His Girl Friday

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His Girl Friday
His Girl Friday poster.jpg
Theatrical poster
Directed by Howard Hawks
Produced by Howard Hawks
Screenplay by Charles Lederer
Based on The Front Page
1928 play
by Ben Hecht
Charles MacArthur
Starring Cary Grant
Rosalind Russell
Ralph Bellamy
Gene Lockhart
Music by Sidney Cutner
Felix Mills
Cinematography Joseph Walker
Edited by Gene Havlick
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date
  • January 11, 1940 (1940-01-11)
Running time
92 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Full film

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.[1] The major change in this version, introduced by Hawks, is that the role of Hildy Johnson is a woman. The film stars Cary Grant as Walter Burns and Rosalind Russell as Hildy Johnson and features Ralph Bellamy as Bruce Baldwin. The plot centers on a newspaper editor named Walter Burns who is about to lose his newly engaged ace reporter ex-wife Hildy Johnson to another man. Burns suggest they cover one more story together, getting themselves entangled in the case of murderer Earl Williams as Burns desperately tries to win back his wife.

The film was #19 on American Film Institute's 100 Years...100 Laughs and has been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. Because the claimants did not renew the movie's copyright registration, the film entered the public domain in the United States in 1968,[2] but it remains copyrighted in France.[3] The 1928 play it is based on remains under copyright in the United States until 2024.[4]


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 Earl Williams (John Qualen) a shy bookkeeper convicted of murdering an African-American policeman. Walter invites Hildy and her fiancé Bruce to lunch and attempts to convince Bruce that Hildy is the only one who can write a story to save wrongly convicted Earl Williams. Hildy agrees on the condition that Walter buys a $100,000 life insurance policy from Bruce and he enthusiastically agrees.

Walter does everything he can to keep Hildy from leaving, including setting Bruce up so he gets arrested over and over again on trumped-up charges. He even kidnaps Hildy's stern mother-in-law-to-be (Alma Kruger). When Williams escapes from the bumbling sheriff (Gene Lockhart) and practically falls into Hildy's lap, the lure of a big scoop proves too much for her. She is so consumed with writing the story that she hardly notices as Bruce realizes his cause is hopeless and leaves to return to Albany.

The crooked mayor (Clarence Kolb) and sheriff need the publicity from the execution to keep their jobs in an upcoming election, so when a messenger (Billy Gilbert) brings them a reprieve from the governor, they try to bribe the man to go away and return later, when it will be too late. Walter and Hildy find out in time to save Williams from the gallows and they use the information to blackmail the mayor and sheriff into dropping Walter's arrest for kidnapping.

Afterward, Walter tells Hildy they're going to remarry, and promises to take her on the honeymoon they never had in Niagara Falls. But then Walter learns that there is a newsworthy strike in Albany, which is on the way to Niagara Falls by train.



Hawks's production that became His Girl Friday was originally intended to be a straightforward adaptation of The Front Page, with both the editor and reporter being male. But during auditions, a woman, Howard Hawks' secretary, read reporter Hildy Johnson's lines. Hawks liked the way the dialogue sounded coming from a woman, resulting in the script being rewritten to make Hildy female and the ex-wife of editor Walter Burns.[5] Although Hawks considered the dialogue of The Front Page to be "the finest modern dialogue that had been written", more than half of it was replaced with what Hawks believed to be better dialogue.[6]:208-209 Some of the original dialogue and all of the characters' names were left the same, with the exception of Hildy's fiancé, Bruce Baldwin. Harry Cohn of Columbia Pictures approved Hawks' idea for the film project. Ben Hecht was unavailable to do do the necessary script revisions so Hawks recruited Charles Lederer who had worked on the adaptation for The Front Page to work on the screenplay.[7]:96 Additions were made in the beginning of the screenplay by Lederer to give the characters a convincing backstory so it was decided that Hildy and Walter would be divorced with Hildy's intentions of remarriage serving as Walter's motivation to win her back.[7]:97

Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, and Ralph Bellamy in a promotional picture for the film.

