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His Girl Friday is a screwball comedy film directed by Howard Hawks, an adaptation by Charles Lederer, Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur of the play The Front Page by Hecht and MacArthur. The change in this version is that the role of Hildy Johnson was converted from being male to female.

The film stars Cary Grant as Walter Burns and Rosalind Russell as Hildy Johnson and features Ralph Bellamy as Bruce Baldwin. It is noted for the rapid-fire pace of its dialogue.

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. The film is in the public domain, even though the 1928 play it is based on is still under copyright. This has not kept Columbia Pictures from releasing the film on home video.

Plot

Walter Burns (Cary Grant) is a hard-boiled editor for The Morning Post whose 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 Yorkmarker – but Burns intends to sabotage these plans. He entices the reluctant Johnson into covering one last story: the upcoming execution of convicted murderer Earl Williams (John Qualen).

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 to be 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 just in time to save Walter from being arrested for kidnapping.

Afterwards, Walter offers to remarry Hildy, promising to take her on the honeymoon they never had in Niagara Fallsmarker, but then Walter learns that there is a newsworthy strike in Albany, which is on the way to Niagara Falls by train.

Cast

Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, and Ralph Bellamy


Production

His Girl Friday was originally supposed to be a straightforward remake of The Front Page, with both the editor and reporter being men. During auditions though, 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. Most of the original dialogue and all of the characters' names (with the exception of Bruce Baldwin, Hildy's fiance, who was of course a woman in the play) were left the same.

Hawks had a very difficult time casting this film. While the choice of Cary Grant was almost instantaneous, the casting of Hildy was a far more extended process. At first, Hawks wanted Carole Lombard for the role, 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 for the part.

Hawks then turned to Rosalind Russell, who was annoyed by the fact that she had not been his first choice, even arriving at her audition with wet hair. 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." In her autobiography, Life Is A Banquet, Russell wrote that she thought her role did not have as many good lines as that of Cary Grant, 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?"

The film had the working title of The Bigger They Are, and was in production from 27 September to 21 November . It premiered in New York Citymarker on 11 January . It went into general American release on 18 January.

His Girl Friday is noted for the rapid-fire pace of the repartee, using overlapping dialogue to make conversations sound more realistic, with one character speaking before another was finished. 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."
To get the effect he wanted, 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.

Cary Grant's character describes Ralph Bellamy's character by saying "He looks like that actor...Ralph Bellamy!" According to Bellamy, the remark was ad libbed by Grant. Columbia studio head Harry Cohn thought it was too cheeky and ordered it removed, but Hawks insisted that it stay. Grant also makes several 'inside' remarks in the film. When his character is arrested for a kidnap, he describes the horrendous fate suffered by the last person who crossed him: Archie Leach (Grant's real name). When Earl Williams attempts to get out of the roll-top desk he's been hiding in, Grant says, "Get back in there, you Mock Turtle." The line is in the original version of The Front Page and Grant also played "The Mock Turtle" in the film version of Alice in Wonderland.

Awards and honors

American Film Institute recognition

Adaptation

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 Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell reprising their film roles.

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 Theatremarker, London, from May to November 2003, with Alex Jennings as Burns and Zoe Wanamaker as Hildy.

See also



Notes

  1. A "girl Friday" is an office assistant who has to carry out a variety of chores. The name alludes to "Friday", Robinson Crusoe's native male dogsbody in Daniel Defoe's novel. Cf. Merriam-Webster: girl Friday
  2. Miller, Frank "His Girl Friday" (TCM article)
  3. TCM Notes
  4. Osborne, Robert, Turner Classic Movie broadcast
  5. IMDB Business data
  6. IMDB Release dates


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