His Girl Friday (Columbia Classics Vol. 4) UHD Review

3.5 Stars Classic screwball comedy
His Girl Friday Review

Howard Hawks’ 1940 screwball comedy His Girl Friday makes its 4K debut as part of Sony’s Columbia Classics 4K Ultra HD Collection Volume 4.

His Girl Friday (1940)
Released: 18 Jan 1940
Rated: APPROVED
Runtime: 92 min
Director: Howard Hawks
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Cast: Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Bellamy, Gene Lockhart
Writer(s): Charles Lederer (screen play), Ben Hecht (from the play "The Front Page"), Charles MacArthur (from the play "The Front Page")
Plot: A newspaper editor uses every trick in the book to keep his ace reporter ex-wife from remarrying.
IMDB rating: 8.0
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Sony
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution: 2160p HEVC w/HDR
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA, Other
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French, Other
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 32 Min.
Package Includes: UHD, Blu-ray, Digital Copy
Case Type: 2-disc UHD keepcase with slipcover
Disc Type: UHD
Region: All
Release Date: 02/13/2024
MSRP: $215.99

The Production: 5/5

His Girl Friday, directed by Howard Hawks in 1940, is a gender-switched remake of The Front Page, considered by many to be the definitive film version of the classic stage play (which has been remade numerous times). Below is Matt Hough’s review from the 2017 Criterion Collection Blu-ray release:

Determined to leave the ranks of hardboiled newshounds behind, Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) has divorced her husband, Chicago newspaper editor Walter Burns (Cary Grant), and become engaged to mild-mannered insurance salesman Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy) who plans to take his new bride back to his Albany home. Equally determined not to lose his best reporter, Burns pulls every scheme he can think of to hoodwink Hildy into covering the hanging of convicted killer Earl Williams (John Qualen), a story that becomes even more vital when Williams escapes custody and Hildy finds herself with the killer in the courthouse press room with the hottest scoop of her career right in front of her. Now she must work with her former husband to keep the story for themselves and away from all those out to locate Williams: the sheriff (Gene Lockhart), the mayor (Clarence Kolb), and all the reporters (Porter Hall, Ernest Truex, Cliff Edwards, Roscoe Karns, Frank Jenks, and Regis Toomey) from rival papers out to nab their own exclusives.

The Ben Hecht-Charles MacArthur stage script has been skillfully adapted by Charles Lederer with an assist from Hecht in turning the role of Hildy from male to female. The basic manipulative relationship between Walter and Hildy has been completely retained with only the added backstory of a romance now cooled with a combative sexual undercurrent to differentiate the two versions of the play on film (all of the Earl Williams material, the press room gags, Earl’s devoted follower Molly Malloy (Helen Mack), and the interfering mother-in-law are carried forward with little to no difference between the 1931 and 1940 versions of the story). In his usual subtle fashion, Howard Hawks’ direction is straightforward and on point (Milestone’s camera movements in the earlier version are actually flashier and more mobile than here), and he favors long takes for the most part which emphasizes the theatrical aspects of the piece. When quick editing is necessary, of course, he’s right there to take advantage of big shocks and surprise revelations, and his use of overlapping dialogue seems to be an industry first and most effective for the rapid-fire delivery necessary to convey the breathlessness of the pacing of the action especially in the film’s second half once Earl Williams escapes from police custody.

The performances are all classic ones and among the greatest ever found in a screen comedy. Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell couldn’t have been better cast (Jean Arthur was the original choice for Hildy) and deliver their lines with such lightness and verve that we really savor scenes where it’s just the two of them verbally jousting with one another. Russell’s adeptness with the typewriter also makes her a much more convincing reporter than Pat O’Brien’s very poor simulation of typing in the Milestone version. Helen Mack’s Molly Malloy is the definitive performance of this heart-breaking character, and John Qualen’s Earl Williams is likewise a character whom the audience will root for. The crooked politicos are played brilliantly by Gene Lockhart and Clarence Kolb, and the press room ensemble mentioned above is so adept with their overlapping lines that repeated visits to the film are a necessity to catch all the jokes (Ernest Truex’s Bensinger has been toned down considerably from Edward Everett Horton’s performance in the earlier film or the flaming one that David Wayne enacts in the 1970s remake). Billy Gilbert makes a welcome couple of appearances as the delivery man who holds a damning piece of evidence, and Abner Biberman as Burns’ strong arm Louie and Frank Orth as city editor Duffy also add to the fun.