Hawks had great difficulty casting this film. While the choice of Cary Grant was almost instantaneous, the casting of Hildy was a more extended process. At first, Hawks wanted Carole Lombard, whom he had directed in the screwball comedy Twentieth Century, but the cost of hiring Lombard in her new status as a freelancer proved to be far too expensive, and Columbia could not afford her. Katharine Hepburn, Claudette Colbert, Margaret Sullavan, Ginger Rogers and Irene Dunne were offered the role, but turned it down, Dunne because she felt the part was too small and needed to be expanded. Jean Arthur was offered the part, and was suspended by the studio when she refused to take it. Joan Crawford was reportedly also considered.[8]

Hawks then turned to Rosalind Russell. During filming, Russell noticed that Hawks treated her like an also-ran, so she confronted him: "You don't want me, do you? Well, you're stuck with me, so you might as well make the most of it."[9]

The film had the working title of The Bigger They Are,[10] and was in production from September 27 to November 21, 1939.

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?"[11]

The film is noted for its rapid-fire repartee, using overlapping dialogue to make conversations sound more realistic, with one character speaking before another finishes. Although overlapping dialog is specified and cued in the 1928 play script by Hecht and MacArthur,[12] Hawks told Peter Bogdanovich:

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.[9]

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.[10]

Grant's character describes Bellamy's character by saying "He looks like that fellow in the movies, you know...Ralph Bellamy!" According to Bellamy, the remark was ad libbed by Grant.[8] Columbia studio head Harry Cohn thought it was too cheeky and ordered it removed, but Hawks insisted that it stay. Grant makes several other "inside" remarks in the film. When his character is arrested for a kidnapping, he describes the horrendous fate suffered by the last person who crossed him: Archie Leach (Grant's birth name).[9] Another line that people think is an inside remark is when Earl Williams attempts to get out of the rolltop desk he's been hiding in, Grant says, "Get back in there, you Mock Turtle." The line is a "cleaned-up" version of a line from the stage version of The Front Page ("Get back in there, you God damned turtle!") and Grant also played "The Mock Turtle" in the 1933 film version of Alice in Wonderland.[10]


The title His Girl Friday is an ironical title, because a girl "Friday" represents a servant of a master, but Hildy is not a servant in the film, but rather the equal to Walter, her male counterpart. The world in this film is not determined by gender, but rather by intelligence and culpability. At the beginning of the film Hildy says that she wants to be "treated like a woman", but her return to her profession reveals her true desire to live a freer life.[7]:105


Criticism of domesticity[edit]

In His Girl Friday, even though the characters remarry, Hawks displays an aversion to marriage, home, and family through his approach to the film. Hildy's fiance played by Bellamy is purposefully excluded as a character in the film due to Hawks' cinematography. Specific, exclusionary camera work and character control of the frame and the dialogue portray a subtle criticism of domesticity.[13] The subject of domesticity is fairly absent throughout the film. Even among the relationships between Grant and Russell and Bellamy and Russell, the relationships are positioned within a larger frame of the male predominated newsroom.[13]

Rivalry to relationship[edit]

Hildy Johnson and Walter Burns represent the common film theme of two co-lead professional rivals that develop a personal relationship that what in the case of His Girl Friday, a romantic relationship, but does not have to be as exemplified by Red River.[14]

Symbols and motifs[edit]

Hawks is known for his use of repeated or intentional gestures in his films. In His Girl Friday, the cigarette in the scene between Hildy and Earl Williams serves several symbolic roles in the film. First, the cigarette establishes a link between the characters when Williams accepts the cigarette even though he does not smoke. However, the fact that he doesn't smoke and they don't share the cigarette shows the difference between and separation of the worlds in which the two characters live.[15][16]


The cinematography of the film, is based on a play and focused on interior space, with little exposure or idea of the outside world.[13] Overlapping editing was used for emphasis in the scene in which Hildy Johnson comes back into the pressroom after escorting out an emotional Molly Malloy. She begins opening the door to return and the scene cuts to an American shot of her continuing to open the door, but slightly backtracked over a part of the arc that the door had already swung. This obvious overlapping emphasized the scene.[17]:84–85

