His Girl Friday (Criterion Collection) Blu-ray review

Stop the presses! This sizzling screwball comedy has become 2017's first 'must-own' Blu-ray

This cracking screwball comedy stars Rosalind Russell as ace reporter 'Hildy' Johnson, who turns up at the offices of The Morning Post one morning to tell her managing editor and ex-husband Walter Burns (Cary Grant) that she is quitting to remarry and live a quite life in Albany. Never one to let a good thing go, the conniving Burns sets about sabotaging Hildy's relationship by giving her the one thing he's sure she can't resist: a big story.

His Girl Friday was Hollywood's second bigscreen adaptation of the influential 1928 play The Front Page, by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. However, rather than shoot a straight-ahead film version of the play, director Howard Hawks cannily opted to switch the gender of the reporter from male to female, transforming a battle of wills into a sophisticated and sassy battle of the sexes.

As well as being one of the funniest films ever made, His Girl Friday is also one of the fastest. Every arch line of dialogue is sprayed across the screen like bullets from a machine gun. Indeed, while the original publicity of 1940 boasted of speeches running at 240 words per minute, studies have revealed that some in the film actually clock in at over 300 words per minute – which is twice the rate of the conversations you have down the pub.

If this all sounds a bit relentless and unyielding, it also means that His Girl Friday probably boasts the highest laugh-to-minute ratio in cinema history.And what more could you ask of any comedy?

Picture: According to the liner notes that accompany Criterion's Blu-ray, this high-definition digital transfer of His Girl Friday was created using a new '35mm fine-grain master positive, made from the nitrate original camera negative'. The subsequent clean-up was supervised by restoration maestro Grover Crisp and UCLA Film & TV Archive preservation expert Bob Gitt.

Given the care involved, it's hardly surprising that the AVC-encoded 1.33:1 1080p image represents a marked improvement on the previous DVD release. The amount of detail on show results in a pleasingly textured and extremely film-like image, there's authentic grain, and black levels are suitably deep.
Picture rating: 4.5/5

Audio: The disc's LPCM 1.0 mono soundtrack does the best it can dealing with the limitations and complications of the source material. Given the overlapping nature of the dialogue, you can hardly fault this Blu-ray when the odd word gets lost in the mix. More tellingly, there are no instances of cracks, pops and other age-related problems.
Audio rating: 3.5/5

Extras: This two-disc set plays home to plenty of excellent extras. Accompanying His Girl Friday on the first platter are archival audio interviews with Howard Hawks; four archival featurettes; two trailers; a 1940 radio adaptation; and an appreciation of the film by film scholar David Bordwell.

However, it's the second disc that makes this set truly special. Here you'll find a wonderful new 4K restoration of the original 1931 film adaptation of The Front Page, plus a detailed account of the restoration process, and two more radio plays.
Extras rating: 5/5

We say: Criterion has done Howard Hawks' classic comedy justice with this outstanding Blu-ray release

His Girl Friday, Criterion Collection, Region B BD, £28