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This screen adaptation of the Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur play "The
Front Page" was adapted for the talents of Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell
-- there is no such character as Hildy Johnson (Russell) in that
Director Howard Hawks wanted to show the whirlwind pace of the newsroom in the criminal courts system so he had his actors overlap their lines -- so much so that at times it seems as though everyone is talking at once; it even gets difficult to understand all that is going on.
He also had the cast move FAST so the film looks totally frenetic from scene to scene with no respite -- either from the laughs or from the action.
There are two really good "inside" jokes in the script: The first is where Walter Burns (Grant) is describing Hildy's fiancee and says that "he looks like that guy in the movies -- Bellamy," Well, it WAS Ralph Bellamy playing that part!
The other is when Burns says something about someone he once knew named "Archie Leach" which just happens to be Cary Grant's real name.
This is one of the true gems of Hollywood's most prolific era. It has incredible pacing, acting, photography and an authentic gritty feeling that would be associated with hard-boiled, "anything for a story" newspaper people.
It has long been one of my favorite films and deserves to be watched over and over again -- just for all the dialogue and great acting that may have gone by so fast you missed it the first time.
I just finished watching the DVD of this first-class, semi-Screwball
Columbia Classics beautiful transfer, and it absolutely made my day! What
What a screenplay! The dialogue is better - more modern - in fact, than a
contemporary movies. It's incredibly funny, too, and my teenage sons kept
right along with me at the smart come-backs. Cary Grant is, of course, as
not better) than ever, and I've never seen Rosalind Russel in a role that
more perfectly. And that's just for starters: The timing of the thing is
inspiring after sixty-odd years; the supporting actors, down to the
bit-players, are all
memorable, convincing and hilarious; the camera work (this IS the forties,
is inventive and the editing superb. I can safely confess now that I
it before, but that's no reason for you to make the same mistake: Go
NOW! Hats off to the great Howard Hawks, his cast and crew for pulling
masterpiece off. And thank you, thank you, thank you Columbia Pictures,
making it possible for me to watch it in such pristine condition! (I've got the 2002 edition, and from what I've heard you should beware of earlier DVD issues).
Charles McArthur and Ben Hecht met when both were reporters in Chicago
during the 1920s. They created two of the funniest farces in American
drama, TWENTIETH CENTURY (about theater people) and THE FRONT PAGE. The
latter was based on their experiences as news reporters in those crazy
days in Chicago, where the newspapers concentrated on sensationalism
and the politics was thoroughly corrupt. The resulting play is
hysterically funny and yet remains timely. For all the exaggeration of
how Walter Burns and Hildy Johnson manipulate police, politicians,
reporters, and civilians to get their scoop, the story remains relevant
for several reasons. The political balance in a big Mayoralty election
is precarious due to the Earl Williams case. Williams has shot a
policeman who is African-American, a big local voting block, and they
want him punished. The corrupt Mayor and his idiot jail warden are
willing to execute him for the votes needed to stay in office, but the
Governor (who is from the rival party) believes the killer is insane
(or at least mentally deficient). So already (as you see) race,
politics, and the validity of the death penalty get pulled in. Soon we
also see examples of nepotism and corruption in the police, and City
Hall, cynical politics based on a man's life, and questions about
privacy and a free press. For a play from 1931 this one still has
There had been an earlier version of the play in the 1930s called THE FRONT PAGE, starring Adolphe Menjou as the conniving and devious Walter Burns, and Pat O'Brien as ace reporter Hildy Johnson. It is a good version, and both stars do well with their parts (and both have the verbal speed necessary for the dialog to flow over the ears of the audience). But when the film was remade in 1940, Howard Hawks decided to redraw Hildy Johnson into a female reporter (and previous wife) of Burns. His casting of Cary Grant was radically different too. Burns is a nasty, conniving s.o.b. who would kill for a good story. Menjou was somewhat dapper (he was usually dapper) in the role, but the hardness under the presentable shell was there. And by changing Hildy from a guy to a gal, and Walter's former wife, you had to make Walter look more interesting. So Walter is turned into Cary Grant. There was a search for Hildy, involving Jean Arthur and Irene Dunne as possibilities. Neither ended up playing him. Instead it went to Rosalind Russell.
It has to be admitted Russell had the vocal abilities to push the dialog at the proper clip. Possibly Jean Arthur could have done that just as well, but Arthur did not have the apparent physical strength behind the stylishness that Russell showed. She really does balance well (in this film) with Grant, given their characters.
Motivation changes a little. This Walter Burns still wants to get his scoops, but there are moments of fragility when he realizes he may forever lose Hildy to her fiancé Bruce (the ever helpless Ralph Bellamy). And they oddly work (Hawks manages to keep them under control). Also, as the story is now twelve years older than the original play, certain changes occur in Walter's political views. He does dislike the gang (led by Clarence Kolb and Gene Lockhart) running the city, and points out to Hildy that they have a chance to help give the city the sort of government New York City has under La Guardia. This does not end his joy at scooping the opposition, but it does suggest that Burns has more depth.