The film contains two main plots: the romantic and the professional. Walter and Hildy work together to attempt to release wrongly convicted Earl Williams, while the concurrent plot is Walter attempting to win back Hildy. The two plots do not resolve at the same time, but they are interdependent because although Williams is released before Walter and Hildy get back together, he is the reason for their reconciliation.[17]:158

The speed of the film is particularly notable and is characterized by snappy and overlapping dialogue among interruptions and rapid speech. Gesture, character and camera movement, as well as editing, serve to complement the dialogue in increasing the pace of the film. There is a clear contrast between the fast-talking Hildy and Walter and slow-talking Bruce and Earl which serves to emphasize the gap between the intelligent and the unintelligent in the film. The average word per minute count of the film is 240 while average American speech is around 140 words per minute. There are nine scenes with at least four words per second and at least two with more than five words per second.[7]:103 Hawks attached verbal tags before and after specific script lines so the actors would be able to interrupt and talk over each other without making the necessary dialogue incomprehensible.[6]:49

Closure Effect[edit]

A commonality in many Howard Hawks films in the revelation of the amorality of the main character and an inability for the protagonist to change or develop as a character. In His Girl Friday, Walter Burns manipulates, acts based on his own gain, frames his ex-wife's fiancé, and orchestrates the kidnapping of an elderly woman. Even at the end of the film, Burns convinces Hildy Johnson to remarry him despite how much she loathes him and his questionable actions. Upon the reconciliation of their relationship, there is no romance visible between each other. They do not kiss, embrace, or even gaze at each other. It is evident that Burns is still the same person as he was in their previous relationship as he quickly waves off the plans for the honeymoon that they never had in pursuit of a new story. Additionally, he walks in front of out the room, forcing her to carry her own suitcase, despite Johnson having already criticized that as being ungentleman-like in the beginning of the film. It's clear that the marriage is fated face the same problems that ended it before.[18] Film theorist and historian David Bordwell explained the ending of His Girl Friday as a "closure effect" rather than a closure. The ending of the film is rather circular and there is no development of characters, specifically Walter Burns, and the film ends similar to the way in which is starts. Additionally, the film ends with a brief epilogue in which the Watler announces their remarriage and reveals their intention to go cover a strike in Albany on the way to their honeymoon and they consider staying with Bruce in Albany. The fate of the main characters and even some of the minor characters such as Earl William are revealed, except there are minor flaws in the resolution. For example, they do not discuss what happens to Molly Malloy after the conflict resolved. However, the main characters endings were wrapped up so well that it overshadows the need for the minor characters endings to be wrapped up. This creates a "closure effect" or an appearance of closure.[17]:159[18]


His Girl Friday premiered in New York City at Radio City Music Hall on January 11, 1940, and went into general American release a week later.[19][20]


Contemporary reviews from critics were positive. Frank S. Nugent of The New York Times wrote, "Except to add that we've seen 'The Front Page' under its own name and others so often before we've grown a little tired of it, we don't mind conceding 'His Girl Friday' is a bold-faced reprint of what was once—and still remains—the maddest newspaper comedy of our times."[1] Variety wrote, "The trappings are different—even to the extent of making reporter Hildy Johnson a femme—but it is still 'Front Page' and Columbia need not regret it. Charles Leder (sic) has done an excellent screenwriting job on it and producer director Howard Hawks has made a film that can stand alone almost anywhere and grab healthy grosses."[21] Harrison's Reports wrote, "Even though the story and its development will be familiar to those who saw the first version of 'The Front Page,' they will be entertained just the same, for the action is so exciting that it holds one in tense suspense throughout."[22] Film Daily wrote, "Given a snappy pace, a top flight cast, good production and able direction, film has all the necessary qualities for first-rate entertainment for any type of audience."[23] John Mosher of The New Yorker wrote that after years of "feeble, wispy, sad imitations" of The Front Page, he found this authentic adaptation of the original to be "as fresh and undated and bright a film as you could want."[24] Louis Marcorelles called His Girl Friday, "le film américain par excellence".[17]:188


