Ep 5: His Girl Friday

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Story Analysis & Ratings:

Lucy says: 5 Pops ~ I think this movie proves that solid romantic comedies have to be, at their core, about heart. Where the characters’ passions lie, what matters to them more than anything else, what they love, and how well they get each other. A story that can make you laugh while making you feel something real is the gold standard for romcoms; this hits the bullseye perfectly. Lucy’s rating breakdown: Structure: 5, Comedy: 5, Romance: 5

Jenny says: 5 pops ~ I liked this movie even more after we analyzed it–and I loved it before we analyzed it. Such a great film on so many levels. Jenny’s rating breakdown: Structure: 5, Comedy: 5, Romance: 5

Blog Poll Rating: 4.5 Pops

Movie Info:

Story: Hildy wants to get married and live a normal life. Walter wants Hildy back. The mayor wants to execute somebody to get re-elected. Trouble ensues. Release Date: Jan. 18, 1940 Director: Howard Hawks Writers: Charles Lederer, Ben Hecht, Charles MacArthur. More info at IMDb.

28 responses to “Ep 5: His Girl Friday”

  1. I really enjoyed the movie – certainly compared to the others we’ve been watching. Your insights give me a better appreciation of the complexities that went into creating the story and the movie. Plus, you make it fun. Thanks for another great podcast. 🙂

  2. @L- thanks for reminding me about Hulu. I watched it today online while the kidlets watched Nick Jr. Yep, I’m _that_ mom.

    Thanks, too, to the person who mentioned streaming Netflix. I can’t wait to be done traveling this summer so we can get that started. Love that it works through the wii now.

    I missed Ninotchka last week, although I listened to the podcast, so I didn’t have the same experience to come back from as others. In fact, this flows nicely from “It Happened One Night” to “Bringing Up Baby” in terms of great dialogue and characters. Knowing the structural problems in Ninotchka and the lack of romance in ‘Baby’ it does make one wonder how these movies come to secure such revered places on “All Time Best RomCom” lists. If I had to guess it’s because they had such a great cast.

    As for “His Girl Friday” – this was the first time I’d seen it all the way through. Like a lot of movies I’ve had them in the background but not truly paid attention to them. They stand out as classics either way but you don’t really get the full exposure to all of the bells and whistles unless you watch straight through. I loved that Hildy tried to step on Walter’s foot at lunch but missed and got the waiter – then she steps on someone’s foot at the courthouse. The sheriff, maybe? I don’t remember. I kept waiting for her to, literally, step on someone’s foot again. Maybe she did and I missed it.

    The banter is beautiful. I loved the line of Walter’s, “I left the lantern on for you,” so that she can sit in his lap. It’s not mean, it’s personal but not condescending. It’s endearing even. Reminds me a lot of Hepburn/ Tracy in Adam’s Rib. Something about a man and a woman who use words professionally [newspapermen/ lawyers] and how they use words so carefully with each other.

  3. I’m going to have to listen to the podcast and see if you can convince me that these two are going to make it. I think they’re great when they work together, it’s obvious she’s a great reporter and loves doing it, but if the problem with their relationship before was that they didn’t really have one outside of work, how is that going to be any different now? If their relationship frustrated her enough to make her get a divorce and he hasn’t changed, then what’s going to make them work as a couple now? She has to just decide that she’s okay with how their relationship works? How does preventing a corrupt politician from getting into office do anything to improve their marital relationship? It underscores what she loves about the *job* and that she can’t live without *it*, but what does it do for their relationship?

    I’ll buy the movie as a classic comedy, but it doesn’t cut it for me in the HEA department. I’m not buying it.

