All Time Classics: His Girl Friday. 1940

His Girl Friday. 

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Cast: Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Belamy

Writers: Ben Hecht, Charles MacArtur(“The Front Page”)    Charles Lederer(Screenplay)

Director: Howard Hawks

In the screenplay for Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction“.  He writes that the couple who robs the resteraunt at the start speak in a rapid fire style ala “His Girl Friday“.  After seeing this movie, its clear that this did more than just influence one filmmaker.  There are many genres mixed into this feature that have been used in others since.  It’s kind of cliché to say this, but yes “His Girl Friday” has drama, suspense, and comedy all throughout it’s 90 minute time length.   The story is so well structured and the rapid dialogue is so original that it’s only been remade once as “Switching Channels” back in 1988.   It should also mentioned the movie itself is an adaptation of the stage play and 1931 film “The Front Page“. The main difference between the two is that in the original there were no female lead characters, and there certainly was  no comedy either.

The story has Hildy Johnson(Rosalind Russell) leaving her job as a top-notch reporter to get married to a nice man named Bruce Baldwin(Ralph Belamy).  On their way out of town she stops by her old work to say her final good byes to the staff as well as her editor and ex husband Walter Burns(Cary Grant).   Walter is still in love with Hildy, and he  conceives a few plans to get her to stay.  One of them is for her to write one last story about a man who is about to be executed.

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Now you may be thinking based on the description I wrote that Walter is a cocky asshole and your right.  The man does some pretty heinous things to get Hildy to stay including getting her husband arrested for things he didn’t do and for lieing to her about certain things.  But Miss Johnson sees through his charades  pretty fast and is quick to call him on it as well.  The two may disagree a lot but they have way more to say to each other than Hildy does with Bruce.   Throughout the course of the story, it becomes clear that news reporting is the one thing she loves the most.    There is no way she is going to give up all this fast paced excitement and become just a housewife.  No matter how much she loves her fiancée.  There is one moment where she is fed up and is about to walk out the door when it’s announced that the criminal has escaped.  Right then she turns back around and goes back to working on the story.  Yes, Walter did pull a few tricks to get her to stay, but the choice has always been hers and hers alone.

As I mentioned before “His Girl Friday” has influenced a lot of other genres, but it is responsible for two story clichés that has been used a lot since then.  One of them being about two people who hate each other, but somehow end up getting  pulled into a situation where they have no choice but to work together.  As their adventures go on, they become much closer than they were before.  Look at movies like “Twister“, “The Proposal” “Six Days, Seven Nights” for examples of this.  The other cliché that we have seen in movies a lot more is the wrongly accused scenario. A man is convicted of a crime he may or may not have committed and it takes a plucky young reporter or lawyer to get all the facts correct in order to save him. Movies like “The Life of David Gale“, “Primal Fear” and “Paradise Lost” would all be good examples of this.

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A few  people have stated that the dialogue spoken by the characters feels out of place and makes it difficult to get into the story.  I feel that it adds a bit of realism into that time period.  Newspaper reporters back then had to act fast and speak fast if they wanted to be the first one to crack a big story.  Getting information back in the 40’s wasn’t as quick  as it is now.  You couldn’t just use  Google to help you with your searches, you actually had to call people and go outside to get all your facts.  Plus all of the film’s winning humor is in its way these characters speak.  Look at the below scene with Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell.  The two have incredible chemistry  and their comic timing is amazing to watch.

You can watch this entire movie for free on Youtube and I do suggest checking it out.  Despite it’s setting and time period the movie still manages to be very entertaining and every time I watch it , I laugh.  It also has some clever in jokes that make me love it a little bit more.  When Walter asks one of his staff to describe what Hildy’s fiancée looks like she says he looks like Ralph Belamy, who is in fact the actor portraying him.  It’s the kind of meta humor that actually works and it still manages to make me smile.

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About The Vern

I love movies and I enjoy writing about them too. They both go pretty much hand in hand with each other and it's fun to discover new classics. I co host the podcast The Film Pasture and As You Watch. While also contributing reviews and articles to other great sites when I can.
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5 Responses to All Time Classics: His Girl Friday. 1940

  1. Added to my ‘must watch’ list…

  2. I LOVE this film. As well as many others from the 30s and 40s. I agree, Grant and Russell have such great chemistry.
    Though one of my favourite classics, I always kinda get bored in the middle. But its worth it for that great opening 15mins.
    Have you seen A Philadelphia Story and It Happened One Night? Highly recommended. 🙂

  3. Also, looking forward to reading some of your reviews but there’s a few things I have to watch first. Mainly John Dies At The End. I’ll be sure to follow.

    • The Vern says:

      Thank you very much for reading I appreciate that very much. Yes I have seen both movies, but I really need to rewatch Philadelphia Story again. I missed too many things when I caught it on TV. It Happened One Night is a classic and I really enjoyed it. On the DVD there is a radio play version of the movie performed by it’s two main actors that is also very enjoyable.

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