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Classic movie review: 'His Girl Friday' (1940)2

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His Girl Friday

Rating:
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Walter Burns (Cary Grant) is a calculating, conniving, fast-talking editor who will do anything to keep his star reporter from leaving his newspaper. Now, it just so happens his star reporter is also his ex-wife, Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell), and when he learns she is going to quit the paper to marry dull, reliable, doe-eyed Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy), Walter's machinations go into overdrive. He convinces her to stay in town long enough to write one last story and he contrives every plot short of murder (which is not to say he isn't above it) to separate Hildy from her fiancé. He's even cocky enough to announce to his assistant that Hildy is returning to the paper--she just doesn't know it yet.

Two speeds: fast and faster
His Girl Friday is a fast and funny movie that hits the ground running and zips along its furious pace to the very end. At the outset the hubbub and ceaseless activity in the newsroom convey the restless tempo of a reporter's life.
When Hildy and Walter meet in his office their banter slingshots from playful to angry to flirtatious and back again, all in a very short span. Their lines constantly overlap one another as each tries to top the other. In the courthouse press room, when the story they're covering suddenly breaks, the rapid cutting between the reporters and the various angles at which they are shot continue to convey the breakneck pace.

Tight script
Most important is Charles Lederer's tight screenplay (based on the play "The Front Page" by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur). Just when it looks as if things are about to settle for Hildy, she will get another phone call from her poor fiancé about yet another jam he is in, thanks to Walter's scheming. The story never stops moving.
Finally, there are the performances of Grant and Russell. Each is responding to and playing off of the other like partners in a high wire act. The rapid-fire delivery of their lines is right on the money.

His Girl Friday airs this Saturday on Turner Classic Movies. It will be presented on the "Essentials" program, with hosts Robert Osborne and Drew Barrymore.

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