"They ain't human." "I know; they're newspaper men."His Girl Friday
(1940) is a 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
. 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: Well, more like Comedy Film Quiet Drama Scene. Earl William's "girlfriend" pleading with the newspapermen to tell the truth and help him is heart-wrenching, as is her later jumping out of a window.
- 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 Hot 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 fiancÚ, 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: Ralph is described as resembling the actor who plays him.
- Celebrity Resemblance: Walter, describing Bruce: "He looks like, uh, that guy from the movies, you know... Ralph Bellamy.".
- The Chew Toy: Bruce and Earl Williams.
- Clear My Name: The "girlfriend" of Earl William's 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.
- Disposable FiancÚ: Bruce.
- The Ditz: 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 Versus 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.
- Well, Excuse Me, Princess!: See BST above.