Video: 5/5

3D Rating: NA

Per the restoration notes by Grover Crisp included in the collectable book, Sony scanned the original 35mm nitrate negative in 4K with additional digital image restoration (which included digitally recreating a few missing frames that no longer existed in any form) and HDR grading to create a new 4K digital intermediate. For this release, the new 4K DI was used to create the 2160p HEVC encode that includes both Dolby Vision and HDR10 high dynamic range. While grain is much more visible on this new 4K release, it is never overly intrusive and appears organic. The new scan also reveals much more detail that wasn’t seen before, such as fabric textures. Grayscale gets a nice boost, too, with increased gradients of blacks, grays, and whites for a very pleasing black and white image that avoids some of the overblown highlights present in the included remastered Blu-ray (that I assume was sourced from this new transfer).

Audio: 4.5/5

Like the picture, Sony also went back to the original 35mm nitrate soundtrack negative, with additional digital restoration including the reduction of hiss, crackles and pops. The default audio on the disc is a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono track that has excellent fidelity for a recording that is 84 years old. Dialogue is clear and understandable throughout.

Special Features: 4/5

Unfortunately, the UHD disc contains no special features. However, there are some nice new and archival features on the included Blu-ray.

Screwball Style: The Iconic Costumes of Robert Kalloch (1080p; 16:17): Author and film historian Kimberly Truhler discusses the career of costume designer Robert Kalloch, Columbia’s first head of costume design.

Breaking the Speed Barrier: The Dialogue of “His Girl Friday” (1080p; 12:39): Author and film historian Jeremy Arnold discusses the fast-paced dialogue of the film (claiming it clocks in at around 240 words per minute), the sound design (the only  music in the film is over the credits), and the casting.

Lighting Up with Hildy Johnson, Hosted by Film Scholar David Bordwell (1080p; 25:04): Bordwell looks at the career of Howard Hawks. Ported from the Criterion Blu-ray release.

Commentary with Film Critic and Author Todd McCarthy: The film critic for Variety discusses many aspects of the film.

Ben Hecht (1080p; 25:43): David Brendhl tells the fascinating story of the literary and cinematic career of Ben Hecht.

On Assignment: “His Girl Friday” (upscaled 1080i; 8:46): Critics David Thomsen and Molly Haskell praise the film.

Cary Grant: Making Headlines (upscaled 1080i; 4:51): A brief look at the career of Cary Grant.

Rosalind Russell: The Inside Scoop (upscaled 1080i; 3:09): A brief look at the career of Rosalind Russell.

Howard Hawks: Reporter’s Notebook (upscaled 1080i; 3:17): A brief look at the career of Howard Hawks.

The Funny Pages (upscaled 1080i; 3:23): A brief look at the career of playwrights Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur.

Vintage Advertising: (upscaled 1080i; 0:56): A non-interactive slideshow of vintage lobby cards and posters for the film.

Theatrical Trailer (1080p; 2:50)

Re-release Trailer (1080p; 1:22)

Digital Copy: A Movies Anywhere code is included for all six films in the boxed set. Unfortunately, His Girl Friday is, at least at the time of this review, available digitally as follows:
Movies Anywhere – 4K HDR10, DD+ 2.0 mono
Apple TV – 4K Dolby Vision/HDR10, DD+ 2.0 mono
Vudu – 4K Dolby Vision/HDR10, DD+ 2.0 mono (Vudu had previously mapped the MA redemptions to a public domain version)
Prime Video – HD, DD+ 2.0 mono (mapped to an official Sony version)

Overall: 4.5/5

Although currently only available on UHD disc in the Columbia Classics 4K Ultra HD Collection Vol. 4 boxed set, His Girl Friday has never looked or sounded better.

Todd Erwin has been a reviewer at Home Theater Forum since 2008. His love of movies began as a young child, first showing Super 8 movies in his backyard during the summer to friends and neighbors at age 10. He also received his first movie camera that year, a hand-crank Wollensak 8mm with three fixed lenses. In 1980, he graduated to "talkies" with his award-winning short The Ape-Man, followed by the cult favorite The Adventures of Terrific Man two years later. Other films include Myth or Fact: The Talbert Terror and Warren's Revenge (which is currently being restored). In addition to movie reviews, Todd has written many articles for Home Theater Forum centering mostly on streaming as well as an occasional hardware review, is the host of his own video podcast Streaming News & Views on YouTube and is a frequent guest on the Home Theater United podcast.

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Robert Harris

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Great review, Todd, but I’ll dispute two points. The missing frames (3-4, as I recall) actually do exist, albeit in 16mm. I’m aware the collectible book (current value $750-800) notes otherwise. Had the frames used a 16mm source as opposed to re-creating in 35, they would have popped on screen, so proper decision.