  4. I think part of her arc is realizing how much she loves her job–more than she loves Walter, even–and that she can do her job best with Walter. They have a good time, they love the same things, and he’s never going to be the kind of guy that was Bruce was for her. But she had Bruce and she chose the career–Lucy’s right, if she’d wanted Bruce more than the career and Walter, she’d have sent a telegram–and I think that was a big arc for her. You can’t have it all, the things that make Walter the newspaperman that he is and that she loves to work with are the same things that make him a flawed husband. But he absolutely loves her, he admires, he respects her, he appears to be faithful to her, when she finally breaks down and cries he’s horrified, and he helps her make better what she was born to do. That’s a hell of a lot. And the truth is, when she heard the fire bell ring, she was off to the races as fast as Walter would have been. That’s why the guys in the newsroom love her, she’s one of them. It’s incredibly seductive being surrounded by people who are good at what you do and you tell you you’re the best. And Walter tells her that over and over. I honestly think the only thing she’d leave Walter for is her career, and he’ll never ask her to. (Points to Bruce for asking her if she’s sure, even if he answer the question himself.) And the thing she’s fully aware of all the way through the movie is that Walter is fighting like a tiger for her, pulling out all the stops. The only time she breaks down is in relief when she realizes he had no intention of letting her go. I’m not saying it’s a HEALTHY relationship, but I’m saying that when you find somebody who’s really matched well with you professionally, who makes you better professionally, who improves your game every time you work with him, that makes up for a lot of otherwise dysfunctional relationship, romantic or otherwise. And Walter’s only flaw is that he’s insensitive: he’s loyal, he respects her, he protects her work, he loves it that she’s smarter than he is, he tells her he’s a better writer than she is and they both seem to know that’s true, he fights for her . . . I think Hildy knows what she’s getting this time and she’s signing up again because it’s what she wants. I also don’t believe she’d go on honeymoon and not miss that strike. but that may be workaholic me projecting. If Walter was a novelist and said all the things to me that Walter said to Hildy, I’d go for it like a shot. Those of us who live for our work really do live for our work.

  5. I totally see that Jenny, but what that says to me is that the primary story and the HEA is for the JOB, not the other person, which is why, for me, the story doesn’t work as a ROMANCE, but it works as a movie.

  6. Yes, but the job is the romance. If he wasn’t a newspaper guy and she wasn’t a great reporter, the romance would not happen. It’s like saying The Cutting Edge is a movie about skating. Or to put it as a wonk: If it’s just the romance, it’s people talking about their feelings, it’s all abstract and internal. If you play the emotional romance plot out in a concrete struggle, then it becomes real and urgent, not just will they or won’t they. You want to know how much Walter loves Hildy? Watch him fight for her to the bitter end and then offer to give her up when she starts to cry because he really does want her to be happy. Want to know how much Hildy loves Walter? Look at her face when she looks at him, look at how she can’t resist him and the life/career he represents, look at how much she respects him even while she’s telling him what a jerk he is. Want to know how good they are together? Just watch them together. The movie was originally about careers, about an editor trying to keep a star reporter, but now the movie’s about a relationship that’s coded in that original external plot. And I think it’s a stronger romance because of that.

  7. In the initial conversation defining a romantic comedy wasn’t ‘laugh out loud’ part of the conversation? I have a memory like a sieve so I might be making this up. If so, my apologies.

    I’m not saying I didn’t laugh out loud at some of the lines [esp. the one about the cat having kittens] but I’m wondering if this is a fair standard for a movie to clear the bar in both romance and comedy. Although maybe it is. There are many movies on the list I haven’t seen so there could be much laughter yet to happen.

    Personally, I always laugh at Tin Cup. I quote from it all the time. I think it’s funny even though what’s-her-face walks her way through the movie but I don’t think it’s going to be the best RomCom of all time. Although, next time I watch I need to more attention to it as a story with structure, etc.

    I guess it was the idea of this movie having more good lines, ones that actually made me chuckle, that made me wonder about the definition and whether it would be accurate in the long run.

  8. I think you have to find a movie genuinely funny for it to be a comedy. And I think you have to find a romantic comedy genuinely funny before it can be a rom com. I think this is genuinely funny, as opposed to amusing or cute, a story in which the humor comes from the relationship and the conflict and not from pratfalls (not that I object to Shapely’s pratfall in IHON). I think a lot of people would laugh out loud at this one. Would everybody? Humor’s subjective, so probably not. But the majority? I think so.

  9. I think it’s an important point you make about community. Perhaps His Girl Friday has the strongest community of the ones we’ve watched so far. IHON, Peter has some community backing him up (again, the newspaper community), but I don’t think Claudette Colbert does; just her father, and she’s running from that.

    No real community for either hero or heroine in Bringing Up Baby, although Susan’s definitely got family connections which help drive the action.

