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"His Girl Friday"

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Character's Name: Walter Burns
Release Date:  January 18, 1940
Director: Howard Hawks
Studio:  Columbia
Running Time: 92 minutes

Cast: Cary Grant (Walter Burns), Rosalind Russell (Hildy Johnson), Ralph Bellamy (Bruce Baldwin), Gene Lockhart (Sheriff Hartwell), Helen Mack (Mollie Malloy), Porter Hall (Murphy), Ernest Truex (Bensinger), Cliff Edwards (Endicott), Clarence Kolb (Mayor), Roscoe Karns (McCue), Frank Jenks (Wilson), Regis Toomey (Sanders), Abner Biberman (Louis), Frank Orth (Duffy), John Qualen (Earl Williams), Alma Kruger (Mrs. Baldwin), Billy Gilbert (Joe Pettibone), Pat West (Warden Cooley), Edwin Maxwell (Dr. Egelhoffer)

His Girl Friday trailer:

Watch "His Girl Friday" - 1:31:43

- by Zoë Shaw
Hildy Johnson, who has recently divorced Walter Burns, announces she is leaving his newspaper to remarry, and settle down to a peaceful life. She agrees to cover one more story before leaving, but this story proves that she is made to be a reporter.

- by Jerelyn Stanley
His Girl Friday is another of the screwball comedies so popular in the 1930's and one of the better ones. It was adapted for the movies from the play "The Front Page" by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur.

Directed by Howard Hawks, this is a fast-paced story teaming Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. He is a newspaper editor trying to prevent his ace reporter ex-wife from remarrying and leading a "normal" life. He uses every trick possible to do that.

The big story in the film is an upcoming execution of a mild-mannered little man whom many believe is innocent of the murder of which he was convicted, and the political corruption of the officials involved. Every reporter is trying to get a scoop on the action surrounding this big story.

This is to be Russell's last story before marriage and retirement, and Grants pulls out all the stops trying to mess things up for her, even to giving her counterfeit money. There is a jailbreak, shooting, and a hilarious scene where Russell chases a man down and tackles him in her high heels!

Of course Grant and Russell are reunited at the last, and we hope that it will be happily ever after.

VARIETY Film Review - January 10, 1940
- by "Herb"
- submitted by Barry Martin
No doubt aiming to dodge the stigma of have 'His Girl Friday' termed a remake, Columbia blithely skips a pertinent point in the credits by merely stating 'From a play by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur.'  It's inescapable, however, that this is the former legit and pic smash 'The Front Page.'  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 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.

With more of the feminine-romance angle injected than was in the original, this new edition becomes more the modern-style sophisticated comedy than the hard, biting picture of newspapermen that Hecht and MacArthur painted in their stage play.  It's remake in the revised form was a happy idea, especially since it still moves punchily, retains plenty of its laughs and almost all of its drama. 

A slight shaving of the 92-minute running time (original picture was 100 minutes), to eliminate just a touch of dragginess in one or two spots, would be of further help.  

Casting is excellent, with Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in the top roles.  Grant is the sophisticated, hard-boiled, smart-alec managing editor who was portrayed by Adolphe Menjou in the earlier picture version (produced in 1931 by Howard Hughes and released by United Artists) and by Osgood Perkins in the play (produced in 1928 by Jed Harris and directed by George S. Kaufman).

Characters in this version carry the same names as in the original - even to the part handled on the stage by Lee Tracy, on the screen by Pat O'Brien and now by Miss Russell.  It's still Hildy (this time for Hildegegarde) Johnson.  A newly-injected part, required by the switch in sex of Hildy, is taken by Ralph Bellamy.  Role of the prostie-friend of the murderer, handled on the boards by Dorothy Stickney and in the previous picture by Mae Clarke, is given to Helen Mack.  All compare favorably with the originals, particularly the sparkling Miss Russell.  Ernest Truex, as the sissy-reporter, doesn't quite get the laughs earned by Edward Everett Horton, but that's due more to the manner in which the character was gagged up then.

