LET’S HEAR IT FOR THE LADIES: Besides being a fantastic screwball comedy His Girl Friday is an important film for giving the world Hildy Johnson, one of the best career women characters ever to come out of Hollywood.
HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940)
Starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell
Directed by Howard Hawks
Released by Columbia Pictures
The moment that Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) declares to her ex husband and boss Walter Burns (Cary Grant) that she’s quitting the life of journalism so she can be a housewife in the suburbs, you know the plan is preposterous.
First off, with their constant bickering and intimate knowledge of how the other thinks, you know that Grant is going to win back Hildy’s affections. But most importantly, while Hildy’s timid fiancé Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy) wants to spoil and take care off her, Walter dares Hildy to choose a career over babies.
Walter is by no means a saint, using every conniving trick in the book to help postpone Hildy’s upcoming marriage to Bruce. In the end though, there’s much more than enough bait to convince this newspaper woman to stay: a high profile murder case in which the accused is sentenced to hang the very next day.
Walter could be conceived as nothing but a snake, but since he’s being portrayed by Cary Grant, he oozes enough charm for the viewer to overlook his faults. Russell meanwhile plays Hildy with such effortless confidence you believe that this woman could both ooze sexual charisma and be one of the boys.
This ability may not seem so remarkable by 21st century standards, but in the obviously male dominated world of 1940s American journalism, it is something to admire indeed. While the other newspaper men covering the murder trial joke about curvy dames like Walter, they consider Hildy and equal and therefore give her the respect she deserves. No slap on the ass and demands for cups of coffee for Hildy.
It’s hard to think of any other film from this time where a career woman is given this much respect. Katherine Hepburn, for example, also got some great career women roles, Woman of the Year (1942) for example, but in that film, the Hepburn character gives it all up at the end to be Spencer Tracy’s housewife. In the last scene she learns how to make breakfast for her husband.
In this film Hildy gives up life in the suburbs so that she can keep doing what she’s meant to, which is be a great reporter.