It is now generally believed that this is the best of the film versions of THE FRONT PAGE, and one of the funniest films ever made. The entire cast shines (look at the scene where Helen Mack confronts the reporters who have made her look like a tramp, and have told lies about John Qualen (Williams) - she is in a state when Russell takes her out of the press room, and the reporters are thoroughly ashamed of herself - and Russell comes back looking at Regis Toomey, Porter Hall, and the others, and says "Gentlemen of the Press!" with heavy cynical irony). And also note Billy Gilbert's immortal Joe Pettibone, the most hopeless monument of total befuddlement in movies. It is one of the few film comedies of that period that retains it's laughs one viewing following another.
Every good thing you've heard about this movie is true. It may very
well be the fastest paced movie I've ever seen. Jerry Bruckheimer's
most hyperbolic action movie ain't got nothing' on this one.
Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell were a brilliant screen pair (indeed, it seems that no one was bad casting when paired with Cary Grant) as rival reporters in a furiously paced news office. Russell is the odd man, or should I say odd girl, out, due to her lack of a penis, but she proves herself more than capable of holding her own with the boys.
Russell charges across the screen and never loses momentum for a second. She's goofy, sexy and hysterical. The funniest moment in the film comes when she's chasing a man down the street (I won't go into details) and dive tackles him to the ground.
One of the first films from the 40s and a highlight of the decade.
This gloriously funny romp by Howard Hawks is rightly remembered as one
of the fastest-talking movies ever made. Originally done as 'The Front
Page', the play by Hecht and McArthur takes on new life here as the
character of Hildy Johnson metamorphoses in this version to be a sparky
woman (played by Rosalind Russell), former wife of the harassed
columnist Walter Burns (played with characteristic bewilderment and
charm by Cary Grant). Hildy is about to marry again, to the nice but
dull Bruce Baldwin (played by Ralph Bellamy as a character so boring he
'is like Ralph Bellamy' - how Hollywood liked its in-jokes).
With that fire-cracking script, a sizable amount of sparks between Grant and Russell, and good support from Bellamy and a cast which includes Gene Lockhart, Cliff Edwards, Clarence Kolb, and Regis Toomey, 'His Girl Friday' is one of those classic gems which never age and which remain hugely entertaining.
This has to be one of the most wickedly funny films there is, and I
think it's much better than the earlier version with Adolphe Menjou
and Pat O'Brien (even though that was funny too). The fact that the
boss and employee were ex-husband and wife battling it out made
it funnier than simply an employer trying to keep a friend and
Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant really clicked in this, and it's a shame they never worked together again. And as one who worked in journalism for 20 plus years, (the legitimate version I hope), there really are characters out there carrying tape recorders and microphones who'd do anything for a story. I laughed so hard because I could remember certain "gentlemen and gentlewomen" in the business slitting each other's throats (figuratively speaking) to get the story first, whether accurate or not.
The dialogue was crisp and the movie is very fast paced, and all the supporting actors shone and added to the overall success of the film. And as always, you've got to love the happy ending! Give it giga-stars!
As if creating one comedic masterpiece with 1938's BRINGING UP BABY was
not enough, director Howard Hawks returned to the same genre a scant
two years later - and he somehow managed to rival even his own previous
masterwork. Nominally a reworking Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur's
play THE FRONT PAGE, HIS GIRL Friday manages to surpass it's classic
source material and emerge as one of the screen's finest comedies. The
film is also perhaps the perfect example of Hawks' trademarked
rapid-fire, overlapping dialogue, which has never been as fast nor as
furious anywhere else before or since. This is certainly one of the
fastest moving comedies ever filmed, and the whole cast never misses a
Walter Burns, the conniving, self-serving newspaper editor, is a character that could have easily come off as a tyrannical jerk. As portrayed by the suave Cary Grant, however, the pompous, arrogant Burns actually becomes (gasp!) likable! It is a difficult balancing act that Grant must perform as teetering between the two extremes of the character, and he is arguably the only actor imaginable with the skill and charisma to pull such a tricky characterization off this successfully. And the one-and-only Rosalind Russell is every bit his match - full of verve and aplomb, Russell's Hildy is an independent career woman, brimming with intelligence and class, that impressively pre-dates the major feminist movement of the mid-sixties by a good 25 years.
The film's supporting cast is no less impressive, with every single role cast to perfection. This is particularly true of Ralph Bellamy, who (along with his Oscar-nominated performance in 1937's THE AWFUL TRUTH) proves once again that he is the ultimate straight man. The film contains some grim subject matter that may seem like unlikely fodder for a screwball comedy (murder, attempted suicide, and public execution are all touched upon), although the film somehow manages to deal with such topics respectfully and without sacrificing any laughs. In the end, HIS GIRL Friday is an absolutely unbeatable romantic comedy that remains wildly hilarious and comes as close to sheer perfection as any motion picture could ever hope to.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If BRINGING UP BABY has rapid-fire dialogue and one crazy scene after
the other, HIS GIRL Friday goes even faster and is 10 minutes shorter.