Principal action of the story still takes place in a courthouse pressroom (original was modeled after that in Chicago Criminal Courts Building - this one is near New York).  All of the trappings are there, including the crew of news-hawks who continue their penny-ante poker through everything and the practice of the sheriff's crew on the gallows for an execution in the morning.  With the wider vista given the story, there is, in addition, the newspaper office.  Much to the credit of Hawks, this city room bears some semblance to the McCoy, although there are still too many rewritemen taking too many yarns from too many legmen, as if every story came in with but 10 seconds to presstime.  

Star-reporter Miss Russell tells managing editor Grant, from whom she has just been divorced, that she is quitting his employ to marry another man.  Grant neither wants to see her resign nor marry again, retaining hope of a rehitching.  To prevent her escaping, he prevails upon her to cover one more story , that of a deluded radical charged with murder and whom the paper thinks is innocent.  Escape of the convicted man, his virtual falling into Miss Russell's lap as she sits alone in the pressroom, and attempts by Grant and Miss Russell to bottle up the story, are w.k., but still exciting.  

Bellamy is okay as a meek soul from Albany whom Miss Russell is set to marry so she can get out of the screwey newspaper business.  It is to him that all of the misfortunes fall that the managing editor in the original edition pulled on Hildy.  Amusing is Grant's attempt to describe him, finally hittin on it: 'Oh, he looks like that movie guy, Ralph Bellamy.'

In favor of romance the finish naturally lacks the epithet that won notoriety for the play and the gag laugh-line of the first picture, but some of the earthiness of the predecessors is still there and may be expected to get some minor scissoring from scrupulous censors.  For instance, Miss Russell's genteel nose-thumbing.  

NEW YORK TIMES Film Review - January 12, 1940
- by Frank S. Nugent
- submitted by Barry Martin
They've replated "The Front Page" again, have slapped "His Girl Friday" on the masthead and are running it off at the Music Hall as a special woman's edition of the frenzied newspaper comedy Hecht and MacArthur first published back in 1931. Hildy Johnson is a girl reporter. She has just been divorced from Managing Editor Walter Burns and is threatening to take the night train to Albany, to matrimony and to Bellamy (Ralph). The celebrated curtain line about the so-and-so's stealing the watch has gone by the board - the State Censor Board - but they have another just as cute if you can hear it.

That goes for most of the picture: the lines are all cute if you can hear them, but you can't hear many because every one is making too much noise - the audience of the players themselves. Hysteria is one of the communicable diseases and "His Girl Friday" is a more pernicious carrier than Typhoid Mary. It takes you by the scruff of the neck in the first reel and it shakes you madly, bellowing hoarsely the while, for the remaining six or seven. Before it's over you don't know whether you have been laughing or having your ears boxed. The veriest bit of the strenuous side, if you follow us.

Charles Lederer, who wrote the adaptation, has transposed it so brilliantly it is hard to believe that Hecht and MacArthur were not thinking of Rosalind Russell, or someone equally high-heeled, when they wrote about the Hildy Johnson who once had a printer's ink transfusion from a Machiavellian managing editor and never again could qualify as a normal human being. It was a wild caricature, of course, and, if there ever were newspaper people like that, they went into limbo when Hecht and MacArthur, Gene Fowler, Joel Sayre and Nunnally Johnson died (journalistically) and went to Hollywood. Still, caricatures are fun if you don't have to put up with them too long and if they don't insist on being taken too seriously.

Under Howard Hawk's direction, the cast has acknowledged the clamoring script with performances that are hard, brittle and strained to the breaking point, if not somewhat beyond, as though they were waiting for the cameral to look the other way so they could collapse with honor. Cary Grant's Walter Burns is splendid, except when he is being consciously cute. Mr. Bellamy's woe-begone- insurance man, Gene Lockhart's Sheriff Hartwell, Ernest Truex's sob-brother, Helen Mack's Mollie Malloy, John Qualen's Earl Williams, and - most especially - Billy Gilbert's governor's messenger, Joe Pettibone, are faces that stand out in the swirling hubbub.

