IMDB #223 His Girl Friday

Hey there, people. Do you ever feel like life is too slow? That people around you should just knock it off with the carefully considered responses and the staring at the Wendy’s menu like zombies and just keep up with you already?

Then you’ll love His Girl Friday, the crackling, rapid-fire, rollicking screwball masterpiece that I was looking for on this countdown all along. I thought, given my propensity for the dialogue of Aaron Sorkin, that the tradition had been sort of talked-up as quicker than it actually was- maybe it was just relatively fast for people’s attention spans back then. And after enjoying movies that were reasonably snappy like Arsenic And Old Lace and The Philadelphia Story, I was beginning to believe that was true.

But His Girl Friday is a solid 92 minutes of breathless banter, and reinforces something we’ve learned once already: don’t divorce Cary Grant, because he will always trick you into remarrying him.

The Key Players:

Howard Hawks, director of Bringing Up Baby and Scarface (1932 version, yo), pioneered the naturalistic style of dialogue we all love so much today. He’s like Tarantino’s grandfater, essentially. Hawks only received one Oscar nomination (for directing Sergeant York), but did get an honorary statuette in 1975.

Cary Grant. You know him.

Rosalind Russell was cast after some eight other actresses had turned down the role (including Katherine Hepburn, Claudette Colbert, and Ginger Rogers). A four-time Oscar nominee (and Hersholt Humanitarian recipient), five time Golden Globe winner, and Tony Award winner, it’s impossible to imagine anyone else in her most famous role.

The Story:

Grant plays Walter Burns, a newspaper editor whose ex-wife and best reporter Hildy Johnson (Russell) has stopped by to inform him she’s quitting to marry some sheepish nice guy (yeah, that’ll last). But mayhem ensues when a murderer about to be hanged escapes, leading to a whole madcap situation in which corrupt politicians are exposed, Hildy’s fiancee gets arrested several times in comical scenarios, and old feelings are re-ignited.

Is the plot terribly important? No. But here’s some quotes:

-“I like him; he's got a lot of charm.” 
“Well he comes by it naturally- his grandfather was a snake.

-“Who, me?“
“Yes, you and that albino of yours!” 
“You talkin' about Evangeline?” 
“None other!” 
“She ain't no albino.” 
“She'll do 'till one comes along!” 
“She was born right here in this country!”

-“Hey, Duffy, listen. Is there any way we can stop the 4:00 train to Albany from leaving town?” 
“… we might dynamite it. 
“Could we?”

The Artisticness:

Aaaand more quotes:

-“ Well, Albany's a mighty good insurance town. Most people there take it out pretty early in life.“
“Yeah, well I can see why they would.”
“I figure I'm in one business that really helps people. Of course, we don't help you much while you're alive, but afterward - that's what counts!”

“No, no, never mind the Chinese earthquake for heaven's sake...Look, I don't care if there's a million dead...No, no, junk the Polish Corridor...Take all those Miss America pictures off Page Six...Take Hitler and stick him on the funny page...No, no, leave the rooster story alone - that's human interest.”


Guess what? They get the big story, and get back together. Who’dve thunk it?

Once again, gender roles are pretty antiquated- it’s good to know that if I want to win an ex back the day before she gets married, I might stand a chance if I set up her fiancee to get arrested three separate times. (Also not helping? Whoever decided to make the tagline “She learned about men from him!” What the hell is that?)


Overall: Should It Be Higher, Lower?

Well, I loved it, and I’m super stoked to watch Bringing Up Baby sometime (though it is not awaiting us on the 250, alas). Higher!

The Legacy:

Well, despite being an adaptation of a stage play itself, His Girl Friday was later adapted for the stage, in addition to the usual AFI list inclusion and so forth. I can’t say I recognized many lines from out there in the pop culture ether (unlike say, watching Casablanca for the first time), but that’s probably because they fly by too quickly, and they speak over one another so much.

The Best Video Of It On YouTube

Well, forget YouTube for once! You can watch the entire thing on here. Hulu is pretty awesome.

Leftover Thoughts:

Interestingly (at least to me, because I used to have a job in a copyright setting) His Girl Friday’s copyright wasn’t renewed and has fallen into the public domain, but the play it was based on (1928’s The Front Page) is copyrighted until 2024. This means the only things really PD are the portions of the film not based on the original play, which is to say most of the Grant/Russell stuff about having been married and all (since in the play “Hildy” was, you know, a guy). There was also a straight-up adaptation of the play with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau directed by Billy Wilder in 1974 that will not be appearing on this countdown.

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