By Rosalie Tirella
Walter: “Is he as good as people say?”
Hildy: “He’s better!”
Walter: “Then what does he want with you?”
And so begins the classic Cary Grant/Rosalind Russell/Ralph Bellamy screwball comedy, HIS GIRL FRIDAY. Walter Burns (Cary Grant) is editor of a big NYC daily. He’s losing his star reporter and ex-wife Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) – whom he still loves – to Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy), a sweet but drippy insurance salesman from Albany. You already know how this terrific flick is gonna end, who wins Hildy … but it’s a great yarn anyways, unfolding in a newsroom when newsrooms RULED. 1930s America. Yellow journalism. Crusading journalism. Unions. Communists. Unsanitary meat packing plants, the Great Depression. FDR. A time when American reporters were considered working class stiffs: hardboiled and street smart, social outcasts, small town mama’s boys. “What’s the story?” Walter barks at Hildy during a time when reporters had more in common with the milkman than the college educated or the politicians they chased down. America hung on every word of Lippmann and other star scribes. The newsroom was a white man’s world, too – this movie is a remake of THE FRONT PAGE, an excellent film made years earlier and starring Pat O’Brian as the reporter trying to escape his too demanding editor/job.
The jaunty way Grant wears his hat, the wonderful Underwood typewriters – no back spacing and deleting. Great writers just banged it all out first draft. Rewrite men. Reporters covered the story and called in their notes to the real writers … Hildy is a great reporter AND Walter’s best writer.
Which is another reason why Walter can’t let his beautiful ex-wife go. Which is another reason why Hildy is running away from him- into the arms of a man totally “beneath” her. Hildy’s way too smart, fast, funny and jaded for the nice, naive Bruce. Hildy is a female Walter Burns!
Still, Hildy and Bruce are getting married tomorrow; Hildy visits the newsroom one last time to say good bye to Walter and to beg him to let go: “STOP CALLING ME 10 TIMES A DAY!” she shouts over Walter’s rants, who shouts over hers. She begs him: Don’t hire another airplane to write in the sky: “HILDY,
DON’T BE HASTY! REMEMBER MY DIMPLE! Walter!”
Walter is an unstoppable locomotive … so when an alleged murderer escapes jail and is loose on the streets of their city, and election time is right around the corner, and the mayor is corrupt and the cops can be bought and the judge is a patsy … well, this is a story – the scoop – of a lifetime!
As the sweet Bruce and his dyspeptic mother are hoodwinked by Hildy and Walter – who “pays” Hildy by buying a huge life insurance policy from Bruce and making Hildy the sole beneficiary – Walter and Hildy fall deeper and deeper into the story…and love. The killer – wimpy Earl Williams – ends up in the city room hiding under a roll top desk, and his gal pal Molly Molloy leaps out of a window. Bruce ends up in jail after a friendly hooker pal of Walter’s seduces him … Bruce’s mother faints and is carried out of the newsroom by a good fella … Mayhem rules … All the better for the story. The story is everything.
I love this movie. It is glamorous but rough and true to city room rhythms: Cary Grant asks Rosalind Russell to read him her lead. The paper is first mentioned in paragraph 2 of her story. Walter scolds his pretty protégé. THE PAPER SHOULD BE IN THE FIRST GRAPH! What was she thinking?!
The old phones. The big manual typewriters. The roll top desks. The notepads. The lame jokes. Smoking in the newsroom. Drinks at lunch. The
competition. The wonderment at scintillating writing, raw talent …the adrenaline rush that comes with reporting a great story under deadline… newsroom fireworks, CARY GRANT!!! How can Hildy ever leave all this crazy magic to marry an insurance salesman from Albany?
Grant hovers over, almost pushes and pursues Russell in his newsroom, his kingdom. STAY FOR THE STORY!he yells to Hildy. What he means is: STAY FOR ME.
They kiss just once. Walter pretends to want to send Hildy to Albany with Bruce. She cries over the fact. I THOUGHT YOU DIDN’T LOVE ME! Hildy says.
DON’T BE A CHUMP! Walter says.
True love in a true newsroom.