In 1993, the Library of Congress selected His Girl Friday for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.[25] The film also ranked 19th on the American Film Institute's 100 Years...100 Laughs, a 2000 list of the funniest American comedies.[26]

Quentin Tarantino, the director of Pulp Fiction (1994), has named His Girl Friday as one of his favorite movies.[27]

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:


His Girl Friday (often along with Bringing up Baby and Twentieth Century is cited as an archetype of the screwball comedy genre.[33]:2

Cultural References[edit]

In the 2004 film Notre musique, in Godard's classroom he explains the basic of film, specifically the shot reverse shot. As he explains this concept, two stills from His Girl Friday are shown with Cary Grant in one photo and Rosalind Russell in the other. He explains that upon looking closely, the two shots are actually the same shot, "because the director is incapable of seeing the difference between a man and a woman."[34]


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.[35] 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.[1]

His Girl Friday was dramatized as a radio play on the September 30, 1940 broadcast of Lux Radio Theater with Claudette Colbert, Fred MacMurray and Jack Carson. It was dramatized again on The Screen Guild Theater (March 30, 1941) with Grant and Russell reprising their film roles.[36]

"The Front Page" was remade in a 1974 Billy Wilder movie starring Walter Mattheau, Jack Lemmon, and Susan Sarandon. Walter Mattheau as Walter Burns, with Jack Lemmon as Hildy Johnson and Susan Sarandon as his fiance.[37][38]

His Girl Friday and the original Hecht and MacArthur play were later adapted into another stage play, His Girl Friday, by playwright John Guare. This was presented at the National Theatre, London, from May to November 2003, with Alex Jennings as Burns and Zoë Wanamaker as Hildy.[39][40]

The 1988 film Switching Channels was loosely based on His Girl Friday, with Burt Reynolds in the Walter Burns role, Kathleen Turner in the Hildy Johnson role, and Christopher Reeve in the role of Bruce.[41]


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 Merriam-Webster's, the term was first used in 1940 (the year the film was released).[42]


