannot believe his ears, and tries to get Hildy to change her mind by getting her embroiled in a case involving political corruption and a potentially unjust execution, in an attempt to get her to stay. Oh, and getting her intended up on as many phoney charges as his warped, degenerate mind can conjure up in two hours.
Hawks’ first masterstroke was turning Hildy into a woman, as it adds an altogether different dimension to the proceedings. And not only a woman but a woman of such true Hawksian vigour. Yet like all Hawks dames, she’s truly vulnerable, too. A woman in a man’s world, but just itching to be taken out of it and loved as a woman for a change (“he treats me like a woman” Hildy tells Walter of her intended, to which Walter replies “how did I treat you, like a water buffalo?“). And if Walter isn’t vulnerable in the same way (certainly not as much as those other Grant heroes for Hawks, Geoff Carter and the dithering David Huxley), he’s still not afraid to smile in the face of adversity and self-mocking. Indeed, this is a film packed full of in-jokes and sexual innuendo, from Grant declaring “the last person who said that to me was Archie Leach a week before he shot himself” referring to Grant’s real name to him describing Bruce Baldwin as like “that actor in the movies, Ralph Bellamy.” Hildy loathes and despises what Walter stands for but she’s intoxicated with him. When she says “I wouldn’t cover the burning of Rome for you if they were just lighting it up” she means it, but five minutes later she’d be clinging to the back of a fire engine. At the end of the day, she’s a reporter through and through and we love her for it, much of the credit for which must go to Russell who is simply outstanding as Hildy, matching Grant (sensational as always) quip for quip. And then there’s the rogues gallery of the news room, amongst whom Truex, Edwards and Jenks are superb and skirt looker-upper Karns immortal. Chuck in Bellamy in a definitive role, the incomparable Billy Gilbert, Kolb’s crooked mayor, Orth’s befuddled deputy editor and Qualen’s definitive loser and you have a perfect mixture with which to intoxicate yourself for life. A film to watch, to quote Burns, “any time, any place, any where.” Pure magic.