In the late 1920s, Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur wrote a fast-paced play about a reluctant newspaper reporter and his ink-soaked editor. It was called, Front Page and it was a hit. In 1931, it was made into a movie with Pat O’Brien (Hildy) and Adolph Menjou (Walter). It lost something in the transition from stage to screen as so many plays did – and do (e.g. August: Osage County).
Then in 1940, Howard Hawkes had the inspired idea of giving the fighting reporters a license to fight – he married them. Since it was 1940, one of the roles went through a sex change and suddenly the movie came to life.
Cary Grant plays the ex-husband editor and Rosalind Russell is the reporter who left to get a divorce in Reno and returned with a fiancé, Ralph Bellamy. The dialogue is faster than a speeding bullet and you will have to see this movie more than once to catch even a small percentage of the repartee.
Roz visits Cary at his office at the newspaper to tell him that she is quitting the newspaper and reporting and will go to upstate New York to live with her new husband who doesn’t want her to work. Here is a sample of the sparring and remember that this is spoken at break-tongue speed and often overlapping:
Walter: What's the use of fighting, Hildy? I'll tell you what you do. You come back to work on the paper, and if we find we can't get along in a friendly fashion, we'll get married again.
Hildy: Oh Walter, you're wonderful - in a loathsome sort of way. Listen, Walter, you are no longer my husband and no longer my boss. And you're not going to be my boss.
Walter: All right, take it. Work for somebody else. That's the gratitude I get.
Hildy: Oh, I wish you'd stop hamming.
Walter: What were you when you came here five years ago? A little college girl from a school of journalism. I took a doll-faced hick.
Hildy: Well, you wouldn't take me if I hadn't been doll-faced...
Walter: Listen. I made a great reporter out of you, Hildy. But you won't be half as good on any other paper and you know it. We're a team. That's what we are. You need me and I need you, and the paper needs both of us.
Hildy: Sold American! Listen, Walter, the paper's gonna have to get along without me. So are you. It just didn't work out, Walter.
Walter: Well, it would have worked out if you'd been satisfied with just being editor and reporter - but not you! You had to marry me and spoil everything.
Hildy: I wasn't satisfied? I suppose I proposed to you?
Walter: And I still claim I was tight the night I proposed to you. If you had been a gentleman, you would have forgotten all about it. But not you.
[Hildy throws her pocketbook at the back of his head, but he ducks]
Walter: You're losing your eye. You used to be able to pitch better than that.
The plot is silly but moves along and keeps pace with the dialogue. The supporting cast is superb – convicted cop-killer John Qualen, corrupt Sheriff Gene Lockhart and more corrupt Mayor Clarence Kolb keep the pace at warp speed.
There are few movies that capture the marriage of journalism and politics as well as this one. Lies seem to be the common bond.
HIS GIRL FRIDAY
Producer-Director: Howard Hawks
Screenplay: Charles Lederer
Based on the play The Front Page by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur
Cast: Cary Grant (Walter Burns), Rosalind Russell (Hildy Johnson), Ralph Bellamy (Bruce Baldwin), Gene Lockhart (Sheriff Hartwell), Helen Mack (Molly Malloy), Porter Hall (Murphy), Ernest Truex (Bensinger), Cliff Edwards (Endicott), Clarence Kolb (Mayor), Roscoe Karns (McCue), Frank Jenks (Wilson) Regis Toomey (Sanders), Abner Biberman (Diamond Louie), John Qualen (Earl Williams), Alma Kruger (Mrs. Baldwin) Billy Gilbert (Joe Pettibone)