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Better Late than Never: 'His Girl Friday' (1940)


The Guys from {FILM} is a discussion on movies and films from all eras and genres

Better Late than Never: 'His Girl Friday' (1940)

Shaun Cordingley

Fans of the {PODCAST} will have heard me talk about His Girl Friday on several occasions, including its' position as #2 on my Top 10 Comedies of all time (episode 88), however it seems to me that I almost always have to describe this movie to everyone I mention it to. Thus, it is clearly time for me to make this an official '' overview and recommendation here in the next installment of 'Better Late than Never'.  

His Girl Friday is an hurricane of a screwball comedy set in the fast-paced newspaper business. Hard-boiled editor of New York's 'The Morning Post' Walter Burns (Cary Grant) discovers that his ex-wife (and star reporter) Hildegard "Hildy" Johnson (Rosalind Russell) is leaving the business to settle down with bland insurance salesman Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy). This doesn't sit well with Burns who decides to spend Hildy's last day in the city attempting to sabotage her plans of leaving, primarily enticing her to stay by appealing to her as a reporter, with the story surrounding the execution of convicted murderer Earl Williams (John Qualen). what follows is a rapid fire farce including Burns repeatedly getting Bruce arrested, a kidnapping, and a political scoop so juicy that Hildy just cannot resist. 

Old school posters man...

Old school posters man...

Originally, director Howard Hawks intended to make a direct film adaptation of the stage play The Front Page, however he decided to gender swap Hildy Johnson taking a witty and snappy comedy and turning it into a stunningly fast battle of the sexes (1940s style) comedy. There are obviously a few other changes made, including a surprisingly complicated restaurant scene, but by and large, anyone familiar with the play (or the other film adaptations) are not going to see anything too different here.  

While His Girl Friday is not the first film to feature the more naturalistic "overlapping" dialogue, it is a key early example of its effectiveness, making the film feel way more modern than its' 1940 release (despite the archaic technology essential to the film, like LAN line telephones, and "newspapers"). This, of course, was shot before multitrack audio recording was invented, which means that Hawks had to have the Sound Mixer on set to switch between the multiple overhead mics live, while the scene is happening. The most remarkable part of the film, and indeed, the reason it is absolutely essential viewing for anyone in the performing arts, is the pace: Friday is an 191 page script that clocks in at 93 minutes. For reference, a standard script runs at about a minute to a minute and an half per page. This film is an absolute masterclass comedic timing and pace. 

These two are  awesome  together

These two are awesome together

His Girl Friday is one of those films that you end up seeing on every film junkies' comedy list, and have probably heard of but never got around to actually seeing (or maybe figured that it was one of those old school films that you figured didn't age well--and there are a lot of those); do it. This is a one of those classics that completely stands the test of time, and I challenge you find me a film that has faster, or even better dialogue than this one. Chalk full of wit, in-jokes, innuendo, meta-jokes, and even some farcical and slapstick moments, His Girl Friday is a movie you owe it to yourself to see at least once. 

Coincidentally, due to a lapse in the rights, the film is not under copyright so there are a lot of ways to see it (just make sure you see the original cut, and not some strange third-editor version, like Bill's Girl Friday or something). I suggest Netflix, or even if you can catch it on TCM.  

-S (@Shauncord)  

PS: Orrrrr, if you really want to, Viewster has it on their channel on YouTube in fairly good quality.