“Screwball comedy”? Each to their own, but I always found this to be a serious drama about the ills of American jurisprudence, capital punishment, and how a couple of skilled reporters save the day. Always brings All the President’s Men to mind.
 
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Robert Crawford

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When I watched the 4K digital a few weeks ago, the sequence with Grant and Russell in his office when she tells him about her upcoming marriage is one of Grant's best acting moments. You can see the mechanics of his brain working as he processes that bit of news while trying to come up with a scheme to not only stop the marriage but to get her back. His facial impressions during that sequence are classic Cary Grant.

One of my all-time favorite movies without any regard to film genre. IMO, this is close to being Hawks best film, at least for me.
 

Robert Harris

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Can't it be both, a comedy and drama?
Certainty not when the subject is capital punishment and the wrongly accused. Done properly, the film would have had Paul Muni and Hume Cronyn in the leads, and avoid the very odd romantic relationship. That would have been more attuned to a serious drama about the ills and ethics of American divorce law.

You’re an early riser, Robert!
 

Robert Crawford

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Certainty not when the subject is capital punishment and the wrongly accused. Done properly, the film would have had Paul Muni and Hume Cronyn in the leads, and avoid the very odd romantic relationship. That would have been more attuned to a serious drama about the ills and ethics of American divorce law.

You’re an early riser, Robert!
Well, I guess we disagree then and I'll leave it at that because those dramatic topics are subject matters for another forum type.
 

Konstantinos

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I just bought this for 87 euros from ebay!!
What "digitally recreating a few missing frames" mean?
Is that evident?
The Criterion blu-ray didn't have these digitally recreated frames?
 

Chip_HT

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I think Vudu might have sorted out their mapping with the different versions of His Girl Friday. When I logged in this evening, I noticed His Girl Friday at the top of my "recently purchased" list. I purchased the HD version through the Disc to Digital feature from Vudu back in 2018, and I have not yet purchased the Columbia Classics 4 set.

Sorting the list by title, I did find two versions of the movie in my Vudu library.

The older one has a "Columbia Classics" banner on the artwork, but that's credited to "TriCoast Entertainment" with no MA logo. This is the version I've had for the last few years, which must have been connected to Movies Anywhere at some point, because I have the movie over there as well. This one shows up with a "Free with ads" tag on the listing page, but only provides HDX as the highest quality.

The newer listing doesn't have the "Columbia Classics" banner on the artwork, but does list Sony Pictures as the studio and has the MA logo. Since I only have the HDX quality, it gives me options to rent or upgrade the 4K version.

Apparently, this newer version showed up in my purchase history on 2/27. I'm guessing that when Vudu switched the MA tag from the TriCoast version to the Sony version, it triggered MA to tell Vudu that I owned it.

I'm also guessing this means that if I redeem the 4K code from the set at Vudu, it will properly port over to Movies Anywhere.
 

Todd Erwin

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I think Vudu might have sorted out their mapping with the different versions of His Girl Friday. When I logged in this evening, I noticed His Girl Friday at the top of my "recently purchased" list. I purchased the HD version through the Disc to Digital feature from Vudu back in 2018, and I have not yet purchased the Columbia Classics 4 set.

Sorting the list by title, I did find two versions of the movie in my Vudu library.

The older one has a "Columbia Classics" banner on the artwork, but that's credited to "TriCoast Entertainment" with no MA logo. This is the version I've had for the last few years, which must have been connected to Movies Anywhere at some point, because I have the movie over there as well. This one shows up with a "Free with ads" tag on the listing page, but only provides HDX as the highest quality.

The newer listing doesn't have the "Columbia Classics" banner on the artwork, but does list Sony Pictures as the studio and has the MA logo. Since I only have the HDX quality, it gives me options to rent or upgrade the 4K version.

Apparently, this newer version showed up in my purchase history on 2/27. I'm guessing that when Vudu switched the MA tag from the TriCoast version to the Sony version, it triggered MA to tell Vudu that I owned it.

I'm also guessing this means that if I redeem the 4K code from the set at Vudu, it will properly port over to Movies Anywhere.
Yes, it looks like Vudu and Movies Anywhere got this sorted out (although Vudu customer service never contacted me on the ticket I opened to advise me that this had been fixed). Apparently, Vudu had mapped a public domain version of the film, which they had licensed from TriCoast Entertainment, to Movies Anywhere (despite TriCoast not being a studio partner with MA). This is not the first time Vudu has goofed up like this. Not too long ago, Vudu was selling the original Steve McQueen version of The Blob, but giving customers the Chuck Russell/Frank Darabont 1988 remake instead. It took them over a year to get that fixed, and I am sure Sony was none too happy about it since they own the 1988 version and probably didn't receive any compensation for those sales.
 
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