Perhaps the funniest, certainly the fastest talkie comedy ever made.
The film had the working title of The Bigger They Are, and was in production from September 27 to November 21, 1939.
Walter Burns (Cary Grant) is a hard-boiled editor for The Morning Post who learns his ex-wife and former star reporter, Hildegard "Hildy" Johnson (Rosalind Russell), is about to marry bland insurance man Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy) and settle down to a quiet life as a wife and mother in Albany, New York. Walter determines to sabotage these plans, enticing the reluctant Hildy to cover one last story, the upcoming execution of convicted murderer Earl Williams (John Qualen).
Cary Grant's performance is truly virtuoso -- stunning technique applied to the most challenging material.
A young man falls in love with a girl from a rich family. His unorthodox plan to go on holiday for the early years of his life is met with skepticism by everyone except for his fiancée's eccentric sister and long suffering brother.
I wish you hadn't done that, Hildy...Divorce me. Makes a fellow lose all faith in himself...Almost gives him a feeling he wasn't wanted.
Walter: Look, Hildy, I only acted like any husband who didn't want to see his home broken up. Hildy: What home? Walter: What home? Don't you remember the home I promised you? Hildy: Sure I do. That was the one we were to have right after the honeymoon. Ha, ha, that honeymoon.
Have the movies ever talked this quickly, before or since?
Hildy: All I know is that instead of two weeks in Atlantic City with my bridegroom, I spent two weeks in a coal mine with John Krupsky. You don't deny that, do you Walter? Walter: Deny it? I'm proud of it. We beat the whole country on that story. Hildy: (shouting) Well, suppose we did. That isn't what I got married for!
A woman is asked to spy on a group of Nazi friends in South America. How far will she have to go to ingratiate herself with them?
A big fat lummox like you - hiring an airplane to write: 'Hildy, don't be hasty, remember my dimple.' Walter. It delayed our divorce twenty minutes while the judge went out to watch it.
In 1993, the Library of Congress selected His Girl Friday for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. The film also ranked 19th on the American Film Institute's 100 Years...100 Laughs, a 2000 list of the funniest American comedies.
She finally gets a word in edgewise to announce her impending marriage, show him her engagement ring, to emphasize her need to be "a woman" and NOT a "newspaperman," and to tell him that she wants respectability, stability, and security. Meanwhile, Walter touches the phone in front of him and contemplates what new tactics he must devise to prevent her marriage to this new rival:
The 1974 filmThe Front Page was based on the His Girl Friday model, with Walter Matthau as Walter Burns, Jack Lemmon as Hildebrand 'Hildy' Johnson and Susan Sarandon as Hildy's fiancée Peggy Grant.
Two individuals emerge from one of the elevators: Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell), wearing a striped suit and matching hat, and her overly-attentive fiancee Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy). After telling Bruce to remain in the front waiting room behind the wooden railing and "NO ADMITTANCE" sign, Hildy is tracked back to the right as she enters the offices and speaks to the two switchboard operators:
In her autobiography, Life Is A Banquet, Russell wrote that she thought her role did not have as many good lines as Grant's, so she hired her own writer to "punch up" her dialogue. With Hawks encouraging ad-libbing on the set, Russell was able to slip her writer's work into the movie. Only Grant was wise to this tactic and greeted her each morning saying, "What have you got today?"
His Girl Friday is a 1940 American screwball comedy film directed by Howard Hawks, from an adaptation by Charles Lederer, Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur of the play The Front Page by Hecht and MacArthur. This was the second time the play had been adapted for the screen, the first occasion being the 1931 film also called The Front Page. The major change in this version, introduced by Hawks, is that the role of Hildy Johnson is a woman.
Hildy: I spent six weeks in Reno, then Bermuda, oh, about four months, I guess. It seems like yesterday to me. Walter: Maybe it was yesterday, Hildy. Been seeing me in your dreams? Hildy: Oh, no, Mama doesn't dream about you anymore, Walter. You wouldn't know the old girl now.