A story not that un-similar to THE PHILADELPHIA STORY which deletes the
scatterbrained socialites in favor for a gritty, urban setting, Cary
Grant is fantastic in his role as Walter Burns as he tries to win back
his wife Hildy Johnson (an equally brilliant Rosalind Russell in full
comic mode) by literally throwing her back into what she -- deep down
-- loves best: reporting and the breakneck lifestyle that comes with
being in front of the news. These two are on camera often, and their
dialogue together is like a frenzied waltz: trying to follow every
exact word, gesture, and snarl is quite a task, boy, does it sizzle!
What a shame that this wasn't up for any awards, as this could have
easily won in acting categories. Completely ahead of its times, this is
an interesting view on feminism thirty years before the term became
public knowledge, and if one listens closely, a study in verbal sexual
interplay. Which shows that making Hildy Johnson a woman was the best
decision a director could ever do to enhance a story.
A remake of an earlier film (THE FRONT PAGE, 1931), itself a film version of a 1928 play, HIS GIRL Friday was remade again as THE FRONT PAGE in 1976 and yet again in 1988 as SWITCHING CHANNELS, with Kathleen Turner nicely holding up in her portrayal of the role that cemented Rosalind Russell as a skilled comedienne, this time set in media TV.
Whoever had the bright idea to turn the Ben Hecht-Charles MacArthur
play, The Front Page into a boy and girl comedy ought to get a Nobel
Prize for comedy if such an award had been available at the time.
Of course it helps when one of your two main characters has an ambiguous first name like Hildy. Short for Hildreth when Pat O'Brien plays it, Rosalind Russell is all female in this one. Russell bites off a huge chunk of Katherine Hepburn career woman territory here and she digests it well.
She's the best reporter on the staff of the Morning Post and her editor Cary Grant doesn't want to lose her no way. At one time he even married her, but that didn't take. They're divorced now and Russell is fed up and decides she wants a home and children and security and Ralph Bellamy is going to give her all of that. Plus a home with his mother Alma Kruger for a year in Albany.
As her friendly rival reporter Regis Toomey says, there ain't no way that Russell could ever leave the newspaper game. She proves it when she goes to work on that one last assignment to cover an execution at the state penitentiary.
Even though Howard Hawks did add a romance into The Front Page he did not sacrifice one iota of the biting satire from Hecht and MacArthur. If you watch the either The Front Page or His Girl Friday or even the remake from the eighties Broadcast News you will swear the world is made up of boobs and nitwits and the only smart people around are journalists. Too often however that's proved to be the case.
Poor meek John Qualen who was listening to some radicals speaking and got caught up in the moment and accidentally shot a black police officer. Back then ethnic politics were played to the hilt and a law and order mayor, Clarence Kolb, wants to see Qualen executed. His brother-in-law, sheriff Gene Lockhart means to see the sentence is done.
Cary Grant's paper is against capital punishment at least for this poor schnook. Of course when Qualen escapes all kinds of complication arise and Russell's on the job to report them.
As he was in The Awful Truth, Ralph Bellamy is there to be the slightly befuddled doofus who loses the girl to fast talking Cary. Bellamy's performance is a brilliant piece of work itself. He's so funny because he plays the part absolutely straight and the humor falls around him.
Howard Hawks assembles a really grand cast of memorable character actors. My favorite however, brief though his scenes are is Billy Gilbert who is a messenger from the governor who is delivering a sentence commutation. The poor man gets waylaid and involved in all kinds of intrigue that is all going on over his head. You have to see him to believe how funny he is and he does it without a sneeze.
His Girl Friday successfully combines screwball romantic comedy with biting satire and no seams show it all in the stitching. It's a blueprint on how to do successful cinema comedy.
Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell make great sparring partners in "His
Girl Friday," a remake of "The Front Page." Grant plays the conniving
newspaper publisher Walter Johnson, and Rosalind Russell is the
reporter Hildy Johnson, a woman this time, and Johnson's ex-wife. She's
trying to get remarried, move to Albany, and quit the newspaper
business, but Walter can't bear it. He cons her into helping out with a
controversial death row case and then makes sure her fiancée (Ralph
Bellamy) suffers a series of mishaps - arrest for stealing a watch,
arrest for "mashing," arrest for counterfeiting, and the theft of his
wallet. This all happens while Hildy interviews Earl Williams, a man
due to be hung the next day... and then hides him in a roll-top desk in
the courthouse press room when he escapes during a psychiatric
It's madcap, all right, and there are no two better people to carry it off than Grant and Russell, who make a great team. It's a hilarious story, with the most rapid-fire, non-stop dialog ever heard anywhere, often with several conversations going on at once. It's exhausting trying to keep up with it.
Strangely, without computers and cell phones, the story of journalists working on a story holds up because the emotions and activities are realistic and still go on. It's as Hildy describes - no set schedule, no normal meals, and long hours. Nothing much has changed.
This is a frenetic comedy, and while the impending hanging of Earl Williams is certainly serious, this plot is more of an excuse to observe the machinations of Hildy and Walter - it's a subplot, though it drives the main story.
"The Front Page" is a favorite of Hollywood's, remade many times - three versions under its original title, a TV series, two TV productions, plus the film "Switching Channels." And of course, "His Girl Friday," possibly the best of all of them.
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