His Girl Friday - Film (Movie) Plot and Review





USA, 1940


Director: Howard Hawks

Production: Columbia Pictures Corp.; black and white, 35mm; running time: 92 minutes. Released 18 January 1940.


Producer: Howard Hawks; screenplay: Charles Lederer, with uncredited assistance by Ben Hecht, from the play Front Page by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur; photography: Joseph Walker; editor: Gene Havlick; art director: Lionel Banks; music: Morris W. Stoloff; costume designer (gowns): Kalloch.


Cast: Cary Grant ( Walter Burns ); Rosalind Russell ( Hildy Johnson ); Ralph Bellamy ( Bruce Baldwin ); Gene Lockhart ( Sheriff Hartwell ); Helen Mack ( Mollie Malloy ); Porter Hall ( Murphy ); Ernest Truex ( Benslinger ); Cliff Edwards ( Endicott ); Clarence Kolb ( Mayor ); Roscoe Karns ( McCue ); Frank Jenks ( Wilson ); Regis Toomey ( Sanders ); Abner Biberman ( Louis ); Frank Orth ( Duffy ); John Qualen ( Earl Williams ); Alma Kruger ( Mrs. Baldwin ); Billy Gilbert ( Joe Pettibone ); Pat West ( Warden Cooley ); Edwin Maxwell ( Dr. Egelhoffer ).


Publications


Script:

Lederer, Charles, and Alyssa Gallin, and Molly Haskell, " His Girl Friday : From The Front Page to His Girl Friday : Woman's Work. The Proto-feminism of His Girl Friday ," in Scenario , vol. 1, no. 4, Fall 1995.


Books:

Bogdanovich, Peter, The Cinema of Howard Hawks , New York, 1962.

Milliaen, Jean-Claude, Howard Hawks , Paris, 1966.

Wood, Robin, Howard Hawks , London, 1968.

Gili, Jean, Howard Hawks , Paris, 1971.

McBride, Joseph, editor, Focus on Howard Hawks , Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1972.

Haskell, Molly, From Reverence to Rape , New York, 1973.

Johnston, Claire, Notes on Women's Cinema , London, 1973.

Mast, Gerald, The Comic Mind , New York, 1973.

Vermilye, Jerry, Cary Grant , New York, 1973.

Willis, Donald, The Films of Howard Hawks , Metuchen, New Jersey, 1975.

Yanni, Nicholas, Rosalind Russell , New York, 1975.

Deschner, Donald, The Films of Cary Grant , Secaucus, New Jersey, 1978.

Murphy, Kathleen A., Howard Hawks: An American Auteur in the Hemingway Tradition , Ann Arbor, 1978.

Cavell, Stanley, Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage , Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1981.

Ciment, Michel, Les Conquérants d'un nouveau monde: Essais sur le cinéma américain , Paris, 1981.

Giannetti, Louis, Masters of the American Cinema , Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1981.

Mast, Gerald, Howard Hawks , Storyteller , Oxford, 1982.

McBride, Joseph, editor, Hawks on Hawks , Berkeley, 1982.

Poague, Leland, Howard Hawks , Boston, 1982.

Britton, Andrew, Cary Grant: Comedy and Male Desire , Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1983.

Schickel, Richard, Cary Grant: A Celebration , London, 1983.

Dupuis, Jean-Jacques, Cary Grant , Paris, 1984.

Simsolo, Noël, Howard Hawks , Paris, 1984.

Branson, Clark, Howard Hawks: A Jungian Study , Los Angeles, 1987.

Higham, Charles, and Ray Moseley, Cary Grant: The Lonely Heart , New York, 1989.

Buehrer, Beverly B., Cary Grant: A Bio-Bibliography , Westport, 1990.

Hillier, Jim, Howard Hawks: American Artist , Champaign, 1997.

McCarthy, Todd, Howard Hawks: The Grey Fox of Hollywood , New York, 1997.

McCann, Graham, Cary Grant: A Class Apart , New York, 1998.


Articles:

Variety (New York), 10 January 1940.

Nugent, Frank S., in New York Times , 12 January 1940.

Roman, Robert, "Cary Grant," in Films in Review (New York), December 1961.

Agel, Henri, "Howard Hawks," in New York Film Bulletin , no. 4, 1962.

Sarris, Andrew, "The World of Howard Hawks," in Films and Filming (London), July and August 1962.

"Hawks Issue" of Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), January 1963.

Rivette, Jacques, and François Truffaut, interview with Howard Hawks, in Interviews with Film Directors , edited by Andrew Sarris, New York, 1967.

Ringgold, Gene, "Rosalind Russell," in Films in Review (New York), December 1970.

Wise, Naomi, "The Hawksian Women," in Take One (Montreal), January-February 1971.

Brackett, Leigh, "A Comment on the Hawksian Women," in Take One (Montreal), July-August 1971.

Cooney, K., "Demonology," in Movietone News (Seattle), April 1975.

Powers, T., "Screwball Liberation," in Jump Cut (Chicago), April 1978.

His Girl Friday
His Girl Friday

Yeck, Joanne L., in Magill's Survey of Cinema 2 , Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1980.

