Film Review – His Girl Friday

His Girl Friday has aged poorly.

Let’s start off with the fundamental premise – Newspaperman Walter Burns (Cary Grant) has divorced from his reporter wife Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) at some point prior to the beginning of the film. She’s stopped by the newspaper to announce that she’s remarrying, to insurance salesman Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy), and is going to leave reporting – having been burned out by the cynicism. However, this happens on the eve of the execution of a man named Earl Williams (John Qualen) for murder.

Burns cajoles Johnson into covering one last story, the execution, on the premise that there’s a shadow of doubt that Williams did it, but really because he’s trying to break up the marriage. Over the course of the film, Burns manages to successfully break up the marriage and get Johnson to come back together with him, along with saving Williams from the gallows.

Except here’s where the film has aged poorly. I have no problems with the plot focusing on Johnson rediscovering through covering this story why she became a reporter in the first place, and choosing to stay with the job. I even don’t have a problem with the marriage breaking up over this. I have a problem with Burns and Johnson getting back together.

I mean, the cast has chemistry, primarily through the witty banter. However, I never really felt that Burns and Johnson were ever really in love. I could see them as co-workers with the same level of rapport that Johnson has with the other reporters we see through the film. But I don’t see them going further than that. They’re married to their work (something that is even called out in the dialog – Burns bailed on the honeymoon to cover a mine collapse). Getting them back together in a marriage at the end of the film doesn’t work.

Just to add an additional side of “not helping”, there’s the matter of the level of bloody-minded (somewhat literally) cynicism the other reporters have. In one scene in the film, the reporters sent to cover the hanging whine to the governor that the hanging is going to be after the deadline for the morning edition, and why couldn’t he kill the guy earlier. The line left me wondering why the hell would Johnson ever want to back and work with these cold-hearted bastards.

To the film’s credit, the performances are natural, the dialog has an incredibly brisk pace, and the film uses overlapping dialog at a time when that would have been a royal pain in the ass to pull off, and I definitely felt invested in the “B” plot of proving Williams’ innocence. However, much of the rest of the film’s story didn’t work for me, which makes it hard for me to recommend the film.

Should you choose to pick it up, it’s available on Amazon Prime, and in a Blu-Ray release from the Criterion Collection.