Prior to His Girl Friday the play The Front Page had been adapted for the screen once before, in the 1931 Howard Hughes-produced film also called The Front Page with Adolphe Menjou and Pat O'Brien in the starring roles. In this first film adaptation of the Broadway play of the same title (written by former Chicago newsmen Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur), Hildy Johnson was male.
To get the effect he wanted, as multi-track sound recording was not yet available at the time, Hawks had the sound mixer on the set turn the various overhead microphones on and off as required for the scene, as many as 35 times.
I had noticed that when people talk, they talk over one another, especially people who talk fast or who are arguing or describing something. So we wrote the dialogue in a way that made the beginnings and ends of sentences unnecessary; they were there for overlapping.
Private detective Philip Marlowe is hired by a rich family. Before the complex case is over, he's seen murder, blackmail, and what might be love.
You're losing your eye. You used to be able to pitch better than that.
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).
Although she has had many changes in her life, Walter believes he still knows her. In fact, the rhythmic tone of their talk, their reactions, and their speedy use of words are almost identical. He repeats to her the speech he made the night he proposed:
Oh Walter, you're wonderful - in a loathsome sort of way.
The gender swap brought an entirely new angle to the film, making it more than a satirical view and social commentary on the operation of a newsroom under the management of a hard-boiled, smart-alec managing editor Walter Burns (Cary Grant in this version, Adolphe Menjou in the earlier film), and providing an additional feminine-romance angle.
Movies and TV shows are Certified Fresh with a steady Tomatometer of 75% or higher after a set amount of reviews (80 for wide-release movies, 40 for limited-release movies, 20 for TV shows), including 5 reviews from Top Critics.
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
She has returned from Bermuda where she met her new beau - "this man." He's an insurance salesman ("That's a good, honest business, isn't it?") - a profession that Walter sarcastically disparages with irony: "Oh certainly, it's honest. It's also adventurous, it's romantic. Listen, Hildy, I can't picture you being surrounded by policies, policies..." But Hildy argues that she enjoys her beau's chivalrous manners:
His Girl Friday (1940)
She admits she has a "better offer" for a boss: "Listen, Walter, you are no longer my husband and no longer my boss. And you're not going to be my boss." He becomes incensed that she shows no sense of gratitude for his mentorship and they jabber at each other with overlapping lines:
Yet he believes that the "old-fashioned" idea of divorce as something that lasts forever doesn't really mean anything: "Just a few words, mumbled over you by a judge. We've got something between us nothing can change." Walter found it rough to let Hildy go and fought the divorce to the very end: "You never miss the water till the well runs dry." She mocks the way he tried to entice her to dismiss the divorce:
Bruce: Even ten minutes is a long time to be away from you. Hildy: (She pauses and walks backwards to him.) What did you say? Bruce: What? Hildy: Go on. (He laughs sheepishly) Well, go ahead. Bruce: Well, I just said, 'Even ten minutes is a long time to be away from you.' Hildy: I heard you the first time. I like it. That's why I asked you to say it again.
Walter insinuates that she made "goo-goo eyes" at him for two years, and forced him to propose when he was drunk: "And I still claim I was tight the night I proposed to you. If you had been a gentleman, you would have forgotten all about it. But not you." Just like old times, she hurls her pocketbook at his head from behind - he doesn't see it coming, but ducks instinctively. She misses, causing him to calmly respond:
A spoiled heiress running away from her family is helped by a man who is actually a reporter in need of a story.
Hildy is ready to forsake the kinetic pace of journalism for the promise of a simpler life, a real home in the sticks with kids, and a husband who has a more predictable job. During their honeymoon, for instance, they reported on a coal mine that caved in, beating the whole country with a scoop on the story. Hildy remembers their honeymoon (or lack thereof) well:
Clever, witty and extremely satisfying, this marvellous film is still achingly funny today.
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It's a miraculous balancing act from Hawks, who keeps death-row drama bleeding under the movie's screwball skin to give this frantic battle of the sexes a fiendishly dark sophistication.
His Girl Friday premiered in New York City on January 11, 1940, and went into general American release a week later.