AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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His Girl Friday
Director: Howard Hawks (Dir)
Release Date:   18 Jan 1940
Premiere Information:   New York opening: week of 12 Jan 1940
Production Date:   27 Sep--21 Nov 1939
Duration (in mins):   92
Duration (in reels):   10
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Cast:   Cary Grant (Walter Burns)  
    Rosalind Russell (Hildy Johnson)  
    Ralph Bellamy (Bruce Baldwin)  
    Gene Lockhart (Sheriff [Peter B.] Hartwell)  
    Porter Hall (Murphy)  
    Ernest Truex ([Roy B.] Bensinger)  
    Cliff Edwards (Endicott)  
    Clarence Kolb (Mayor [Fred])  
    Roscoe Karns (McCue)  
    Frank Jenks (Wilson)  
    Regis Toomey (Sanders)  
    Abner Biberman (Louis)  
    Frank Orth (Duffy )  
    John Qualen (Earl Williams)  
    Helen Mack (Mollie Malloy)  
    Alma Kruger (Mrs. Baldwin)  
    Billy Gilbert (Joe Pettibone)  
    Pat West (Warden Cooley)  
    Edwin Maxwell (Dr. [Max J.] Egelhoffer)  

Summary: Ex-reporter Hildy Johnson, recently divorced from fast-talking newspaper editor Walter Burns, pays him a visit at the office of the Morning Post to tell him that she is marrying mild-mannered insurance salesman Bruce Baldwin. When Hildy enters, Walter is engrossed by the story of the impending execution of Earl Williams, a timid bookkeeper who has been sentenced to die for killing an African-American policeman. To lure Hildy back, Walter lies that his star reporter is preoccupied with the birth of his first child and the paper needs her to cover the story. Hildy rejects Walter's bate and announces that she is engaged, tired of being a newspaperman and now just wants to be a woman. Walter insists upon meeting Hildy's fiancĂ© and invites them to lunch. At lunch, Walter learns that the couple are leaving with Bruce's mother, Mrs. Baldwin, on the four o'clock train to Albany. Scheming to win Hildy back, Walter convinces Bruce that only a story written by Hildy can save the wrongly-convicted Williams. Hildy calls Walter's bluff, but agrees to write the story if Walter will purchase a $100,000 life insurance policy from Bruce. Walter eagerly consents, and while he returns to the newspaper office with Bruce for a medical examination, Hildy goes to the press room at the criminal court's building, where she is welcomed by her cynical fellow reporters, who warn her that she will never be able to give up the newspaper business. After interviewing the befuddled Williams, Hildy returns to the press room where she meets Molly Malone, the only person who has shown compassion toward Williams. Her act of kindness has won her the contempt of the reporters, and when they begin to taunt her, Hildy takes pity on Molly. Soon after, Bruce telephones Hildy to tell her he has been arrested for stealing a watch. Knowing that Walter has master-minded Bruce's arrest, Hildy bails Bruce out of jail and then returns to the press room where she telephones Walter with her resignation. Hildy's farewell speech to her fellow reporters is cut short, however, by the sound of gunshots and the news that Williams has escaped. Hildy's reporter's instincts supplant her common sense, and after notifying Walter about Williams' escape, she tackles Warden Cooley for the story. While Bruce waits in the cab for Hildy to write her story, Walter sends Evangeline, a moll, to frame Bruce, whom he describes as "looking like that fellow in the movies, Ralph Bellamy." After bribing Cooley for his story with $450 of Bruce's money, Hildy calls Walter and demands repayment. In response, Walter sends his stooge, Louis, to Hildy with $450 in counterfeit money. Soon after, Hildy receives another call from Bruce, who has been jailed for "mashing." Meanwhile, Sheriff Peter B. Hartwell and the Mayor confer about their political fortunes. The Mayor and sheriff, who head a graft-ridden administration, need the execution of Earl Williams to deliver the black vote on election day. Consequently, when Joe Pettibone arrives with a reprieve for Williams from the Governor's office, the two try to bribe Pettibone into forgetting the reprieve. Back at the press room, Hildy is waiting for Louis to deliver her money when Earl Williams climbs in through the window. Interrupted by a phone call from Bruce, who is still waiting for her to bail him out of jail, Hildy impatiently tells him to wait and then calls Walter to tell him that she has found Earl Williams. Hildy's call is followed by Molly Malone pounding on the press room door. When Molly sees Williams, she bursts in the room and when the reporters begin to file in, Hildy and Molly hide Earl in a roll top desk. Mrs. Baldwin then enters the room and begins to chide Hildy about foresaking Bruce for a murderer. To divert the reporter's questions, Molly jumps out the window. The reporters run out of the room to examine the extent of Molly's injuries just as Walter and Louis arrive. Walter orders Louis to kidnap Mrs. Baldwin while he makes plan to transport the desk that Earl Williams is hiding in back to the Post . Walter then fast-talks Hildy into writing the story, and as Hildy pounds out the account on her typewriter, Bruce walks in, demands his money and tells Hildy that he is leaving on the nine o'clock train. Hildy then hands Bruce the counterfeit bills. Hildy is still writing her story when a disheveled Louis enters with the news that he was in a car crash and left Mrs. Baldwin at the scene of the wreck. Next, the sheriff and reporters return, and the sheriff begins to question Hildy. They are followed by Mrs. Baldwin who accuses Walter of kidnapping. Walter, agitated, pounds emphaticially on the desk and when Williams responds, the sheriff opens the desk and finds the fugitive. The sheriff then handcuffs Walter and Hildy and threatens Walter, who responds that the "last man who did that to me was Archie Leech." Just then, Pettibone enters with Williams' reprieve, forcing the sheriff to release Walter and Hildy. As Walter advises Hildy to go after Bruce, Bruce calls and tells Hildy that he has been arrested for spending counterfeit money. Realizing that Walter has tricked her once again, Hildy breaks down and cries and Walter calls his city editor, Duffy, to announce that he and Hildy are getting married and will spend their honeymoon in Albany covering a strike story. 

