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  • Writer's pictureThomas Duncan

His Girl Friday (1940)


What is this movie is about?/Elevator Pitch: Can you ever run too far from your identity?


Plot Summary: New York newspaper editor Walter Burns (Cary Grant) runs his paper with pluck and on an ethical edge. When he discovers that his ex-wife, investigative reporter Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell), has gotten engaged to milquetoast insurance agent Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy), he tries to lure her away from her impending wedding with a story about the imminent execution of convicted murderer. With tactics to both entice Hildy to cover the story and to neutralize Bruce, Burns has the story, the pressroom, and the City government buzzing. Will Hildy adopt domestic bliss or will the lure of the newsroom pull her back?


Cast:

  • Howard Hawks, Director

  • Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer, Screenplay

  • Cary Grant as Walter Burns

  • Rosalind Russell as Hildy Johnson

  • Ralph Bellamy as Bruce Baldwin

  • Gene Lockhart as Sheriff Hartwell

  • Clarence Kolb as the Mayor

  • Abner Biberman as Louie

  • Frank Orth as Duffy

  • John Qualen as Earl Williams

  • Helen Mack as Mollie Malloy

  • Alma Kruger as Mrs. Baldwin

  • Billy Gilbert as Joe Pettibone

*Recognition:

  • His Girl Friday was released on January 18, 1940.

  • The screenplay was adapted from the 1928 play The Front Page by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. This was the second time the play had been adapted for the screen, the first occasion being the 1931 film which kept the original title The Front Page. The Front Page was remade again in a 1974 Billy Wilder movie starring Walter Matthau as Walter Burns, Jack Lemmon as Hildy Johnson, and Susan Sarandon as his fiancée.

  • In 2000, His Girl Friday was ranked #19 on the American Film Institute's 100 Years ... 100 Laughs.

  • Rosalind Russell's performance as Hildy Johnson was cited as the model for the character of Lois Lane in the Superman franchise.

  • In 1993, it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.

  • In the 2012 Sight & Sound poll of the greatest films of all time, His Girl Friday appeared on several lists, including those of critic David Thomson and director Quentin Tarantino.

  • His Girl Friday currently holds a 99% rating among critics on RT, and a 4 out of 5 rating on Letterboxd.

Did You Know:

  • One of the first films (preceded by "Stage Door" (1937)) to have characters talk over the lines of other characters, for a more realistic sound. Prior to this, movie characters completed their lines before the next lines were started.

  • It is estimated that the normal rate of verbal dialogue in most films is around 90 words a minute. In His Girl Friday (1940), the delivery has been clocked at 240 words a minute.

  • To maintain the fast pace, Howard Hawks encouraged his cast to add dialogue and funny bits of business and step on each others lines whenever possible.

  • Rosalind Russell thought, while shooting, that she didn't have as many good lines as Cary Grant had, so she hired an advertisement writer through her brother-in-law and had him write more clever lines for the dialog. Since Howard Hawks allowed for spontaneity and ad-libbing, he, and many of the cast and crew didn't notice it, but Grant knew she was up to something, leading him to greet her every morning: "What have you got today?"

  • The famous in-joke about Ralph Bellamy's character ("There's a guy in a taxi down at the court building looks just like that movie star, what's his name? Ralph Bellamy!") was almost left on the cutting room floor: Harry Cohn, the studio head, saw the dailies and responded in fury at the impertinence, but he let Howard Hawks leave it in, and it has always been one of the biggest laughs in the film. According to Ralph Bellamy, the line was ad-libbed by Cary Grant.

  • Ginger Rogers wrote that she was offered the role of Hildy Johnson. She read the script, but this was before Cary Grant was cast, and she turned it down. After learning that Grant was cast, she regretted it.

  • To capture the film's fast-paced dialogue clearly, Howard Hawks decided to use multiple microphones rather than one overhead boom mike. Since the microphones couldn't be turned on simultaneously, a sound technician had to switch from mike to mike on cue. Some scenes required as many as 35 switches.

  • In addition to casting Hildy as a female reporter and editor, the City Room of the Morning Post had a half dozen other women sitting at reporter's desks. As a 1940 film, this was an extraordinary number for what was then an overwhelmingly male profession.

  • A "girl Friday" is an assistant who carries out a variety of chores. The name alludes to "Friday", Robinson Crusoe's native male dogsbody in Daniel Defoe's novel. According to the Merriam-Webster's definition, the term was first used in 1940 (the year the film was released).

Best Performance: Cary Grant (Walter)/Rosalind Russell (Hildy)

Best Secondary Performance: Howard Hawks (Director)

Most Charismatic Award: Rosalind Russell (Hildy)

Best Scene:

  • Hildy Tells Walter

  • Walter Takes Hildy and Bruce to Lunch

  • Hildy Back in the Press Room

  • Bruce in Jail

  • Williams Escapes

  • Williams Holds Hildy Hostage

  • Mrs. Baldwin

  • Reprieve Delivery

  • Sheriff Pete Finds Williams

  • Resolution

Favorite Scene: Resolution/Mrs. Baldwin

Most Indelible Moment: Resolution/Mrs. Baldwin


In Memorium:

  • Eileen Ryan, 94, American actress (Magnolia, Parenthood, Benny & Joon) mother to composer Michael Penn, and actors Sean and Chris Penn.

  • Judy Tenuta, 72, American comedian, actress, and musician (The Weird Al Show, Going Down in LA-LA Land, There's No Such Thing as Vampires) Comedy Club Female Comic of the Year in 1987, and two nominated for Grammy Awards for two different comedy albums.

  • Ken Barcus, 67, American journalist and editor (NPR)

  • Ann Flood, 87, American actress (The Edge of Night, From These Roots, Mystic Pizza)

  • Art Laboe, 97, American DJ (the "Oldies but Goodies" compilation album, was on the radio in Southern California for over 70 years, and was one of the first DJs to play Rock n' Roll on the West Coast) Rock n' Roll HOF inductee in 2012.

  • Dame Angela Lansbury, 96, Irish-British-American actress and singer, (The Manchurian Candidate, Sweeney Todd, Murder, She Wrote) five-time Tony winner, twelve-time Emmy nominee, and three-time Oscar nominee.

Best Lines/Funniest Lines:

Evangeline: What does he look like?

Walter Burns: He looks like that fellow in the movies. You know... Ralph Bellamy.


Sheriff Hartwell: Aiding an escaped criminal and a little charge of kidnapping.

Fred, the Mayor: Well, looks like about ten years a piece for you two birds.

Walter Burns: Does it?

[unimpressed]

Hildy Johnson: If you think you've got The Morning Post licked it's time for you to get out of town.

Fred, the Mayor: Whistling in the dark. Well that isn't going to help you this time. You're through.

Walter Burns: Listen the last man that said that to me was Archie Leach just a week before he cut his throat.


Hildy Johnson: Walter, you're wonderful, in a loathsome sort of way.


Walter Burns: Take Hitler and stick him on the funny page.


Walter Burns: Look, Hildy, I only acted like any husband that didn't want to see his home broken up.

Hildy Johnson: What home?

Walter Burns: "What home"? Don't you remember the home I promised you?


Walter Burns: You've got an old fashioned idea divorce is something that lasts forever, 'til death do us part.' Why divorce doesn't mean anything nowadays, Hildy, just a few words mumbled over you by a judge.


Walter Burns: What do you think I am, a crook?

Hildy Johnson: Yes.


Hildy Johnson: [speaking of her fiance] He forgets the office when he's with me. He doesn't treat me like an errand boy, either, Walter. He treats me like a woman.

Walter Burns: Oh he does, does he? Mm-hmm... how did I treat you? Like a water buffalo?


Walter Burns: Diabetes! I ought to know better than to hire anybody with a disease.


Walter Burns: Hey, Duffy, listen. Is there any way we can stop the 4:00 train to Albany from leaving town?

Duffy - Copy Editor: We might dynamite it.

Walter Burns: Could we?


Hildy Johnson: Walter!

Walter Burns: What?

Hildy Johnson: The mayor's first wife, what was her name?

Walter Burns: You mean the one with the wart on her?

Hildy Johnson: Right.

Walter Burns: Fanny!


Hildy Johnson: The paper's gonna have to get along without me. So are you! It just didn't work out, Walter.

Walter Burns: Well, it would have worked out if you had been satisfied with just being editor and reporter; but, not you, you had to marry me! Spoil everything.


Walter Burns: Sorta wish you hadn't done that, Hildy.

Hildy Johnson: Done what?

Walter Burns: Divorced me. Makes a fella lose all faith in himself. Gives him a... almost gives him a feeling he wasn't wanted.

Hildy Johnson: Oh, now look, junior... that's what divorces are FOR!


Hildy Johnson: [speaking on the phone to Bruce] There's an old newspaper superstition that the first big check you get, you put in the lining of your hat. In your hat! It brings good luck.

Murphy: I've been a reporter for 20 years - I never heard that before.

Hildy Johnson: [to Murphy] Neither did I.


The Stanley Rubric:

Legacy: 5.75

Impact/Significance: 7.75

Novelty: 8.25

Classic-ness: 9

Rewatchability: 7.75

Audience Score: 8.85 (87% Google, 90% RT)

Total: 47.35


Remaining Questions:

  • What is the outcome of Earl Williams' case?

  • Was Hildy ever really going to marry Bruce?

  • Why would Mollie go to such an extreme step like a suicide attempt to save Earl?

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