His Girl Friday (1940)
March 27, 2021 6:58 PM - Subscribe

A newspaper editor uses every trick in the book to keep his ace reporter ex-wife from remarrying.

When hard-charging New York newspaper editor Walter Burns (Cary Grant) discovers that his ex-wife, investigative reporter Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell), has gotten engaged to milquetoast insurance agent Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy), he unsuccessfully tries to lure her away from tame domestic life with a story about the impending execution of convicted murderer Earl Williams. But when Hildy discovers Williams may be innocent, her reporter instincts take over.

Danielle Solzman: Newspaper screwball comedy His Girl Friday, starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, remains one of the funniest comedy films of all time . . . His Girl Friday is certainly in the mix when we talk about the greatest comedies of all-time. It’s really a classic for the ages–aided by the fast-talking repartee of stars Grant and Russell. I’m not too fond of remakes for the sake of remaking a film. The first film to be adapted from the 1928 stage play would come out in 1931. This film would be released some nine years later. The big difference here is that Holdy is a woman, not a man. I’m not complaining because as screwball comedies go, this film and Bringing Up Baby are among the very definition of the genre. They certainly don’t make films like they used to!

His Girl Friday is screwball comedy but most of the focus is in the newspaper world. The romance angle seems to be less than what we see in contemporary romantic comedies.

Frank S. Nugent: 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 or 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 on the strenuous side, if you follow us.

Emanuel Levy: Director Hawks keeps the pacing so fast, you need to see the film twice to really get the hilarious one-liners. Indeed, 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. 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, 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.

posted by Carillon (13 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
My partner had never seen this so we watched it last night and man it holds up so well. I was in stitches half the time. Just a delight all around.
posted by Carillon at 7:00 PM on March 27, 2021

H I L D Y D O N ‘ T B E H A S T Y R E M E M B E R M Y D I M P L E
posted by theatro at 8:28 PM on March 27, 2021 [6 favorites]

Sheer perfection - ▪particularly the first 20 minutes. Water buffalo!
posted by davidmsc at 10:31 PM on March 27, 2021

her hats!!!

(i love this movie so damned much for Rosalind Russell)
posted by kokaku at 5:41 AM on March 28, 2021 [2 favorites]

probably my favorite movie of all time.
posted by alchemist at 6:54 AM on March 28, 2021 [2 favorites]

Indeed, 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.

Interestingly, overlapping dialog is also used to good effect a later film, the classic, Hawks-produced The Thing (from Another World). Even more interestingly, the screenplay credits for both films include Charles Lederer and Ben Hecht.

I really wish more films made use of this technique.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:14 AM on March 28, 2021 [2 favorites]

This is the best, but it's not wrong to watch the original "The Front Page" (1931) and the Billy Wilder 1974 remake.
posted by acrasis at 9:44 AM on March 28, 2021

What's wrong - unless you're a completionist - is to watch the 1988 Switching Channels (remake set at cable news station) with Burt Reynolds, Kathleen Turner, and Christopher Reeves.
posted by bartleby at 12:14 PM on March 28, 2021

This is one my favorite films of all time. I was a preteen budding film buff and baby '70s feminist who was increasingly discouraged by everything I was seeing because of the rotten way women were portrayed when I stumbled on this. There were only like four channels and no VCRs in those days, and it was on the local weekend afternoon movie on the lowest-rated local channel and I'd missed the beginning (which took me about ten years to finally get to see), but oh my god, Hildy was glorious. (As soon as I had the chance, I watched The Front Page, both versions, but Rosalind Russell was already imprinted on my brain and she was the best.) I'd liked Cary Grant from other things, but I'd mostly known him as an older gent in movies my parents would watch, so seeing this young, sexy, bantery guy sparring verbally with Rosalind Russell was utter catnip for my soul. The overlapping dialog was astonishing, because I hadn't known you could even do something like that back then, but it was how people talked and I admired that verisimilitude which few films had ever seemed to exhibit for so long. It feels like it must have been exhausting to film, but the result is sheer perfection.

Incidentally, there was an excellent pre-movie story from the Yuletide fanfiction exchange this year.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 12:45 PM on March 28, 2021 [5 favorites]

This is my wife's favorite movie and it soon became mine after we started dating. So incredibly good.

Just to kind of drive home how hectic the movie is, someone posted this 10 years ago of all the bits where no one is speaking. Needless to say, it's pretty short.

If you'd like another example of extreme rapid fire dialogue, I'd like to point you to "One Two Three", particularly the final third.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 2:11 PM on March 28, 2021 [6 favorites]

dang this was really funny but woof the racism i was unprepared for
posted by gaybobbie at 8:58 AM on March 31, 2021 [1 favorite]

I paired this with Bringing Up Baby as a double feature in my ongoing attempt to get my recently-rescued-from-heterosexuality significant other past his DVD collection of horrible, horrible eighties/nineties films and it was met with some success.

It's occasionally problematic (history is a landscape of shitty ideas and cultural stupidity baked into otherwise great artwork), but one can't fault the craftsmanship of everyone involved.
posted by sonascope at 6:14 AM on April 2, 2021

I just rewatched this and the last 20 minutes are the verbal equivalent of an action movie final battle.
posted by kokaku at 11:29 AM on April 6, 2021

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