Guarner, J. L., in Casablanca (Madrid), July-August 1981.

Film Reader (Evanston, Illinois), no. 5, 1982.

Wide Angle (Athens, Ohio), no. 3, 1983.

American Film (Washington, D.C.), July-August 1983.

Cieutat, M., "Spéciale première: Les Trois Versions de The Front Page ou le cinéma-roi," in Positif (Paris), September 1983.

Smith, J. A., " His Girl Friday in the Cell: A Case Study of Theatre-to-Film Adaptation," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), April 1985.

Stevens, J. F. D., "The Unfading Image from The Front Page ," in Film and History (Newark, New Jersey), December 1985.

Review, in EPD Film (Frankfurt), vol. 6, no. 7, July 1989.

Masson, Alain, " La dame du vendredi: De la satire à comédie," in Positif (Paris), no. 389–390, July-August 1993.

Vatrican, Vincent, " La dame du vendredi: Howard Hawks," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), Hors-série, 1993.

Lake, J.M., "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" in Michigan Academician , vol. 26, no. 2, 1994.

Hietala, V., "Meidan vastaeronneiden kesken," in Filmihullu

Mulvey, Laura, " His Girl Friday ," in Sight & Sound (London), vol. 7, no. 3, March 1997.


* * *


Hollywood director Howard Hawks said he got the idea for His Girl Friday at a dinner party at which the guests were doing a reading of the Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur play The Front Page . Hawks had handed the male reporter's part (Hildy Johnson) to one of the women while he took the managing editor's lines (Walter Burns). After a few pages of dialogue, Hawks grew excited and decided that the play was better with a girl playing Hildy Johnson. He called Hecht and suggested changing the reporter's sex for a future film project. Hecht liked the idea, but he had other project commitments; so Hawks hired Charles Lederer to write additional dialogue for a new script. Lederer had written the script of the 1931 movie version of The Front Page , directed by Lewis Milestone, and had co-written other Hollywood screenplays with Hecht. On His Girl Friday , he worked with Hecht (who receives no screen credit) to revamp characters and dialogue while preserving the wit and style of the original.

His Girl Friday 's pivotal plot issue is Hildy's (Rosalind Russell) decision whether to marry the tepid, dull Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy) or team up with her ex-boss and ex-husband, newspaper editor Walter Burns (Cary Grant). Although film critic Molly Haskell praised the way that the movie allows a woman to find her identity in a non-domestic sphere, Hildy still faces rather restrictive options— marriage to home, children, and pallid Bruce or marriage to career and ego with a maniacal Walter. Hildy's choice to remain with the press is less a decision to relinquish her "feminine" longings for home and family than a commitment to the continued excitement and kinetic activity of the world of journalism. Her decision to remarry Walter grows out of their mutual understanding, respect, and love for professionalism. Hildy's ultimate decision for an active, motion-filled life is her only possible choice in a "Hawksian" world. As Hawks himself suggested, her solution is the only way that she can work up enough sense of speed so that she won't have to think about how limited her options really are and how bad life really is.

When His Girl Friday premiered in 1940, it baffled and excited critics and public alike for just one reason—its speed. Hawks's actors overlapped their dialogue; they spoke in lower tones of voice; conversations ran almost simultaneously. Hawks reinforced the sensation of speed by keeping his characters in constant activity. For example, when he finds out that Hildy is getting married, Walter nervously reacts by rubbing his hand, touching the phone, picking up a carnation from a vase and slipping it into his buttonhole. All the while, he struggles to keep an impassive face. When he tries to convince Hildy to postpone her wedding plans so that she can write an important story, his impassioned, aggressive speech drives her around the room, first clockwise and then counter-clockwise. When Hawks cannot rely on his characters' motions, he uses such techniques as rapid cuts between the reporters talking into their telephones or a searchlight sweeping across the room to keep the pace frenetic. Hawks's comedy clocks in at 240 words-per-minute, about 100–140 words per minute faster than the average speaking rate; but his timing, camerawork and editing make it seem still faster.

The film is so mannered, especially in its pacing, that the degree of stylization calls attention to itself. When Walter Burns describes Bruce Baldwin, he says that he looks like "That actor—Ralph Bellamy." He later quips to one of the film's characters, "The last man that said that to me was Archie Leach just a week before he cut his throat." (Archie Leach is Cary Grant's real name.) Such references do not really disrupt the film but merely add to the movie's hilarious message on the absurdity of believing in the characters as real people. Coupled with the timing and acting, the parodic elements contribute to the development of an essay on the absurdity of any kind of ethical or moral commitments—any commitments to "normal values"—in the modern world.

His Girl Friday was the first screwball comedy to depart from the money-marriage-ego conflicts of Holiday , My Man Godfrey , and The Philadelphia Story , inserting into the same comic structure and pattern of action a conflict between career and marriage. Throughout the 1940s, career-marriage decisions for women provided the crises in several screwball comedies. His Girl Friday marked the transition from the subversion of women working for ends other than marriage to more explicit statements regarding money-marriage-sex roles in the genre in the 1940s.

—Lauren Rabinovitz



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