  1. ^ a b c Nugent, Frank S. (January 12, 1940). "Movie Review His Girl Friday (1940) THE SCREEN IN REVIEW; Frenzied's the Word for 'His Girl Friday,' a Distaff Edition of 'The Front Page,' at the Music Hall--'The Man Who Wouldn't Talk' Opens at the Palace". The New York Times. 
  2. ^ Gomery, Douglas (1992), Shared pleasures: a history of movie presentation in the United States (illustrated ed.), Univ of Wisconsin Press, p. 259, ISBN 978-0-299-13214-9 
  3. ^ Cour de cassation. "Arrêt n° 1302 du 17 décembre 2009 (07-21.115 ; 07-21.553)". 
  4. ^ Fishman, Stephen (2010), The Public Domain: How to Find & Use Copyright-Free Writings, Music, Art & More (5th ed.), Nolo (retrieved via Google Books), p. 180, ISBN 1-4133-1205-5, retrieved October 31, 2010 
  5. ^ Phillips, Gene (2010). Some Like It Wilder: The Life and Controversial Films of Billy Wilder. Lexington, Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky. p. 308. ISBN 9780813125701. Retrieved August 7, 2018. 
  6. ^ a b Mast, Gerald (1982). Howard Hawks, Storyteller. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195030915. 
  7. ^ a b c d Grindon, Leger (2011). The Hollywood romantic comedy: Conventions, history, controversies. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 9781405182669. Retrieved 27 June 2018. 
  8. ^ a b Notes TCM
  9. ^ a b c Osborne, Robert, Turner Classic Movie broadcast[better source needed]
  10. ^ a b c Miller, Frank. "His Girl Friday". 
  11. ^ New York : Random House, 1977. ISBN 978-0-394-42134-6 OCLC 3017310
  12. ^ Hecht, Ben, & Charles MacArthur, The Front Page, 1928. Samuel French, Inc.
  13. ^ a b c Danks, Adrian (2016). "'Ain't There Anyone Here for Love?' Space, Place and Community in the Cinema of Howard Hawks". In Brookes, Ian. Howard Hawks: New Perspectives. London: Palgrave. pp. 35–38. ISBN 9781844575411. 
  14. ^ Schlotterbeck, Jesse (2016). "Hawks's 'UnHawksian' Biopic: Sergeant York". Howard Hawks: New Perspective. London: Palgrave. p. 68. ISBN 9781844575411. 
  15. ^ Neale, Steve (2016). "Gestures, Movements and Actions in Rio Bravo". In Brookes, Ian. Howard Hawks: New Perspectives. London: Palgrave. p. 110. ISBN 9781844575411. 
  16. ^ McElhaney, Joe (Spring–Summer 2006). "Howard Hawks: American Gesture". Journal of Film and Video. 58 (1-2): 31–45. Retrieved 31 May 2018. 
  17. ^ a b c d Bordwell, David (1985). Narration in the Fiction Film. Madison, Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 0299101703. 
  18. ^ a b Dibbern, Doug (2016). "Irresolvable Circularity: Narrative Closure and Nihilism in Only Angels Have Wings". In Brookes, Ian. Howard Hawks: New Perspectives. 9781844575411: Palgrave. p. 230. 
  19. ^ Cohn, Herbert (January 12, 1940). "'His Girl Friday' Makes Gay Music Hall Comedy". The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Retrieved 27 June 2018. 
  20. ^ "At the Logan Wednesday". The Logan Daily News. January 22, 1940. Retrieved 27 June 2018. 
  21. ^ "His Girl Friday". Variety. New York: Variety, Inc. January 10, 1940. p. 14. 
  22. ^ "'His Girl Friday' with Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell and Ralph Bellamy". Harrison's Reports: 3. January 6, 1940. 
  23. ^ "Reviews of the New Films". Film Daily. New York: Wid's Films and Film Folk, Inc.: 5 January 5, 1940. 
  24. ^ Mosher, John (January 13, 1940). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. New York: F-R Publishing Corp. p. 59. 
  25. ^ Clamen, Stewart M. "U.S. National Film Registry — Titles". Clamen's Movie Information Collection. Carnegie Mellon University. Retrieved July 28, 2013. 
  26. ^ "America's Funniest Movies" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved July 28, 2013. 
  27. ^ "The Greatest Films Poll - 2012 - Quentin Tarantino". British Film Institute. Retrieved December 14, 2014. 
  28. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-07-17. 
  29. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved 2016-07-17. 
  30. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-07-17. 
  31. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies Nominees (10th Anniversary Edition)" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-07-17. 
  32. ^ "AFI's 10 Top 10 Nominees" (PDF). Archived from the original on July 16, 2011. Retrieved August 19, 2016. 
  33. ^ Brookes, Ian, ed. (2016). Howard Hawks: New Perspectives. London: Palgrave. ISBN 9781844575411. 
  34. ^ McElhaney, Joe (2016). "Red Line 7000: Fatal Disharmonies". In Brookes, Ian. Howard Hawks: New Perspectives. London: Palgrave. p. 199. ISBN 9781844575411. 
  35. ^ Fristoe, Roger; Nixon, Rob. "The Front Page (1931)". Film Article. Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2 July 2018. 
  36. ^ "Screen Guild Theater". Internet Archive. March 26, 2007. 
  37. ^ Canby, Vincent (December 19, 1974). "Wilder's Uneven Film of 'Front Page'". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 27 June 2018. 
  38. ^ "Winners and Nominees: The Front Page". Golden Globes Awards. Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Retrieved 27 June 2018. 
  39. ^ Tarloff, Erik (July 6, 2003). "Theater; The Play of the Movie of the Play". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 27 June 2018. 
  40. ^ Billington, Michael (June 6, 2003). "His Girl Friday". The Guardian. Guardian New and Media Limited. Retrieved 27 June 2018. 
  41. ^ Canby, Vincent (March 4, 1988). "Film: Turner in 'Switching Channels'". The New York Times. 
  42. ^ "Girl Friday". Merriam-Webster. Retrieved August 17, 2017. 

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