Made in 1940, Howard Hawks’s film “His Girl Friday” offers not only a fast-paced plot and snappy dialogue that guarantee a lot of laughs, but it also offers a glimpse into 1940s attitudes about what could be considered “career women” and normal women.
Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) and her fiance Bruce (Ralph Bellamy) have gone to Hildy’s old job at the Daily Tribune to put in her notice that they are leaving New York City and moving to Albany to get married. Hildy’s former editor and ex-husband, Walter Burns (Cary Grant), who is in the midst of covering a big story on the execution of cop-killer Earl Williams, persuades Hildy to assist in this as a sort of last hurrah and in exchange for buying an insurance policy from Hildy’s husband to be. It’s the beginning of a convoluted series of events as Walter does what he can to delay Hildy’s departure so he can get that one last story from her. Not only is the movie hilarious, but it also explores some important topics, like how far politicians will go to exploit certain events, the role of the press in shaping how the public sees events, and corruption of public officials.
But perhaps the biggest subject that the movie explores is the idea of the career woman and how she is somehow not “normal.” While other women are supposed to want the domestic bliss that marriage and homemaking are supposed to provide, the career woman can’t find happiness in that, no matter how much she tries. Some women want it so much that they will even marry men who might be unsuitable for him, like Bruce is for Hildy. But the career woman will somehow always want to be back in the working world, and she will never be happy in the domestic sphere. “If you want me, Bruce,” she tells her fiance, “you gotta take me as I am instead of trying to change me into something else. I’m no suburban bridge player. I’m a newspaper man. Darn it.”
While Hildy plays the role of future wife with her fiance, we see her in quite another role when she works alongside Walter. They work together as a team and as equals. With Walter, she can be herself and not pretend to be what society wants her to be. She is a “newspaperman”; the career has gotten into her blood, so much so that she will never be happy as a housewife in the domestic sphere.
Despite the heavier subjects the movie explores, it is still a lot of fun to watch. The zany situations, the fun that’s poked at so many things, and the quick pacing of the comedy ensure that it needs to be watched multiple times, because each time around, you are going to catch something that you didn’t see before while still enjoying the things you have already seen.