Film / His Girl Friday
"They ain't human." "I know; they're newspaper men."

His Girl Friday is a 1940 Screwball Comedy from Columbia Pictures starring Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, and Ralph Bellamy, adapted from the play The Front Page by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, and directed by Howard Hawks. It's now in the Public Domain.

When newspaper editor Walter Burns (Grant) learns that his ex-wife and former ace reporter Hildy Johnson (Russell) is about to marry bland insurance salesman Bruce Baldwin (Bellamy) and settle down to a quiet life as a wife and mother, Burns decides he must sabotage these plans. He entices the reluctant Johnson into covering one last story: the upcoming execution of convicted murderer Earl Williams (John Qualen). After that, Burns does everything he can to keep her from leaving, including having Bellamy arrested over and over on trumped-up changes, and having Hildy's mother-in-law kidnapped, amongst other shenanigans.

This film is noted for its rapid-fire dialogue, and it was #19 on American Film Institute's 100 Years — 100 Laughs and has been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. Today the film is in the public domain (even though the 1928 play it is based on is still under copyright), which hasn't prevented Columbia Pictures from issuing official video releases of the film.

The Front Page had earlier been filmed in 1931 (with Adolphe Menjou and Pat O'Brien), and was remade again by Billy Wilder in 1974 (with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau) and as Switching Channels (with the setting updated to the TV-news era) in 1988.

Because the film is in the Public Domain, it can be viewed in its entirety here.

This movie contains examples of:

  • Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: In the midst of all the rapid-fire comedy, there is the scene in which Mollie Malloy calls out a full of newspapermen for spinning and sensationalizing Earl Williams' story just to sell papers and cracking jokes about him while he's awaiting execution. Later, with all the news hounds clamoring at her to talk to them, she leaps out of a window rather than say anything else that they could twist into more Blatant Lies.
  • All for Nothing: The reason Hildy wanted to divorce Walter in the first place is he's Married to the Job and ignored her in favor of getting the scoop (even canceling their honeymoon to cover a mine accident). The movie ends with them deciding to stay married and have a second honeymoon— which Walter asks to make in Albany to cover a big union strike. You can practically see the disappointment in Hildy's face.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Hildy and Walter's infuriated arguing is dripping with sexual tension, which is probably why they hooked up in the first place. The writing is praised today as being remarkably progressive for its time, since the film establishes from the start that theirs is a steadfastly egalitarian relationship: they're both equally pig-headed and stubborn.
  • "Be Quiet!" Nudge: Hildy Johnson keeps kicking Walter Burns under the table as he tells increasingly risque stories to rattler her dull new fiancé, Bruce Baldwin (who doesn't notice). She ends up kicking the waiter.
  • Betty and Veronica: Hildy is torn between two men (note her white and black striped outfit above): stable but milquetoast Bruce (Betty) and exciting but petulent Walter (Veronica). Too bad for Betty, this Veronica is Cary Grant.
  • Blatant Lies: Told by the pressmen as they give wildly divergent versions of Earl Williams' capture — an event they are currently watching — to their editors.
  • Career Versus Man: Hildy clearly thinks it's what's at stake. She can either give up her job to settle down with Bruce, or rejoin the exciting world of hotshot reporting. The gendered language of her explanation gives away the conflict in her mind: she can stay in New York and "be a newspaper man" or move to the countryside and "be a woman."
  • Celebrity Paradox: Bruce, played by Ralph Bellamy, is described as resembling Ralph Bellamy.
  • The Chew Toy: Bruce and Earl Williams.
  • Clear My Name: The "girlfriend" of Earl Williams desperately pleads with the room of newspapermen to get their story straight— that she had helped him one time out of pity and had no relationship, that he was innocent— to their bigoted and utter indifference. Once she leaves the room everyone present is visibly shown to have been affecting said indifference. All the more tragic because she later jumps out a window in despair (thankfully not dying) and the event is covered with just as much vulturelike zeal by the newspaper men.
  • Comedic Sociopathy: Walter is mean to poor Bruce.
  • Comedy of Remarriage
  • Counterfeit Cash: Walter gets Diamond Louie to hand Hildy some counterfeit bills, knowing that it'll probably be passed on to Bruce. And then Bruce gets arrested for the third time in one day.
  • Da Editor: Burns in the original play was perhaps a Trope Maker, his performance by Cary Grant is a Trope Codifier. Many journalists and editors admitted that they all wanted to be Walter Burns.
  • Disposable Fiancé: Bruce.
  • The Ditz: Joe Pettibone, the messenger from the Governor's office.
  • Divorce in Reno: Hildy mentions going to Reno to get her divorce.
  • Embarrassing First Name: Hildy is visibly annoyed when one of her former colleagues addresses her as Hildegarde.
  • Exact Words: Hildy promised to interview Earl Williams and write a story about it. She didn't say anything about not tearing up the story.
  • Gambit Roulette: One would be led to believe that Walter Burns had the entire day planned out exactly as it occurred, including all of the bizarre and seemingly unforeseen reversals of fortune. Either that or he's a master of Xanatos Speed Chess
  • Gender Flip: This movie is a gender-flipped version of the original play, turning Hildy Johnson into a woman and making it a romantic comedy.
  • Get Out: Burns delivers this line at one point, as only Cary Grant could do it.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: The dialogue moves so fast, Russell and Grant managed to slip in a few choice innuendos. For one, Walter greets Bruce by grabbing and shaking his umbrella. When he realizes what he's grabbing he quickly lets go with a snide "Oh, that's wrong, isn't it?" Hildy gets a good jab at Walter too when he says of his body "Hey, I'm better than I ever was." Hildy doesn't miss a Beat and shoots back "Was never anything to brag about."
    • Also, over the phone: "He shot him right in the classified ads!... No, ads."
  • Girl Friday: Hildy. Co-Trope Namer, with Robinson Crusoe
  • Grande Dame: Mrs. Baldwin is close to this type.
  • Honey Trap: Diamond Louie has a "very blonde" female friend who gets Bruce into a compromising situation for arrest number 2.
  • Hot Scoop: Walter and Hildy.
  • Insanity Defense: How Hildy intends to save Earl Williams.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Hildy.
  • Jerk with the Heart of a Jerk: Walter Burns lies and manipulates everyone around him including runining his ex-wife's honeymoon with her new fiancee and having them thrown in jail all for the sake of a story. Towards the end he starts to reveal a nobler side only for it to be more manipulations to keep his wife and get another story.
  • Last Minute Reprieve: Pettibone arrives with a reprieve hours before the scheduled execution. The Mayor and Sheriff are so set on executing Earl Williams that they try to bribe him to go away with a sinecure in the City Sealer's office. It doesn't work and he comes back at an inconvenient time.
  • Manipulative Bastard / Guile Hero: Where Walter falls on this spectrum depends on how you interpret his actions throughout the night. Hildy definitely has plenty of moments too. Throughout the film, Walter is trying to win Hildy back, Hildy is countering Walter's advances, and both of them are out-gambitting the Mayor and the Sheriff to save Earl Williams.
  • Married to the Job: The core conflict is largely about this.
  • Motor Mouth: Walter, when he has a good line going. Hildy punctuates the end of an especially rapid rant with "Sold to American!", parodying the then popular tagline openings for radio shows promoted by American Tobacco, makers of Lucky Strike Cigarettes. (The shows would open with an auctioneer doing a impossibly fast series of bids, ending with "Sold to American!")
    • Hildy can talk pretty fast herself when worked up.
    • Hollywood professionals familiar with how these things work have said that by all rights, the length of the script means the movie should have been twice as long as it is.note 
  • Nice Hat: Hildy loves them. Special mention has to go to the one she wears in the page image.
  • Noodle Incident: The Albany story. Hildy kicks Walter in the shin because he almost reveals that the two of them had been sharing a hotel room...before they were married.
  • One of the Boys: Hildy.
  • Panty Shot: A brief one, when Hildy hikes up her skirt to chase after Cooley.
  • Public Domain Feature Films
  • Romantic False Lead: Ralph Bellamy, of course, as Bruce, who is pleasant and handsome and won't get the girl.
  • Romantic Runner-Up: Ralph Bellamy. Surprise, surprise.
  • Sleazy Politician: The Mayor and Sheriff Peter B. "Pinky" Hartwell.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Despite the surface cynicism of the film, the political corruption, the callousness of the pressmen, and Walter Burns' manipulation of all the people around him, there is a strong hint that a free press is what ultimately ensures justice will prevail in a free society.
  • Starmaking Role: Rosalind Russell got her big break from this film.
  • Too Dumb to Fool: The Mayor and Sheriff Hartwell might have succeeded in covering up Earl Williams's Last Minute Reprieve if Pettibone, the messenger from the Governor's office responsible for delivering the reprieve, weren't so incredibly dense.
  • Well, Excuse Me, Princess!: See BST above.