His Girl Friday (1940)

Directed by Howard Hawks

It occurs to me that the best movies are of one of two types. They are visually compelling, like the recent Hero, where there almost seems to be no need for dialogue, the images communicate almost everything.

Or, the movie relies heavily on great dialogue, the kind that is fun to hear and engaging, and reveals everything about the characters.

A movie like 1995’s Get Shorty is a great example.

An older example, from 1940, is His Girl Friday, directed by Howard Hawks and starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell.

It’s correctly considered a classic with its rapid fire dialogue and frenetic pace.

Based on the play The Front Page, director Hawks had his screenwriter Charles Lederer make some changes, the biggest being to make one of the two main characters, Hildy Johnson, a woman (played by Russell) – the ex-wife of editor Walter Burns (Grant).

Ralph Bellamy, Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell as Bruce Baldwin, Walter Burns and Hildy Johnson.

This created an added dimension to the dynamic of two newspaper people – one wanting to leave the business (Johnson) and the other trying to get her to stay.

It was no longer just a struggle between editor and reporter; it was a battle of the sexes, which Hawks loved putting on film.

Hildy is not only leaving the newspaper business, she’s engaged to be married the next day to her new beau, Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy), a rather dull insurance guy. He’s the complete opposite of Grant’s flamboyant (and not to be trusted) Walter.

And Walter is determined to get Hildy back – both as his wife and as his reporter. He determines to do this by appealing to the journalist in her.

Walter is always trying to pull one over on Hildy and she knows it.

Through guile and deceit, he’s going to try to hook her like a fish and reel her in. Fortunately, there is an execution scheduled at the prison of convicted murderer Earl Williams (John Qualen) who, Walter casually mentions to Hildy, may be innocent.

Being based on a play, His Girl Friday only has about three sets and, with the exception of the opening which uses a moving camera, most shots are static, the scenes occurring in sets where characters enter and leave like a train station platform.

But given the simplicity of the sets and the static nature of the cameras, it’s really quite amazing how fast everything is and how much energy is generated.

What’s marvellous about watching the give and take between Grant and Russell, apart from the speed, the quick witted lines and great, comic takes (particularly by Grant) is how, as we see them battle, we also see how clearly they are suited for each other and meant to be together.

Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday.

Ralph Bellamy’s Bruce never has a chance.

65 years later, His Girl Friday still stands up. It’s as fast and funny today as it was then.

And the world of recent comedies, it’s something of a relief to see characters who are smart and a film that can make us laugh without dropping its pants.


The Columbia disc (Columbia Classics edition) was released in November of 2000 and, “…was restored by Sony Pictures Entertainment in conjunction with the UCLA Film and Television Archives from the original 35mm nitrate negative stored at the Library of Congress.”

DVD cover for His Girl Friday (Columbia Classics edition).

What we have is a pretty clean image although it’s not the sharpest. It is, however, entirely viewable.

And it’s about the best transfer of this movie you’ll find on DVD. While there is room for improvement, there isn’t really much to complain about here.

Other Cary Grant movies:


  1. I wished Katharine Hepburn had been free to do the Hildy character, as she was one of the couple of women (Irene Dunne another) asked before Rosalind Russell. I guess they all were busy or tied up and Rosalind was dying to get the part I’ve read, as every leading lady wanted time with Grant on screen to make them famous, but Hepburn was the best in UST as an actress and intelligent wit quality with Grant. Mainly their real life close friendship attraction shone through when they acted together.

  2. Pingback: 20 Movies: Topper (1937)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *