His Girl Friday (1940): Hawks Screwball Comedy Masterpiece, Starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell

Howard Hawks’ masterpiece of 1940 is a splendid screwball comedy remake of the quintessential “newspaper movie” of the 1930s, The Front Page.

Grade: A- (**** out of *****)

His Girl Friday
His Girl Friday (1940 poster) crop.jpg

Theatrical release poster

In 1993, the Library of Congress selected the film for preservation in the National Film Registry.

The screenplay, marked by a snappy dialogue and a major change in journalist’s gender, was written by Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer.

The incomparable Cary Grant plays the conniving editor and ex-husband of Hildy (Rosalind Russell), his star reporter. Ralph Bellamy is cast as Russell’s fiance, a mama-boy type, whose goal is to settle down into a quiet, domestic life in Albany!

The lunatic comedy is set amid a hot murder story that needs to be covered. Guess who gets to do the job Terrific character actors add sparkle to a must-see film that has become a cult work and one of the best examples of American screwball comedy.

Director Hawks keeps the pacing so fast, you need to see the film twice to really get the hilarious one-liners.   Indeed, the film is noted for its rapid-fire repartee, using overlapping dialogue to make conversations sound more realistic, with one character speaking before another finishes. Hawks told Peter Bogdanovich: “I had noticed that when people talk, they talk over one another, especially people who talk fast or who are arguing or describing something. So we wrote the dialogue in a way that made the beginnings and ends of sentences unnecessary; they were there for overlapping.”

To get the effect he wanted, as multi-track sound recording was not yet available at the time, Hawks had the sound mixer on the set turn the various overhead microphones on and off as required for the scene, as many as 35 times.

Though his specialties were screwball comedies (Twentieth Century, Bringing Up Baby, Ball of Fire) and Westerns (Red River, Rio Bravo), Hawks’ only Oscar nomination was for the war biopicture, Sergeant York.  Hawks had never won a legit competitive Oscar.

Ron Howard’s comedy The Paper (1994) borrowed a lot of thematic and visual elements from both The Front Page and His Girl Friday.


Directed, produced by Howard Hawks
Screenplay by Charles Lederer, Ben Hecht (uncredited), based on The Front Page 1928 play by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur
Cinematography Joseph Walker
Edited by Gene Havlick
Production and distribution: Columbia Pictures

Release date: January 18, 1940

Running time: 92 minutes



Cary Grant as Walter Burns

Rosalind Russell as Hildegard “Hildy” Johnson

Ralph Bellamy as Bruce Baldwin

Alma Kruger as Mrs. Baldwin, Bruce’s mother

Gene Lockhart as Sheriff Peter B. Hartwell

Clarence Kolb as Mayor Fred

Abner Biberman as Louis “Diamond Louie” Palutso

John Qualen as Earl Williams

Helen Mack as Mollie Malloy

Porter Hall as Reporter Murphy

Ernest Truex as Reporter Roy V. Bensinger

Cliff Edwards as Reporter Endicott

Roscoe Karns as Reporter McCue

Frank Jenks as Reporter Wilson

Regis Toomey as Reporter Sanders

Frank Orth as Duffy, Walter’s copy editor

Billy Gilbert as Joe Pettibone

Pat West as Warden Cooley

Edwin Maxwell as Dr. Max J. Eggelhoffer