Movie Monday: His Girl Friday

First of all, if you’d like to join me in watching classic romantic comedies, you’ll find everything you need to know here. It’s not too late.

Second of all, what’s going on with the poster? Rosalind Russell does not appear in an evening gown at any point during the movie (also? that looks nothing like her). And the tagline: She learned about men from him! Well, yeah, maybe she did, but that’s got nothing to do with the movie either. Even the title has nothing to do with the movie.

That aside, I love this one. I saw it a few years ago and loved it and I think I might’ve loved it even more this time. It’s got the fabulous chemistry and dialogue of Bringing Up Baby, but the plot isn’t stupid and Cary Grant is perfectly cast and very sexy.

Having said that… I wouldn’t call it a romance. Yes, Cary Grant’s Walter and Rosalind Russell’s Hildy are in love, but they’re in love at the beginning, the middle and the end. I wanted them to end up together, because I thought they were perfect for one another, but I felt that they knew that too. Nothing really changes in their relationship. She divorced him because he was obsessed with the job and during the course of the film she realises she’s obsessed with the job too. It’s really not about her relationship with Walter at all.

In fact the best thing about this film for me is how positive it is about Hildy’s career. She’s adores her work and even though in the beginning she claims to want to give it up and live a normal life, you know full well she’s not going to. Again, a much more positive role than you’d get in a most mainstream films these days – she realises that she doesn’t want to be a housewife in the suburbs and raise babies, she’ll be much happier doing her job. Can you imagine? And, as with Garbo’s character in Ninotchka, the men Hildy works with respect her. They don’t make sexist remarks, they don’t patronise her, they don’t try to get off with her. It’ll be interesting as we work through the list to see when women’s roles changed.

This was the first movie so far to make me laugh out loud. I loved the sight gag when Cary Grant lifts Louis up to show him what Bruce looks like and there were so many cute one-liners. But for a comedy, the plot is surprisingly serious.

I loved it, but it’s just **** from me, cos I don’t believe it’s really a romance. What do you think?

Next week: The Philadelphia Story

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9 thoughts on “Movie Monday: His Girl Friday

  1. I love this one too, it was just on our local PBS station a week or so ago. But I also have never thought of it as a romance, I’ve always classified it as comedy!

  2. OK it’s ages since I’ve seen this, but from what I remember, I loved their chemistry (and I’m always interested in films set in newspaper offices, media geek that I am) but I felt it went on a bit (and cos I’d seen that Burt Reynolds remake, I knew what was going to happen, I’m sure it would have been better if I hadn’t).

    One thing about women’s roles — yes, in these movies women were respected, but I’d argue it’s in a bit of a patronising way — like, these working women are novelties, so we’ll humour them, kind of thing. The title “His Girl Friday” makes out that Russell is Grant’s sidekick, not an equal. And she still has to choose between a career and a “normal life”, i.e. children (there would be no question of both back then).

    If you watch Woman of the Year, which is also about a couple of journos, you can see the gender stereotyping is even worse, with the enforcement of the idea that Katherine Hepburn shouldn’t get too big for her boots and be more successful than Spencer Tracy — otherwise he’ll dump her. No, really. So she tones down her ambition in order to keep her man, even though she’s much more intelligent than he is. And that was made in 1942, two years after His Girl Friday. Maybe that was the beginning of the end of Hollywood’s brief experiment with something nearing equality.

    I remember Philadelphia Story much better than HGF, and I will NOT be watching it again because I find it boring and hate almost all the characters. Born Yesterday I am looking forward to seeing again (although women’s roles-wise, it is not inspiring) if only for the wonderful and sadly underrated Judy Holliday (who is also the best thing about Adam’s Rib).

  3. “yes, in these movies women were respected, but I’d argue it’s in a bit of a patronising way — like, these working women are novelties, so we’ll humour them, kind of thing. The title “His Girl Friday” makes out that Russell is Grant’s sidekick, not an equal.”

    I completely disagree – for this film at least. Yes, the title suggests that, but as I said the title’s got nothing to do with the film. There’s no humouring or patronising at all. There wasn’t in Ninotchka either.

    “And she still has to choose between a career and a “normal life”, i.e. children (there would be no question of both back then).”

    Absolutely. But she chooses career, that’s what I find surprising.

    1. “But she chooses career, that’s what I find surprising.”

      See I don’t find it that surprising, as she’s portrayed as this serious working woman in drab clothing. If Marilyn Monroe or Grace Kelly had played the role, she would have given up her career for her man. My mum and I were talking about these films earlier (she studied screwball comedy as part of her uni course) and she rightly pointed out that there was a choice at the time between clever and pretty, where a more “handsome” (than beautiful) woman could be taken more seriously (on screen) and do more of the things a man could. But she would then never be portrayed as sexy. There was no “whole woman”. (Not that she was unattractive, but Rosalind Russell was never some sex symbol/pinup. There were clear delineations.)

      The question is whether we’ve really moved on from this, as women on screen now have more choices in terms of their lives, but can either be stereotypically beautiful, or be a sidekick. In the 40s and 50s Katharine Hepburn’s figure did not conform to what was the (curvy) ideal at the time, but she still lead films, whereas a woman who doesn’t conform to the size 0 ideal of this decade would be very unlikely to do so.

