His Girl Friday (1940)

Cary Grant, Ralph Bellamy and Rosalind Russell
Cary Grant, Ralph Bellamy and Rosalind Russell

''His Girl Friday' is a classic screwball comedy movie made in 1940, directed by Howard Hawks and starring Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell and Ralph Bellamy. As well as a comedy, the film is also a very successful satire on cynical journalism, self-serving politicians and the American judicial system. The film was adapted from the successful play "The Front Page" by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, which ran for 276 performances on Broadway in 1929.

'His Girl Friday' was selected for preservation on the United States National Film Registry in 1993. Due to a failure to renew the copyright registration, the film entered the public domain in 1968. The film was placed at number 19 on the AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs listing of top comedy films.

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Basic Plot

Cary Grant plays Walter Burns, a dynamic, slightly pompous, but likeable newspaper editor, who learns that his ex-wife, ace reporter Hildy Johnson, played by Rosalind Russell, is about to get married again, to boring insurance salesman Bruce Baldwin, played by Ralph Bellamy. Walter tries everything he can to win Hildy back, including giving her a tempting assignment to cover an execution at the state penitentiary and even kidnapping her future mother-in-law.

Eventually, as Walter knew she would, Hildy gets caught up in the excitement of reporting a big story. The governor issues a stay of Earl's execution, and Walter and Hildy get back together again.


The original title of the film was 'The Bigger They Are'. Filming took place for two months from late September, 1939.

. An earlier movie version of the play had been made in 1931, starring Adolphe Menjou in the Cary Grant role and Pat O'Brien as Hildy Johnson. When Howard Hawks decided to remake the picture he made the Hildy character a woman and, moreover, the ex-wife of Walter Burns. The change proved a masterstroke.

Hawks then searched for a star actress to play the new character. He wanted Carole Lombard, the star of his 1934 screwball comedy, 'Twentieth Century' but she proved too expensive for Columbia. The script was then offered to a number of actresses including Jean Arthur, Irene Dunne, Margaret Sullavan and Ginger Rogers, all of whom turned it down. Rosalind Russell recognised it as a wonderful opportunity and the ideal script for her. It proved to be so and there was another spin off for her. During filming Cary Grant introduced her to theatrical agent Frederick Brisson, whom she married a year later.

The casting of Cary Grant was far easier for Howard Hawks. The only other contender of sufficient stature was Clark Gable whom some critics feel would have been better suited to portray the hard edge of Walter Burns, but Hawks had worked with Grant in an earlier screwball comedy, 'Bringing Up Baby' in 1938, as well as the action movie 'Only Angels Have Wings' in 1939, and knew his quality. They would later in their careers make two more screwball classics together, 'I Was a Male War Bride' in 1949 and 'Monkey Business' in 1952.

A notable feature of the movie is the rapid, natural sounding dialogue with characters speaking over each other in a realistic way. Today a director would use multi track recording but this was not yet available and to achieve the effect, Hawks instructed his sound mixer to turn various overhead microphones on and off as required, sometimes over 30 times for one scene.

Main Cast

The main players and the supporting cast are well chosen and perform impressively.

Cary Grant ... Walter Burns
Rosalind Russell ... Hildegard "Hildy" Johnson
Ralph Bellamy ... Bruce Baldwin
Alma Kruger ... Mrs. Baldwin, Bruce's mother
Gene Lockhart ... Sheriff Peter B. Hartwell
Clarence Kolb ... Mayor Fred
Abner Biberman ... Louis "Diamond Louie" Palutso
John Qualen ... Earl Williams
Helen Mack ... Mollie Malloy
Porter Hall ... Reporter Murphy
Ernest Truex ... Reporter Roy V. Bensinger
Cliff Edwards ... Reporter Endicott
Roscoe Karns ... Reporter McCue
Frank Jenks ... Reporter Wilson
Regis Toomey ... Reporter Sanders
Frank Orth ... Duffy, Walter's copy editor
Billy Gilbert ... Joe Pettibone
Pat West ... Warden Cooley
Edwin Maxwell ... Dr. Max J. Eggelhoffer

Cary Grant (1904-1986) Cary Grant manages to make the cynical newspaper editor, Walter Bush, a sympathetic, even likeable character He is one of the few actors with the necessary skill to successfully pull off such a tricky characterisation.

Rosalind Russell (1907-1976) As Hildegard "Hildy" Johnson, Rosalind Russell is really the star of the show. Not Howard Hawks's first choice by a long shot, she nevertheless gives a nerveless, tour-de-force performance. It is difficult to imagine another actress improving on her portrayal of the classy, independent career girl, brimming with confidence, well before women's lib and feminism.

Ralph Bellamy (1904-1991) Over a long career Ralph Bellamy made over 100 movie appearances mostly as supporting actor plus many television and stage roles. He appeared perviously with Cary Grant in 1937 in 'The Awful Truth' with Irene Dunne, and he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor, playing his best role-that of the naive boyfriend who doesn't get the girl. Bellamy's is a brilliant performance and very funny because he plays the part absolutely deadpan.

Alma Kruger (1868-1960) After a long theatrical career Alma Kruger appeared in her first movie in her sixties in 1936. She then appeared in over forty films in just over ten years, including 14 of the popular 'Dr Kildare' series.

Gene Lockhart (1891-1957) After a long stage career, the Canadian, Eugene Lockhart appeared in more than 300 motion pictures, in supporting roles such as Bob Cratchit in 'A Christmas Carol' in 1938 and the judge in 'Miracle on 34th Street' in 1947. In 1938 his performance in 'Algiers gained him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.


Director ... Howard Hawks
Producer ... Howard Hawks
Screenplay ... Charles Lederer, Ben Hecht, Charles MacArthur
From ... the play "The Front Page" by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur
Music ... Sidney Cutner, Felix Mills
Cinematography ... Joseph Walker
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date ... January 11, 1940
Running time ... 92 minutes

Academy Awards

No Nominations