Classic Reviews, Reviews — February 2, 2012 3:00 pm


Posted by

“Now, get this, you double-crossing chimpanzee: There ain’t going to be any interview and there ain’t going to be any story. And that certified check of yours is leaving with me in twenty minutes. I wouldn’t cover the burning of Rome for you if they were just lighting it up. If I ever lay my two eyes on you again, I’m gonna walk right up to you and hammer on that monkeyed skull of yours ’til it rings like a Chinese gong!”


On Friday 27th Jan 2012, I celebrated the seventh-year of my relationship with my partner Sarah. We had planned to have an evening in and we had decided to watch a film which we would select from LOVEFiLM’s instant-watch selection. His Girl Friday came up – a film I watched a couple of years prior but I knew Sarah had not seen. More importantly, since that viewing, I had often cited the film when discussing films written by Aaron Sorkin or David Mamet – as the script has the same energy and pace as these screenwriters style. If not moreso. Before I plough into an analysis, I strongly recommend this film to anyone who has yet to go out of their way to appricate classic cinema. The film has character, charm and a pace that is unlike no other. The time flies by because the story moves so fast. It is an incredible film and the context (Newspaper journalists) and actors (Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell) could never be reproduced.

My first viewing, during a Screwball Comedy Season at the BFI Southbank, had me catching my breath when I left the cinema. I had recently read the Screenwriters book by Syd Field and I was automatically applying his three-act structure to all the films I was viewing. Fact is, whether you agree with Fields views on screenwriting and whether you think His Girl Friday applies itself to the same structure is not the point I am making – but what is clear, is that the writing for this film and, more importantly, its rat-a-tat-tat delivery is what places this film amongst one of my favourite films of all-time.

Story is Everything

His Girl Friday is a screwball comedy following Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) – recently divorced from Newspaper boss Walter Burns (Cary Grant) attempting to start a new life with her husband to be Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy). But we can see that Hildy is not the type of woman who can easily settle down – we know she wants to settle down but, in gaining Walter Burns acceptance of her new marriage, she needs to visit the hustle and bustle of the newspaper office. Her old friends, her old husband and it is clear that she may not leave the journalist profession just yet …

The story is virtually set within a couple of rooms – the main office of the newspaper and the jailhouse, whereby a group of journalists await the outcome of a trial concerning Earl Williams (John Qualen). It is established early how all these characters know Hildy and they are all dumbfounded to find out that she is due to settle down. The wet Bruce Baldwin, we can see, has no idea of this fast-paced world and intense working conditions. He talks and moves slow – whilst Hildy, Burns and all the journalists move and talk fast.

Manipulation and Mobs

What Cary Grant brings to the table is a manipulating salesman who uses the opportunity to win Hildy back. As an audience member, we can see Hildy wants this type of man and whilst we know that both characters are trying to use and make money off of each other, you realise that the characters are meant for each other. In one standout sequence, Hildy, Bruce and Walter all go for a meal and it is a fascinating example of a taught-screenplay that explores character, motive and pace. In the sequence, we see Bruce fall for Walter confessing what a great guy he is, whilst we see Walter set-up Hildy to cover the story whilst Hildy herself is continuing to convince herself that Walter is not the man for her. Whilst we can see that he clearly is.

The whole story is light in tone – gangsters ordered to kill the in-laws, Baldwin arrested multiple times for multiple different crimes he hasn’t committed. And this is amongst the banter between Hildy and Burns.

The Media World

This is deeply rooted in the capitalist Newspaper-savvy world of the media. Delivering fast-paced dialogue that, even if you miss something, another line will come shortly after which you will follow. The script is non-stop comedy as characters have perfect timing when delivering each and every line. This seems ideal for the theatre – as it was originally written as The Front Page – but was adapted from Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s play into Charles Lederer’s screenplay: His Girl Friday it became.

As mentioned, if I was to think of other films or TV-series with a similar type of script-writing I would consider David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross and the play Speed-The-Plow, as both deal with capitalism and the non-stop process of sales. I could add to this list Aaron Sorkin and The West Wing and The Social Network both of which, akin to Mamet, force us to listen to hyper-realist dialogue that, though not how people talk, for some reason the context – Politics, Business, Media – suits the attitudes and speed.

You Must Watch This Film

In a time whereby Hugo and The Artist celebrate silent-cinema, His Girl Friday is a film that shows how brilliant a script can be in an era barely a decade after silent-cinema ended (Chaplin’s last film starring The Tramp, Modern Times, was only four-years before His Girl Friday). In terms of a soundtrack, the only music in the entire film is at the start and at the end. His Girl Friday is one of my favourite films – and this was decided after the first watch. Another example of a film that busts-out of the restraints of the time it was created, it supercedes the story itself with actors who are wholly unique and have never been bettered in Grant and Russell. If you find it difficult to watch black-and-white films and yet you want to start somewhere – this is the place to start.

Nb – This was originally published on 6th November 2010 on Screen Insight, but has been hugely altered since the original publication.

Sign up now and watch His Girl Friday for FREE with your LOVEFiLM trial >>
Tags: His Girl Friday Howard Hawks Rosalind Russell
  • Share this post:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • Digg


  • Reply

    One of my favorite movies. I make a point to watch it at least once a year. And of course every time I watch it, I’m insanely jealous of the writing.

    • Reply

      This is why people should watch Classic Cinema – because in many cases there is nothing comparable. It truly is a brilliant script – delivered by brilliant actors.

  • Reply

    Nice Review. I’m kind of sad that most screenwriters only have characters say things to just move the plot forward. I wish they would put more interesting things for them to say. “His Girl Friday” is a movie that will allways feel fresh and new, because it is.

    • Reply

      You get a few writers who use their writing in a much more distinct and profound way – other than the two mentioned, I think you could easily know a Woody Allen script from a Tarantino one. Very unique styles of writing that often simply discuss profound issues or are merely banter about pop culture.

  • Reply

    Absolutely one of my favorite comedies, period. I think I read somewhere that it has the most lines of dialogue per minute than any other film of its time. I still catch jokes that I missed on the first fifteen viewings.

    • Reply

      Wow! I’ve never heard that before – and I wouldn’t be suprised if it was true. Then again, the start of THE SOCIAL NETWORK is pretty damn fast! Yeah, my second viewing felt really fresh too – catching some great snippets of dialogue here and there that I couldn’t remember. incredble film.

  • Reply

    I somehow made the very ridiculous mistake of seeing Billy Wilder’s version of this same movie, The Front Page, from 1974 before seeing this version, which is much more critically acclaimed. In fact, I still need to see this one (don’t worry; it’s coming soon). By all accounts, it’s a classic comedy and I’m excited to tackle it.

    I just wish that I hadn’t done the Wilder version first. It was enjoyable enough and you can never go wrong with Wilder, but you should always start with the best version and then work your way down.

    • Reply

      Ouch. I didn’t realise Wilder adapted the play too. Hunt this one down and check it out because there is simply nothing like it.

  • Reply

    Howard Hawks is the king of the Hollywood Golden Age! I love the playful dialogue of this film. I don’t think dialogue in film has been this strong since then. Not quite as good as some of the best of Hawks, but still a classic.

Leave a Reply

— required *

— required *