His Girl Friday Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review
Phones are ringing, people are squawking, doors are swinging, legs are hustling, keys are clacking, ink is moving, cigars are billowing. These are the sights and sounds of a busy newsroom.
Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell, two years before her first Oscar nomination) swings into The Morning Post greeted with pleasantries and commotion. She heads for the editor’s room, where she tells Walter Burns (Cary Grant, in his third of five collaborations with Howard Hawks) that his ex-wife is there to see him. “There’s been a lamp burning in the window for you,” he says. Her reply: “I jumped out that window a long time ago, Walter.”
Hildy has come to the Post to tell her ex that he’ll have to finally get over her since she’s engaged to be married to Bruce (Ralph Bellamy, three years after his Osar-nominated turn in Leo McCarey’s THE AWFUL TRUTH). While there, he devises a plan to get her to stay: write a story about an upcoming execution. What better to bring together two former lovers than a good old-fashioned hanging?
From the get-go, when the opening titles declare this era of the newspaper industry The Dark Ages, HIS GIRL FRIDAY is a rousing, ripping romp that cares not for tradition or etiquette. It moves and rarely catches its breath, and stands as one of the fastest comedies in history and one of the absolute funniest. (The American Film Institute ranked it the 19th funniest ever.) The dialogue and actors move at such a pace that it would seem to be an aural impossibility to catch every line. It’s so much of a whirlwind that there might be a plausible case that one viewing of HIS GIRL FRIDAY isn’t enough.
With a screenplay by Charles Lederer—adapting Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s 1928 play The Front Page; the play was also turned into a 1931 film, directed by Lewis Milestone, and one in 1974, directed by Billy Wilder—direction by Howard Hawks and stellar turns by Grant and Russell (a brilliant casting move considering Hildy was a male in the original play), HIS GIRL FRIDAY stands as an exquisite example of the comedy, the romance and the film as a whole.
Hawks mastered every genre, from crime (SCARFACE) and war (SERGEANT YORK) to drama (ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS) and western (RED RIVER) to noir (THE BIG SLEEP) and sci-fi (THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD). But his comedies, including BRINGING UP BABY and BALL OF FIRE, are truly something special. The crowning achievement here, though, is undoubtedly HIS GIRL FRIDAY.
The film is spilling with clever dialogue (executed marvelously through the chemistry of Grant and Russell) and smart commentary that not just reflects its setting but is pertinent nearly eight decades later. (That one character suggests leaving Hitler for the comics section calls to mind a certain modern leader.) HIS GIRL FRIDAY is a treasure, the sort of picture that represents an era and a form of filmmaking, standing both the test of time and its own ground.
Video: 1.33:1 in 1080p on both HIS GIRL FRIDAY and THE FRONT PAGE.
HIS GIRL FRIDAY: “This high-definition digital transfer was created on a Spirit DataCine film scanner from a new 35 mm fine-grain master positive made from the nitrate original camera negative. Duplicate 35 mm material was used where the original negative was damaged. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, and warps were manually removed at Technicolor in Los Angeles and Deluxe in Culver City, California.”
THE FRONT PAGE: “This new digital transfer was created in 4K resolution on an Oxberry wet-gate film scanner from a 35 mm safety print provided by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, College of Fine Arts’ Department of Film and its Howard Hughes Collection, housed at the Academy Film Archive of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Restoration was undertaken in 2016 by the Academy Film Archive and The Film Foundation, with funding provided by the George Lucas Family Foundation. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, and warps were manually removed using MTI Film’s DRS NOVA, while grain management tools were utilized to mute staining defects inherent to the 35 mm print. Additional restoration was performed by the Criterion Collection.”
Broadly speaking, both films look marvelous and have a fresh, healthy look to them considering being 77 and 86 years old, respectively. While there is grain intact, film purists will appreciate this and acknowledge the faithfulness the restoration team has clearly committed to.
Audio: English Mono on both HIS GIRL FRIDAY and THE FRONT PAGE.
HIS GIRL FRIDAY: “The original monaural soundtrack was remastered from the nitrate original soundtrack negative at Chace Audio by Deluxe in Burbank, California. Additional audio was done at the Criterion Collection.”
THE FRONT PAGE: “The original monaural soundtrack was remastered from the original metal disc stampers used to create the Vitaphone phonographic disc soundtrack. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed using Sonic Studio HD and Pro Tools HD.”
Both films have excellent audio transfers that show no signs of deterioration.
Hawks on Hawks (10:27): This piece contains excerpts from two Howard Hawks interviews: one with Peter Bogdanovich in 1972, the other with Richard Schickel in 1973.
Lighting Up with Hildy Johnson (25:04): Film scholar David Bordwell offers a visual analysis of HIS GIRL FRIDAY, highlighting the film’s style and significance, as well as the career of Hawks.
Featurettes: There are four housed here: On Assignment: HIS GIRL FRIDAY (8:47), with archival interviews with author David Thompson and critic/author Molly Haskell; Howard Hawks: Reporter’s Notebook (TIME), with snippets from an interview with critic/author Todd McCarthy; Funny Pages (3:28), briefly covering the source play and its adaptations; and Rosalind Russell: The Inside Scoop (3:14), brushing the surface of the actress’ career and work on the film.
Lux Radio Theatre (59:30): This radio adaptation of HIS GIRL FRIDAY aired eight months after the film’s premiere and features Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray.
THE FRONT PAGE (1:41:08)
Restoring THE FRONT PAGE (24:01): This new featurette looks at the extensive restoration of the film, as well as some of its history and the differences between various versions.
Ben Hecht (25:43): Under the spotlight is the life and career of famed screenwriter Hecht, who co-wrote the original play as well as such classic films as SCARFACE, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, SPELLBOUND and NOTORIOUS.
Radio Theater: Housed here are two radio adaptations: one from 1937 (58:45), with Walter Winchell and James Gleason, and another from 1946 (31:42), with Pat O’Brien and Adolphe Menjou.
Also included with this Criterion Collection release is a booklet featuring essays on HIS GIRL FRIDAY and THE FRONT PAGE by film critics Farran Smith Nehme and Michael Sragow.