Around 9pm last night, a case of the Insomnias caught me totally unaware, although not entirely unprepared. I put on the 1940 flick “His Girl Friday” and pick up my latest crochet project under a cozy blanket in my favorite chair. In other news, I like to practice being 80.
If you don’t want any spoilers, quit reading now. No, right now. Seriously. The plot is in the next paragraph. Don’t scroll down! Can you even have spoilers for a movie that was released 75 years ago? Anyway, you were warned.
So Walter Burns (played by Cary Grant) and Hildy Johnson (played by Rosalind Russell) used to be married, but she divorced him because, apparently, he was more interested in his career as a newspaper editor than he was in being a husband or father. While I would say, “Good onya, Hildy!” she had to have known her dear Walter was a workaholic, cut-throat, manipulative guy to begin with because she worked for him (that’s how the met) and something about a tiger and stripes. Speaking of stripes, check out that ensemble she’s wearing!
After the marriage ended, Hildy quit her job working for Walter, even though she was the top-notch reporter, and the movie begins with her coming back into the office to tell Walter she’s getting married to a calm, predictable insurance salesman named Bruce because he treats her “like a woman.” Why she felt the need to tell her ex-husband that, I don’t know, but she did. The problem is Walter still wants to be with Hildy, and I don’t think it’s because he loves her or anything, but because he isn’t used to being told “No”.
Walter then goes on an absolutely ridiculous spree of lies, cheats, set-ups, and manipulations to keep Hildy from getting on the train to Albany with Bruce. I mean, I know it’s supposed to be a comedy, but this is psychotic stuff: setting Bruce up to look like he’s accepting a hooker’s (Marion Martin, below) proposition in front of a bunch of cops, stealing Bruce’s wallet, providing Bruce with counterfeit money, kidnapping Bruce’s mother, and hiding an escaped convict.
Hildy isn’t much better, though. While she tries to protect Bruce from Walter’s shenanigans (because she knows them all too well), she does take part in hiding the escaped convict, but not because she wants the exclusive interview; I really believe she felt the man was innocent and wanted to help him get away from his troubles. That, ladies and gents, is a whole ‘nother can of worms on the Character Flaw Aisle.
In the end, Bruce manipulates Hildy into staying on the job and reporting while Bruce gives up trying to regain the attentions of his fiancee, but Hildy once again picks up on his schemes only to be duped again. But was she duped or did she decide to stay with Walter? It turns out Miss Hildy Johnson is just as addicted to fame, fortune, manipulation, and drama as her darling Walter. That’s right: Hildy and Walter get back together and poor Bruce gets the short end of the stick.
As you can ascertain, I did not like this movie. And that’s a big deal. I love old movies. I love Cary Grant (Arsenic and Old Lace! Madame Butterfly!). I love Rosalind Russell (The Trouble with Angels is a darling movie, Gypsy, Auntie Mame…) Perhaps that’s why I’m so perturbed by “His Girl Friday”. For a comedy, I didn’t laugh once, but I did give half a chuckle.
There were a few moments with Hildy where she showed some depth of character, mostly when she was talking to the convict, but the rest of the time the characters were so shallow, so ethically outrageous, it really made me question whether this was 1940 or 2015. That’s why I love old movies – they’re so much more than sex, violence, and CGI (computer-generated imagery). The humor was less shock and more wit. I’m not saying that all movies made today are awful or that everything made between 1920 and 1960 was amazing, but something about the films of yesteryear just make me happy.
So there you have it: His Girl Friday got 2 out of 5 Ashley-approved stars. One star because of the stars who were in it, and one star for my resolve to sit through it.