Production Company: Columbia Pictures Corp.  
Distribution Company: Columbia Pictures Corp.  
Director: Howard Hawks (Dir)
  Clifton Broughton (Asst dir)
Producer: Howard Hawks (Prod)
Writer: Charles Lederer (Scr)
Photography: Joseph Walker (Dir of photog)
Art Direction: Lionel Banks (Art dir)
Film Editor: Gene Havlick (Film ed)
Costumes: Kalloch (Gowns)
Music: M. W. Stoloff (Mus dir)
Sound: Lodge Cunningham (Sd)
Country: United States

Source Text: Based on the play The Front Page by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur as produced by Jed Harris (14 Aug 1928, New York).
Authors: Ben Hecht
  Charles MacArthur

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Columbia Pictures Corp. 30/12/1939 dd/mm/yyyy LP9305

PCA NO: 5823
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording

Genre: Comedy
Sub-Genre: Newspaper
Subjects (Major): Career women
  Women reporters
  Political corruption
  Prison escapes
  Vocational obsession
Subjects (Minor): Divorce
  Falls from heights
  Mothers and sons

Note: The onscreen credits of the film contain the following written prologue: "It all happened in the "Dark Ages" of the newspaper game--when a reporter "getting the story" justified anything short of murder. Incidentally, you will see in this picture no resemblance to the men and women of the press today. Ready? Well, once upon a time---" According to an Aug 1939 news item in HR , production on the film was postponed because Irene Dunne, who was originally slated to play the role of Hildy Johnson, felt the role was too small and insisted that the writers rewrite her part. Another news item in HR notes that Claudette Colbert, Jean Arthur and Joan Crawford were also considered for the role. Modern sources add that Jean Arthur was suspended for refusing the part. In a modern interview, director Howard Hawks stated that he conceived the idea of changing the character of Hildy Johnson from a man, as he is written in the play, to a woman when he heard Hildy's lines read by a woman. According to Hawks, he was trying to prove that the Front Page contained the finest modern dialogue ever written, and he began to read the part of Walter and asked a woman to read Hildy's part. Realizing then that the dialogue worked better between a woman and a man than between two men, Hawks called up writer Ben Hecht and suggested changing Hildy's character to a woman. Hawks also noted that the fast pace of the film was created by overlapping the actors' dialogue and making them talk fast. In an interview, Ralph Bellamy said that Cary Grant ad libbed the line in which Grant's character, "Walter Burns," describes his character, "Bruce Baldwin" as looking like "Ralph Bellamy." Grant's real name, Archie Leech, was also used in the film. For other films based on the Ben Hecht-Charles MacArthur play, see entry above for The Front Page . The 1988 film Switching Channels , starring Burt Reynolds and Kathleen Turner and directed by Ted Kotcheff, was the only other male/female version of the play. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Daily Variety   28 Sep 39   p. 4.
Daily Variety   4 Jan 40   p.3.
Film Daily   5 Jan 40   p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter   2 Aug 39   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   14 Sep 39   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   30 Nov 39   p. 3.
Motion Picture Daily   8 Jan 40   p. 6.
Motion Picture Herald   9 Dec 39   p. 80.
Motion Picture Herald   13 Jan 40   pp. 36-38.
New York Times   12 Jan 40   p. 13.
New York Times   14 Jan 40   p. 5.
Variety   10 Jan 40   p. 14.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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