      1. I agree in the main, but not with the ‘drab clothing’ (she wore a fabulous suit and a fabulous hat!). Although it’s interesting that, again, the poster went a different way. I think Hildy was sexy too. In fact, as Jenny and Lani point out on the podcast, you definitely get the idea that Walter and Hildy’s banter was foreplay.

        “If Marilyn Monroe or Grace Kelly had played the role, she would have given up her career for her man.” Yes but that’s not the choice Hildy’s making. She gets the man *and* the career. I think you need to watch it again.

  4. Maybe “drab” isn’t the word for her suit and hat, it is very fashionable and would still look good today. But it’s still formal work wear for a Serious Lady, and compared to the way Monroe or Bacall or even Judy Holliday looked on screen, it is dowdy. Walter may have found her sexy, but she isn’t a sexy character, because it was either/or.

    “She gets the man *and* the career. I think you need to watch it again.”

    Yes, maybe I do. Though I’m not that excited to, tbh. I found it overlong the first time. And yes, she gets the man and the career, but not the career and a family. I just still don’t think women’s roles were that much better in the 1940s (in life or on screen).

    1. I think she’s a sexy character. I really do. (And Jenny Crusie and Lani Diane Rich do too.)

      No, she doesn’t get the career and the family because she decides she doesn’t WANT the family, she just thought she did.

      I’m certainly not saying women’s roles were better in life or perhaps even on screen in general – I’ve only watched four films – but what struck me in this and Ninotchka is the respect. Imagine a movie today where a female character, however strong, walked into a newsroom. I’m almost certain there would be sexist remarks and, quite likely, sexual harrassment. In both this film and Ninotchka that is completely absent. (When Ninotchka turned up and they realised she was a woman, I braced myself for the comments, expecting them to be worse than they would be in a modern movie. Not a one.)

      1. “No, she doesn’t get the career and the family because she decides she doesn’t WANT the family, she just thought she did.”

        Oh, I know. But no female character at the time would have been shown to have both, was what I was saying. If she had wanted kids, she wouldn’t have worked again outside the home.

        “I’m certainly not saying women’s roles were better in life or perhaps even on screen in general – I’ve only watched four films – but what struck me in this and Ninotchka is the respect. Imagine a movie today where a female character, however strong, walked into a newsroom.I’m almost certain there would be sexist remarks and, quite likely, sexual harrassment.”

        I think it depends on the movie. I was going to say I thought you were being overly pessimistic but then I thought of all the completely revolting laddish gross-out comedies that people seem to flood to now and have to agree that would certainly be the case in those. We are getting more sexist as a society in many ways.

        But I still think the respect of the ’40s movies is predicated on the idea that women are lesser to men — more chivalry than equality. But I can agree to disagree… (No, really! I can.)

        “I think she’s a sexy character. I really do. (And Jenny Crusie and Lani Diane Rich do too.)”

        Well that’s personal choice 😉 I’m not saying she isn’t sexy. I’m saying she isn’t the glam leading lady, that’s not how she was considered in Hollywood and she never had sex symbol roles. You were one or the other back then, there were clear divisions. Women who weren’t considered glamazons “got away” with more, IYSWIM. That was less threatening, or something.

        My point re: that is that it’s maybe slightly less restrictive than now in some ways. Now in Hollywood, even a government agent or the mother of a child with cancer must look like Angelina Jolie or Cameron Diaz.

  5. “If she had wanted kids, she wouldn’t have worked again outside the home.”

    Indeed. But that was the time. Don’t forget, this was 1940, so prewar. Women were generally expected to give up work on marriage, not just after having a family.

    “But no female character at the time would have been shown to have both, was what I was saying.”

    Yes. And what I’m saying is that they generally don’t now either. Not happily, anyway.

    “I think it depends on the movie. I was going to say I thought you were being overly pessimistic but then I thought of all the completely revolting laddish gross-out comedies that people seem to flood to now and have to agree that would certainly be the case in those. We are getting more sexist as a society in many ways.”

    Of course it depends on the movie, but I can’t think of many (ok, I can’t think of any, but I haven’t tried very hard) where the woman’s role is ENTIRELY positive. The Proposal keeps coming to mind – Sandra Bullock is a strong, successful woman, but feared and hated and thought of as unwomanly in a way that Hildy wasn’t. And it’s not just gross-out comedies. Carrie mentioned the episode of Friends in which Chandler goes to the strip club with the girls and they say “What are women good at?” and he replies, “STRIPPING!” It’s pervasive. We absolutely are getting more sexist as a society.

    “But I still think the respect of the ’40s movies is predicated on the idea that women are lesser to men — more chivalry than equality. But I can agree to disagree… (No, really! I can.)”

    If we’re generalising, I’m sure you’re probably right. This movie – just talking about Hildy (they treat the other two women characters like shit) – I think you’re wrong.

    “I’m not saying she isn’t sexy. I’m saying she isn’t the glam leading lady, that’s not how she was considered in Hollywood and she never had sex symbol roles. You were one or the other back then, there were clear divisions. Women who weren’t considered glamazons “got away” with more, IYSWIM. That was less threatening, or something. My point re: that is that it’s maybe slightly less restrictive than now in some ways. Now in Hollywood, even a government agent or the mother of a child with cancer must look like Angelina Jolie or Cameron Diaz.”

    I agree. But I wasn’t arguing that in the first place.

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