His Girl Friday (1940)

his girl friday poster 1940 movie
8.0 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 8/10

Clever, inventive, influential

Some dated aspects to the story

Movie Info

Movie Name: His Girl Friday

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Genre(s): Comedy/Romance

Release Date(s):  January 11, 1940 (Premiere)/January 18, 1940 (US)

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

his girl friday rosalind russell

I got a whopper of a story!

Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) is done with the newspaper business.  After being burned one too many times by her editor and former husband Walter Burns (Cary Grant) at The Morning Post, she’s decided to get married to an insurance salesman named Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy) and move to a quieter life in Albany, New York.  Unfortunately for Hildy, that doesn’t sit well with Walter who intends to sabotage the marriage.  When convicted Earl Williams (John Qualen) makes a dramatic escape moments before his hanging, Hildy finds herself on potentially the biggest story of her life.  With government cover-ups and politics causing the sheriff (Gene Lockhart) and mayor (Clarence Kolb) to double down on capturing Earl, Hildy could be the only person standing between Earl and death…if she doesn’t catch the train to Albany.

Directed by Howard Hawks, His Girl Friday is a screwball romantic comedy.  The film is an adaptation of Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s 1928 play The Front Page and was a massive hit.  It was selected for preservation in the Nation Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 1993.  The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #849) which also included the 1931 version of The Front Page.

his girl friday ralph bellamy cary grant

Why do I get the feeling that you are going screw me over…

“His girl Friday” was more of a term to me than a movie.  I had never seen it, and just heard the saying used instead of references to the movie.  The movie is rather inventive (though dated) and helped define the “screwball comedy” type of movie through its quick wit and rapid fire dialogue.

The movie is based on a play and you can tell in many ways.  Much of the movie and the conversations in it are word plays and done in a way that almost makes you feel like you are watching a Laurel and Hardy stand-up routine more than a movie.  It is fast and furious and probably not all picked up on the first viewing.  I can imagine that many viewers at the time were thrown by the overlapping dialogue and the double entendres that were implied with many of the lines.

In this sense, the actors do an amazing job.  Grant later became known for more serious roles and romances but in movies like this (and later Arsenic and Old Lace), he demonstrates classic comic timing.  He’s joined by Rosalind Russell who fought for some of her lines because she felt Grant had the better lines going into the production.  Gene Lockhart plays the Gene Lockhart character (except a dishonest one since he’s usually the nice, jolly guy) and Clarence Kolb plays the cliché crooked mayor.  The best line lands on Hildy’s fiancé played by Ralph Bellamy who Grant’s character describes as the guy who looks like “Ralph Bellamy” in a rather meta moment which was uncommon at the time.

his girl friday earl williams john qualen desk

Did I win at hide-and-seek?

Since the movie is based on a play, the movie has rather limited sets.  You have the newspaper set, a restaurant, and the courthouse news room.  The plot doesn’t call for a lot of sets, but there are a lot of events that happen off camera that would be shown today.  It just becomes part of the dialogue which gives the dialogue a weird surreal nature with everyone relaying into phones the events that audience needs to know.

His Girl Friday has some classic old stereotypes of the roles of women and what women want while still breaking them.  While Hildy could be covering society events and etiquette, she instead is covering hard hitting news and surrounded by male reporters.  Carey’s character ends up kind of snowballing her at the end and getting what he wants (which doesn’t seem to hold up to her steadfast persona), and in a way, that is a letdown…it feels like Hildy should have gotten the last word on Burns somehow.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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