‘I wouldn’t cover the burning of Rome for you if they were just lighting it up!’
Adapted from the play ‘The Front Page’ by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, His Girl Friday is one of the all-time best screwball comedies and a prime example of when gender-swapping has worked for the better. When an original character is altered from the original story, there can be an uproar, but, in the case of Hildy Johnson, played to perfection by Rosalind Russell, the character feels as if she was always meant to be a woman.
Hildy Johnson is getting married and decides to leave the fast and furious world of the newsroom behind her, but she has to persuade her ex-husband, the editor Walter Burns, to let her go. In between their lighthearted quips and hints at feelings that never went away, a big story is breaking. Walter persuades Hildy to cover one more story, the upcoming execution of convicted murderer Earl Williams. This is all in the hope that the thrill of the story will change her mind and maybe, just maybe, bring her back to him.
Personal agendas aside, Walter could also been seen as pro-feminist. It’s true he doesn’t want Hildy to marry someone else and yes, he’s still in love with her, but he also sees no reason as to why she has to quit her job. He encourages her to stay for one more story, which is far easier than expected of a woman who ‘just wants to settle down.’ Even though it seems she’s the only female journalist, she can hold her own and seems more comfortable in the ‘crazy’ environment, showing that women don’t have to give up a promising career for marriage.
Walter and Hildy are obviously made for each other; able to go toe to toe on anything and everything. Even their divorce couldn’t squash their chemistry, at work and in love. Setting this ‘would be romcom’ in a newsroom where reporters are covering an execution which later turns into a conspiracy, makes the romance side of the story even more comical. With an array of characters that wonder in and out of the scene, the reporters on the phones are particularly enjoyable – with only a few lines they make an impression, setting up the uneasy, wonderfully manic atmosphere. Howard Hawk’s classic is played out perfectly, proving that gender switches can work and can be better in terms of characters and story.
His Girl Friday is out now on Blu-ray.
Dir: Howard Hawks
Prd: Howard Hawks
Scr: Charles Lederer, based on the play ‘The Front Page’ by ben Hacht and Charles MacArthur
Cast: Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Bellamy, Gene Lockhart
DoP: Joseph Walker
Music: Sidney Cutner, Felix Mills
Running time: 92 mins