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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
His Girl Friday (1940)

"I wouldn't cover the burning of Rome for you if they were just lighting it up."
- Hildy (Rosalind Russell)

Review By: Dan Heaton   
Published: December 17, 2000

Stars: Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell
Other Stars: Ralph Bellamy, Gene Lockhart, Helen Mack
Director: Howard Hawks

Manufacturer: DVSS
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (suitable for all audiences)
Run Time: 01h:31m:22s
Release Date: November 21, 2000
UPC: 043396267091
Genre: comedy


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A AB+B+ A-

DVD Review

Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) strolls down the hallways of the hectic newsroom with complete confidence and comfort. She is the epitome of the "newspaperman" and speaks at a rapid pace without pausing to take a breath. Yet Hildy is quitting this life to become a domesticated woman with Bruce (Ralph Bellamy), a stiff insurance agent. Can she escape this frenetic life and be happy? Not if her ex-husband and editor Walter Burns (Cary Grant) has anything to say about it.

Howard Hawks' His Girl Friday crackles with stinging dialogue and wonderful one-liners. In this newspaper world, everyone thinks fast and talks even faster, and the result is an energetic and hilarious film. Based on the classic play The Front Page by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, the story showcases the exciting and often untruthful life of journalists in the 1920s. It also explores the corruption of local government through the imminent execution of Earl Williams, a convicted murderer. In the original play, the Hildy Johnson character was a male, and the story focused solely on Walter's occupational need for him. By converting Hildy to a female for this film, screenwriter Charles Lederer introduces extra dimensions to the story that allow for even better confrontations between the two leads.

Rosalind Russell wonderfully immerses herself into the Hildy character and creates a three-dimensional woman with determination and wittiness. She dominates the screen in most of her scenes, and stands up well with Cary Grant, an imposing presence, also in top form. Her juggling of varied phone conversations remarkably presents her ability to change her tone within a single moment: Russell switches effortlessly from dealing quietly with her lap-dog fiancée to arguing vehemently with her former husband. Although Grant is the biggest star, Hildy is the central character in the story. The primary conflict exists in her mind, and Russell shines throughout the film.

His Girl Friday features a wonderful supporting cast of character actors who add life and quirkiness to the story. My personal favorite is Billy Gilbert's Joe Pettibone, a jovial government messenger who saves the day. Gene Lockhart plays crooked Sheriff Hartwell—an imbecile who just can't seem to do anything right. It's enjoyable to watch this little man trying to act important and assert his authority with Walter Burns. Also, the entire group of fast-talking newspaper writers perfectly depict the inventive nature of the press at the time. The precise choreography necessary in their frenetic telephone scenes is priceless.

Howard Hawks is one of the premier American film directors and deserves to rank on the level of John Ford and Alfred Hitchcock. While his work may not contain the flashiness of others, it showcases his versatility and ability to draw top-notch performances from actors. Although Ethan in Ford's The Searchers is often regarded as John Wayne's most complex performance, his morose Tom Dunson in Hawks' Red River stands as his best role. Hawks allowed the actors surprising levity with their performances, which elevated His Girl Friday to another level. The improvised lines are some of the best in the film, and increase the chaotic nature of the story.



Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Columbia Classics has done a wonderful job restoring His Girl Friday from the original negative. While it contains the obvious levels of grain and dirt that come with age, the picture is clear and bright. Images are well defined within the 1:33.1 transfer, and it looks far superior to VHS versions of films from this time period. The D3K version (released in 1999) of this DVD received a significant amount of criticism from fans for the shabby transfer. Those problems don't exist on this release, however, and it heightens the enjoyment of this comedy.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Spanishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Due to the age of this film, the audio is available only in a mono version. However, this transfer contains a surprising level of clarity, which is especially important during the lengthy dialogue scenes. This is a fairly quiet audio track, but it succeeds because the story is composed almost entirely of fast, journalistic speech. It would be especially difficult to understand Hildy's fast-talking manner without a high-quality transfer. Within the limits of the sound field, it works well and carries the story nicely.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, and Thai with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Born Yesterday, It Happened One Night, and Pal Joey
4 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by film critic and actor Todd McCarthy
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Vintage film posters
Extras Review: It's refreshing to see classic film like His Girl Friday receive a nice selection of extra features. The highlight is an impressive audio commentary by Todd McCarthy, film critic and author of Howard Hawks: The Grey Fox of Hollywood. He provides plenty of background information on the film, especially concerning Hawks and his relationships with the actors. One interesting note was the lack of sentimentality in Hawks' pictures, which leads to their timeless quality. This is especially evident in Scarface, one of the classic gangster films. McCarthy is a virtual encyclopedia of knowledge on Hawks, and it's unfortunate that he doesn't say more in the commentary. He disappears for several lengthy sequences, especially in the final act. Nevertheless, this is an insightful commentary, and it is extremely helpful for viewers with little knowledge of Hawks and classic cinema. Audio tracks by experts are often more interesting than director and actor commentaries, and hopefully they will be included on DVDs more often in the future.

This disc also contains four brief but informative featurettes on Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, Hawks, and the origins of the story. Cary Grant: Making Headlines spans five minutes and covers his basic life story through the use of film scenes and old video footage. It's amazing that Grant only received two Oscar nominations in 72 films and never won the prize. Rosalind Russell: The Inside Scoop takes a three-minute look at this talented actress who is virtually unknown to recent generations. It's surprising that she was not one of the top choices for the role, and only received it when numerous actresses turned it down. Both of these featurettes are fairly glossy, but do provide some interesting background on the actors. In Howard Hawks: Reporters Notebook, McCarthy provides some brief comments for several minutes on the talented director. Hawks mastered every genre, including westerns (Red River), crime (Scarface), and comedy (Bringing Up Baby), and had an excellent connection with actors. Finally, The Funny Pages covers three minutes and gives a short overview of the production and staff of the film.

The theatrical trailer for His Girl Friday is very long, and shows almost every essential scene in the story. This style of marketing continues to baffle me in today's movie world. Previews for Born Yesterday, It Happened One Night, and Pal Joey also exist on this disc. Frank Sinatra narrates the Pal Joey trailer, an exhaustive nearly five-minute look that won't have me running to see it. The trailers all look excellent, with the exception of It Happened One Night, which resembles a poor VHS transfer.

It's interesting to note the seven subtitle tracks on this disc, including Portuguese, Korean, and Thai. This is by far the largest amount I've ever seen on any DVD.

Extras Grade: A-

 

Final Comments

His Girl Friday stands as a comedic masterpiece with its magnificent fast-paced dialogue and superb direction by Howard Hawks. It takes repeated viewings to catch all of the hilarious lines and subtle touches. Columbia Classics has added some nice extras to this release - a film that definitely deserves a place in everyone's DVD library.

 


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