Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant in “His Girl Friday”

His Girl Friday (1940) is an American screwball comedy directed by Howard Hawks and starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. Based on the play The Front Page (1928) by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, Hawks decided to turn Hildy Johnson, played by a man in the original, into a woman, changing the dynamics of the story and according to many critics, an improvement. The supporting cast includes Ralph Bellamy, Gene Lockhart, Porter Hall, Roscoe Karns, John Qualen, Helen Mack, and Alma Kruger.

Hildy Johnson (Russell) has left newspaper journalism behind to marry insurance salesman Bruce Baldwin (Bellamy), much to the dismay of her former editor and ex-husband Walter Burns (Grant). Walter does his level best to convince Hildy that she return to her career and to him! What ensues is one of the smartest, fast-talking screwball comedies ever made.

Cary Grant, Ralph Bellamy, and Rosalind Russell

Howard Hawks (1896 - 1977) was an American director, producer, and screenwriter. He is considered one of the great directors from the classic Hollywood era. Hawks excelled in directing films in all genres. His films were famous for featuring strong women characters. These tough-talking “Hawksian women” helped to define the director’s work. Some of Hawks’ popular films include Scarface (1932) Bringing Up Baby (1938), Only Angels Have Wings (1939), His Girl Friday (1940), To Have and Have Not (1944), The Big Sleep (1946), Red River (1948), and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953). Gary Cooper won a Best Actor Academy Award for his performance in Sergeant York (1941) under Hawks’ direction.

Cary Grant (1904 - 1986) was an English-born American actor who became one of the most popular leading men in film history. Grant started his career in vaudeville before heading to Hollywood. He became a superstar in the late 1930s in a series of screwball comedies including The Awful Truth (1937) with Irene Dunne. He was a memorable C. K. Dexter Haven in The Philadelphia Story (1940) opposite Katharine Hepburn and James Stewart. He received two Best Actor nominations for Penny Serenade (1941) and None but the Lonely Hearts (1944). Other classic Grant films include Gunga Din (1939), Only Angels Have Wings (1939), and Arsenic and Old Lace (1944). He made four popular films with Alfred Hitchcock: Suspicion (1941), Notorious (1946), To Catch a Thief (1955), and North by Northwest (1959). He was presented with an Honorary Oscar at the 42nd Academy Awards in 1970.

Rosalind Russell (1907 - 1976) was an American film and stage actress. She was nominated for four Best Actress Academy Awards throughout her career. She won five Golden Globe Awards and a Tony for Best Actress in a Musical for her performance as Ruth in Wonderful Town. Russell was a versatile actress who excelled at both comedy and drama. She was also one of the few actresses of her day to portray lawyers, judges, and psychiatrists. Some of her famous films include The Women (1939), My Sister Eileen (1942), Sister Kenny (1946), Picnic (1955), Auntie Mame (1958), Gypsy (1962), and The Trouble with Angels (1966).

To watch this film on YouTube, click on the link below.

Why watch this film?
  • It is considered one of the best screwball comedies of all time.
  • The overlapping dialogue throughout the film was unique when released and copied ever since.
  • Rosalind Russell had one of the best roles of her career as Hildy Johnson.
  • It showcases Cary Grant’s ease at playing comedy like no one else could.
  • The cast features a supporting cast of some of the best and most popular character actors of the day.

To join the discussion on September 13, 2021, at 6:30 p.m., click here. Once you RSVP, you will receive an invitation and link to the discussion on Zoom.

His Girl Friday trivia
  • Rosalind Russell was literally the last choice to play Hildy Johnson?! Carole Lombard was the director’s first choice but deemed too expensive. Katharine Hepburn, Claudette Colbert, Margaret Sullivan, Ginger Rogers, Jean Arthur, and Irene Dunne were all offered the role but turned it down. Supposedly, even Joan Crawford was considered.
  • Russell hired a writer to help her ad-lib some of her dialog to better compete with Grant who was ad-libbing like crazy.
  • The film contains several inside jokes that audiences in 1940 would have picked up on immediately.
  • Russell was loaned to Columbia from M-G-M where she had just completed The Women (1939).
  • The film was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress in 1993.
  • It premiered at Radio City Music Hall before it went into wide release where it was universally praised by the critics and public.

Discussion questions:
  1. What did you think of the relationship between Walter (Grant) and Hildy (Russell)?
  2. Did the character of Hildy Johnson surprise you in any way?
  3. Did you have a favorite line or interaction between Hildy and Walter?
  4. What about the character actors? Any favorites?
  5. The film moves at break-neck speed; were you able to keep up with it?
  6. Did anything surprise you about the film?
  7. Was the ending satisfying? Was it what you expected?


  1. His Girl Friday is a longtime favourite. However, don't sell The Front Page short. It was a huge Broadway hit with many revivals and the 1931 movie was nominated for Best Picture, lead actor (Menjou), and director (Milestone). The glorious 1940 remake adheres very strictly to the template.

    Perhaps Hawks was inspired to switch "Hildy" to a female after Warners did it with their popular Torchy Blane character in 1937.

    1. Thanks for stopping by. My comments have fallen through the cracks so I'm just seeing this now!? I have to give the 1931 version another look. I much prefer "His Girl Friday," but maybe my tastes have changed with age. I'll let you know.


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