Hilarious romantic comedy starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. Russell is rough and tumble reporter looking to get out of the news racket by marrying and becoming a house wife after her divorce from newspaper publisher Grant. Just when she is about to leave town with her husband-to-be the still lovesick Grant drafts her to cover one final breaking news sensation. Along with plenty of laughs and fast-paced dialogue, this film provides a witty and cynical look at news business. There is a slight audio sync problem in the first couple minutes of the film. It is present on the source medium and is very brief.
Walter Burns (Cary Grant) is a hard-boiled editor for The Morning Post who learns his ex-wife and former star reporter, Hildegard “Hildy” Johnson (Rosalind Russell), is about to marry bland insurance man Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy) and settle down to a quiet life as a wife and mother in Albany, New York. Walter determines to sabotage these plans, enticing the reluctant Hildy to cover one last story, the upcoming execution of convicted murderer Earl Williams (John Qualen).
Walter does everything he can to keep Hildy from leaving, including setting Bruce up so he gets arrested over and over again on trumped-up charges. He even kidnaps Hildy’s stern mother-in-law-to-be (Alma Kruger). When Williams escapes from the bumbling sheriff (Gene Lockhart) and practically falls into Hildy’s lap, the lure of a big Scoop (term) proves too much for her. She is so consumed with writing the story that she hardly notices as Bruce realizes his cause is hopeless and returns to Albany.
The crooked mayor (Clarence Kolb) and sheriff need the publicity from the execution to keep their jobs in an upcoming election, so when a messenger (Billy Gilbert) brings them a reprieve from the governor, they try to bribe the man to go away and return later, when it will be too late. Walter and Hildy find out just in time to save Walter from being arrested for kidnapping.
Afterward, Walter offers to remarry Hildy, promising to take her on the honeymoon they never had in Niagara Falls, but then Walter learns that there is a newsworthy strike in Albany, which is on the way to Niagara Falls by train.
- 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
- Arthur Pat West as Warden Cooley
- Edwin Maxwell as Dr. Max J. Eggelhoffer
His Girl Friday was originally supposed to be a straightforward adaptation of The Front Page, with both the editor and reporter being men. But during auditions, a woman, Howard Hawks’s secretary, read reporter Hildy Johnson’s lines. Hawks liked the way the dialogue sounded coming from a woman, resulting in the script being rewritten to make Hildy female and the ex-wife of editor Walter Burns.
Most of the original dialogue and all of the characters’ names were left the same, with the exception of Hildy’s fiancé, Bruce Baldwin.
Hawks had a very difficult time casting this film. While the choice of Cary Grant was almost instantaneous, the casting of Hildy was a more extended process. At first, Hawks wanted Carole Lombard, whom he had directed in the screwball comedy Twentieth Century (film), but the cost of hiring Lombard in her new status as a freelancer proved to be far too expensive, and Columbia could not afford her. Katharine Hepburn, Claudette Colbert, Margaret Sullivan, Ginger Rogers and Irene Dunne were offered the role but turned it down, Dunne because she felt the part was too small and needed to be expanded. Jean Arthur was offered the part and was suspended by the studio when she used to take it. Joan Crawford was reportedly also considered.
Hawks then turned to Rosalind Russell. During filming, Russell noticed that Hawks treated her like an also-ran, so she confronted him: “You don’t want me, do you? Well, you’re stuck with me, so you might as well make the most of it.”
— Robert Osborne, Turner Classic Movie broadcast.
The film had the working title of The Bigger They Are, Russell wrote that she thought her role did not have as many good lines as Grant’s, so she hired her own writer to “punch up” her dialogue. With Hawks encouraging ad-libbing on the set, Russell was able to slip her writer’s work into the movie. Only Grant was wise to this tactic and greeted her each morning saying, “What have you got today?”
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. Although overlapping dialog is specified and cued in the 1928 play script by Hecht and MacArthur.
His Girl Friday was dramatized as a radio play on the September 30, 1940, broadcast of Lux Radio Theater with Claudette Colbert, Fred MacMurray, and Jack Carson. It was dramatized again on The Screen Guild Theater (March 30, 1941) with Grant and Russell reprising their film roles.
His Girl Friday and the original Hecht and MacArthur play were later adapted into another stage play, His Girl Friday, by playwright John Guare. This was presented at the Royal National Theatre, London, from May to November 2003, with Alex Jennings as Burns and Zoë Wanamaker as Hildy.
The 1988 film Switching Channels was loosely based on His Girl Friday, with Burt Reynolds in the Walter Burns role, Kathleen Turner in the Hildy Johnson role, and Christopher Reeve in the role of Bruce.