    Ninotchka . . . again, no real community. I think the Comte is actually betraying his community (but it’s so commonplace in his community that it’s OK), and so does Ninotchka (but everyone knows Communism sucks :-P, so it’s OK for her to leave her flat). There is a bit of community with the ex-pats, and that’s about it.

    Here, Hildy leaves the community, but is welcomed back again. I have a feeling if she stayed with Bruce, she would have eventually built her own community, but . . . .

    One other thing I wanted to talk about: literary fashions. I think in the 30s, it was very unfashionable for a woman to “have it all.” Perhaps we could dig up some examples of a woman with family and a career (Lillian Gilbreth, the mom from “Cheaper by the Dozen” had a dozen kids, AND a brilliant engineering career . . . but she also lost her husband when her baby was two), but in general, she could be a “career girl” or she would be “wife and mother” but not both.

    So, I can see why Hildy thinks herself in love with Bruce . . . the dream of being the Little Wifey had a lot of power in those days . . . and today, too, if we think of it. Sometimes we marry because we think the spouse is going to make us a better person. So, she loves the life she thinks Bruce can provide her. But, she also loved the life Walter provides her.

    And, it’s gotta be love, because otherwise, she could pick up and move to another newspaper (-:. No, I think Walter is the best in the business, and Hildy sees him as an Alpha Male, who again, can make her into the woman she wants to be.

    I’d also like to say the myth works two ways. There were plenty of stories in that era where the guy wants to get married so that his “better half” can turn him into a better man. I wish I could think of one. Maybe from Bringing Up Baby . . . Cary Grant’s first fiancee was more than happy to turn him into a real professional, and a monk, too, probably (-:.

  10. For me, the difference between The Cutting Edge and His Girl Friday, is that in the Cutting Edge, they meet, work together, build trust, and fall in love. In His Girl Friday, they’ve already met, fallen in love, built respect, etc. I would believe in the HEA for Walter and Hildy if they hadn’t already been married and divorced. If they had worked together and not been romantically involved and then he worked that hard to get her to stay, then I would believe they would make it. What I don’t believe is a couple who have already been down that road trying it again by starting out the same way they started the last time — by skipping the honeymoon she asked for. If he had *offered her* a honeymoon and she had turned it down when the strike in Albany (or whatever it was) came up, *then* I would believe there had actually been a shift in the relationship. In fact, I think that’s all it would have taken for me to buy it.

  11. @Rox – that’s a really interesting point you make about who chooses to cover the strike at the end. I agree that it would have made the HEA stronger, however I’m already on the bandwagon for a couple of reasons:

    1. The HEA works because I want it to. I know, selfish and subjective, but there it is. Bruce represents what Hildy thinks she wants, either because it’s her idea or society’s. I agree with those above who said if she REALLY wanted Bruce, she’d have sent Walter a telegram from Albany. The divorce was a “wake up you moron!” and it worked. Walter spent the entire movie pretending everything was fine but frantically doing everything in his power to keep her there.

    2. The HEA works for me because they are so… aligned (might be the wrong word, not sure yet). Walter and, by extension, the paper represent what she needs. She came to the paper fresh from school and he recognized her talent and helped her build that. The fact that she has the respect of her male peers in that era tells you so much about her talent, and we get to see a little of it as she writes the first story on the prisoner. It was really lovely how they contrasted the other reporters just making stuff up whole cloth or from bits of the truth and while she was still there to sensationalize and capitalize on this poor schmuck, there was truth and heart in her piece that the others had no way of touching. And they knew it. Back to the HEA! It’s clear (to me) that she would have gotten up to Albany and died of boredom. She’d have tried to make it work, but that isn’t where her heart was. Again, she needed Walter and the paper. She just wanted Walter to appreciate her more openly. In this day and age, is their relationship something we would tolerate let alone aspire to? Probably not, although Jenny makes a convincing argument for the workaholics out there. At the core of it I think we all just want someone who understands us and makes us feel special in some way. I believe that Hildy and Walter have that.

    I love this film, always have (I need a better copy, though – mine’s a $5 DVD picked up at a gas station on a roadtrip years ago). I’d forgotten about all the yelling near the end of the movie which is always jarring, but the comedy is straight on, the delivery phenomenal. Walter is an ASS, people and still I root for him because at the end of the day he’s the best match for Hildy. Building the romance is not the focus but it’s the core – the love is there, they just have to dig it out. I gave it 4 pops, because as much as I love it, I don’t think it’s “perfect”: I think Rox’s twist on the ending would would clinch that 5th pop for me.

