Watching cable news 24/7 so you can follow the battle between politicians and the media? Instead, see…

His Girl Friday.

A story about a journalist and her editor taking on politicians who seem to have no respect for the press? Seems like it was ripped out of today’s headlines. But Hildy Johnson and Walter Burns are chasing down their story in 1940.

In fact, the story originates even earlier – from the Broadway smash The Front Page which hit the stage in 1928 and later the silver screen in 1931 (and later in 1974 as a Jack Lemmon/Walter Matthau vehicle). The plot is consistent: Reporter Hildy Johnson wants to give up the newspaper game to get married. Editor Walter Burns will do anything to stop his star scribe from leaving the paper. A possibly innocent man on death row may throw a wrench into Hildy’s dream of marital bliss.

His Girl Friday makes one – and only one – major change to the formula. In this version, Hildy Johnson is a woman…and Walter Burn’s ex-wife. The result is arguably one of the greatest screwball comedies of all time and one of the best movies about the newspaper industry ever made. Certainly no small feat to be both.

HisgirlFriday2
“Walter, you’re wonderful…in a loathsome sort of way.”

This was the movie that made me fall in love with classic movies. It may have just been a case of right place, right time. I was a university freshman studying Journalism and here was a strong, talented woman working as a reporter and being treated as an equal (in fact, quite superior) to her male colleagues. I wanted to be Hildy Johnson. And I also wanted to see every black and white movie I could get my hands on.

Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell make the rapid-fire dialogue seem effortless. Cary Grant
even manages to throw in a few break-the-fourth-wall jokes. And Ralph Bellamy is epitomizing his statement of “if I can’t get the girl, at least give me more money.”

Despite opening nearly 80 years ago, the story seems contemporary and relevant. It’s a drastic understatement that today’s politicians have a combative relationship with the media. You might find solace that this is not a new development, that news and government have been adversarial for decades. Or you might be interested to see how they battled before the term “fake news” entered the lexicon.

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“You’ve kicked over the whole City Hall like an applecart. You’ve got the Mayor and Hartwell backed up against a wall. You put one administration out and another one in. This isn’t just a newspaper story, Hildy. It’s a career.”

His Girl Friday has fallen into the public domain so it’s easy to get your hands on a copy, often quite cheaply. But hold out for a cleaner version. Trust me, it’s worth it.

The only thing the movie is missing is the original iconic closing line from The Front Page: “The son of a bitch stole my watch.”

Read more about His Girl Friday here.

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