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.  

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR Film Review - March 8, 1940
- submitted by Renee Klish

Pungent and garrulous, "His Girl Friday" is an implied argument that suggestion and implication are as effective as outright statement.  It went without saying that Columbia could never have introduced verbatim the raffish characters of "The Front Page," which Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur wrote in 1928.  But even with its profanity and more outspoken jests removed, the new version, called "His Girl Friday," is hardly less Hecht-ic and hard-boiled.

In this second remake of probably the most celebrated stage piece dealing with the Fourth Estate, Scenarist Charles Lederer has turned Hildy (now short for Hildegarde) Johnson into a newspaperwoman who has divorced her managing editor husband and is about to marry an insurance salesman (Ralph Bellamy).

Walter Burns, the ex-husband-managing editor, is a resourceful blackguard who, with the aid of a friendly gangster, manages to have Hildy's fiancée arrested and interned every time the prospective bride and groom seem to be heading for the altar, in Albany.  Burns dupes Hildy into interviewing a condemned man, remaining to cover the latter's escape, and finally, in returning to himself and to newspaper work.

"His Girl Friday" is racy, cruelly naturalistic, aggressively indifferent to decency and humaneness.  It is at the same time more authentic than most newspaper films and not authentic at all.  According to this film, metropolitan press rooms are entirely populated by individuals so brutal, insolent, and hard-bitten that their presence becomes depressing long before they have hurled their final insult into a telephone.  For all that, it is a film of superior craftsmanship.  Frank Hawks' direction and the acting roar like a high-speed press at edition time.  The dramatic episodes flash like photographers' bulbs.  The story, which has to fight for recognition through the atmosphere, is sufficiently compelling to hold attention.  There are novel twists to the dialogue such as when Burns (Cary Grant), identifies Baldwin (Mr. Bellamy) by saying, "He looks like that movie actor, Ralph Bellamy."  Mr. Grant is almost personally engaging enough to offset the thoroughly despicable character he plays, and Miss Russell charges through the role of Hildy as if to the deadline born.

THE WASHINGTON POST Film Review - February 10, 1940
- by Mary Harris
- submitted by Renee Klish

Dizzy, Diverting 'Girl Friday' Opens at Earle

"You're marvelous - in a loathsome way!" says Rosalind Russell to Cary Grant.  That's something of an overstatement because the tall, dark and handy Cary isn't loathsome.  But in manners, morals and monkey business he surely is setting the Earle audience up to a bunch of semihorrified laughs in "His Girl Friday," celluloid resurrection of "The Front Page," one of the hottest opuses ever dashed off by Messrs. MacArthur and Hecht.

Hildy Johnson was a newspaperman in the original, but Hollywood has chosen to transform Hildy into Rosalind Russell.  It's a neat idea, at that, because it gives a new angle to the show for those who've seen "Front Page" a time or so.  Also, La Russell puts plenty of sizzle into the role, is much better than she was in "The Women."

For the rest, "His Girl Friday is pure "Front Page," with the exception of the original boiling profanity.  There's the pathetic murderer waiting for the necktie party in the morning, there's the stuffed shirt sheriff, mayor and psychologist, there's the nutty prison break, there are wise cracks with bite and sting, there's the hell-raising, let-'er-rip spirit of a newspaper day that is done - as the picture's announcement frankly says. 

The cast of "His Girl Friday" is something tremendous, with star caliber people scattered all through.

It all adds up to making "His Girl Friday" one of the dizziest but most diverting pictures of the season.  With its cast and the impact of that "Front Page" theme, it couldn't be otherwise.

Click here to read Susanna's review of "His Girl Friday"

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