  12. Maybe it comes down to our own ideas of what an ideal relationship should be. It may just be personal. I’ve had relationships where everything was great except that he felt threatened by my career, and both times I picked the career over the guy, mainly because if he could ask me to hobble myself there, he wasn’t anybody I wanted to spend my life with. Walter’s the opposite of that; he’d expect Hildy to sacrifice him to the things that fulfill her. If she left him on the honeymoon, he’d cheer. I find that incredibly romantic. “Be everything you can be, you were born to do this, you’re the best there is . . .” Yep, that’s a hero to me.
    But I can also understand how people would want a hero who would go against his own instincts and ignore the strike for a honeymoon. The thing is, I couldn’t do it. Two weeks in Niagra Falls? I’d lose my freaking mind, especially if there was something exciting going on that I was missing. I can’t believe Hildy could do it; she hears a fire bell and she dumps Bruce.
    Maybe the problem is that I’m Walter.

  13. Micki, I think you’re right. I did love the community that Ninotchka and the three Russians form after Paris. I thought that was a wonderful scene in her room, where they pooled the eggs and laughed together. It made her (and Russia) so much more human. As for IHON, I think the point was that Ellie was isolated; that’s why she ran away. The community scenes there were the singing on the bus and that great little scene where she goes to shower and walks to the head of the line without realizing what she’s doing. They yell at her and she goes back to the end of the line, and then the little girl sticks out her tongue and Ellie sticks hers out, too. Part of that is how much of a little girl Ellie is, but most of it is that she understand that community, doesn’t insist on special privileges, adapts really fast to other people.

    But then I think community is crucial in romance so I look for it everywhere.

  14. Jenny, it could also be a matter of personal experience. I’ve lived the “let’s try it again” scenario, and because the situation/problems that caused the initial breakup didn’t change, the relationship didn’t change, and it had to end again. So for me, I was along with the ride until that last bit about the honeymoon, which sounded to me like a rerun of where things began to go wrong for them the first time, and I thought, “Well, that’s that. It will never work.” Like I said, if they hadn’t already been married once, I would have bought the HEA.

  15. It’s the really tricky part of romance writing, the part that the reader/viewer brings to the story. Somebody just went off on something that Andie says in MTT and I looked at it and thought, “Yeah, I can see how that would ruin it for her.” If I’d known ahead of time, I would have changed it.
    So you do have to wonder why the writers couldn’t change that one last part. Maybe because they were guys.

  16. So you do have to wonder why the writers couldn’t change that one last part. Maybe because they were guys.

    Guys or it was the 30s. Or both.

  17. I’m just back from a mini vacation and haven’t listened to the podcast yet but am enjoying the comments here. I watched the movie mid week last week, and have since seen four other movies so had better put my thinking cap on. ; )

    For me the romance worked because of the shared passion for journalism. When they were working together toward the end they were mirroring each other beautifully. Hildy couldn’t even hear what Bruce was saying to her but she understood everything Walter said. The two of them were on the same page. That sort of relationship can work well because of that, but it can also have issues (burn out) due to too much togetherness.

    Yes, they had some differences, but I don’t think too many. Hildy was in her element when she got back in with the boys. She was one of them, respected by them, and she loved that community. I agree she would have died of boredom with Bruce and mother in Albany. She probably thought that was what she “should” be doing. Settling down, having the house with the white picket fence, the solidity of marriage to a sensible man. But it wouldn’t have been being true to herself. She needed excitement.

    I like to think they worked it out and the relationship only got better from the shared experience. The second time around is sweeter because they have worked through some of the earlier difficulties, there’s a more mature understanding of the relationship. The no honeymoon at the end didn’t bother me because I knew they’d feed off the excitement of the latest assignment and the sex would be even better after that ; )

  18. Like all the movies so far, this was my first time seeing it. Sorry to have missed the tweet-up too, but I was at ALA (American Libraries Assoc.) annual conf., so I watched it mid-week.

    So far, the most enjoyable movie we’ve watched.

    I like Rox’s suggestion of it being her that suggests they skip the honeymoon when they hear the news and having him be disappointed. Like the change/compromise that it would have shown.

    The only other part that I had some issue with is when she bought Walter’s shpeal in the newsroom. Up until this point she was always on her toes concerning Walter. Sure she missed the counterfeit money, but I don’t expect her to be able to tell. So, when he launches into the big winded speech about streets being named after her, I just was disappointed in her. It seemed like such a load of crap he was shoveling that she should have spotted it right away.

    Otherwise, best one so far. I loved the rapid fire dialogue, the sensitivity displayed by Hildy when talking with the prisoner, the mother-in-law and most of the secondary characters, also the ad libs where Cary Grant threw in the real names of himself and Bruce. I had started watching it and 10 min. in I stopped so that my hubby could watch it with me as I thought he’d like it too.

  19. I used to love this movie, I still do in fact. But the more I see it, the more the whole thing with the prisoner and the girl who commits suicide and the way Hildy uses it, bother me. Hildy’s community is a very callous one.
    Also, the way Hildy gets broken down in the last scene and Walter makes her carry the suitcase has always grated on me.

  20. I gave His Girl 5 pops. The ending does is a tru “here we go again” moment, but Hildy did pick Walter over Bruce, and she had plenty of opportunities to pick Bruce. She doesn’t bat an eye when the mother is carried off by the ganster. I also think the mother character showed that Hildy would be very unhappy with Bruce. She came in and bullied everyone.
    Seeing Cary Grant in this makes me think, again, that perhaps the flaw in Bringing Up Baby may have been Howard Hawkes’s direction of Grant. Again, a cut away shot of Grant really studying Hepburn, a smile, anything in the jail scene would have made by buy the romance. (I DID buy it the first time I saw it — I must admit. It was only thinking about it in romance terms this time around that I saw the flaw there).
    @Ingrid — I think they say the girl is actually alive as they look out the window. I’d have to double-check, but I do not believe she is dead.
    As far as Walter goes, he’s done that through the whole movie, but I think that it shows she’s “in for a penny, in for a pound.” She’s buying all of Walter, warts and all.

  21. I think the warts-and-all is important; I don’t want perfect characters who always do the smart thing. The fact that Hildy’s so sharp and still has a weak spot for Walter (although I think you could also argue that she has a weak spot for Walter BECAUSE she’s so sharp), that Walter doesn’t have a sensitive moment until Hildy breaks down, I like them better for that.

  22. Something I caught on this viewing that I hadn’t seen before:
    I think it’s key that the honeymoon strike is in ALBANY. It gives Hildy a true sense of inevitability that she and Walter will be together.

    If, for some reason, she had escaped after all of these shenanigans (or left right after she told Walter she was engaged) and gone with Bruce to ALBANY, she knows that Walter would have been on the next train. He would have used the excuse of the strike to follow her and try to wrangle her into covering the story. There’s really just no escape from him, and in the end, she’s okay with that.

    And though they are “newspaper men” by profession, they are also both adrenaline junkies by constitution. That is too essential to her being to resist, despite what Hildy might wish.

  23. Oh, good point. I hadn’t thought of that, but she’d have left Bruce at the altar to cover the strike anyway. Good catch.

  24. @JulieB: Even if the girl wasn’t dead, she won’t have got up and dusted herself off. If she survived, she would have been in an awful lot of trouble, disabled and up over her ears in debt with hospital bills.

    What makes me uneasy in the final scene is that Hildy is crying and vulnerable, while she’s been tough all the way through, and Walter goes on manipulating her. Was it in the comments on Ninotchka that I read the observation that the women were cut off at the knees, because they were women? Well, in my view that is what happens here too. Walter has won.

    And the way women are portrayed in the thirties is wonderful when compared to fifties films, where most women seem to be tearful, dithering creatures who need a firm male hand to guide them.

  25. @ Ingrid: Just wanted to say I saw the comment before they get shut off. Perhaps the shock reminds the viewer that they _are_ trying to save a life as well as get the story?

  26. In the remake, they show Molly being taken away by an ambulance, looking up at Christy (Hildy). So maybe it is an era thing.

  27. Interesting. I hadn’t seen the remake. I didn’t really have a problem with the origional or how it played, but I used to be a reporter, so I can distance myself. Well, usually. It was easier before I had babies. 🙂