His Girl Friday

His Girl Friday Study Guide

His Girl Friday was directed and produced by Howard Hawks in 1940, adapted from a stage play (and 1931 film) called The Front Page by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. Hecht and MacArthur, with the help of Charles Lederer, adapted the script from the stage version into what would become one of the most beloved screwball comedies of all time. The most notable change was suggested by director Hawks, whose idea it was to make Hildy Johnson a woman. In the original script, Hildy Johnson was a male reporter and the central story was not romantic at all, but when Hawks heard his secretary reading the Hildy Johnson lines one day during auditions, he thought the switch might work perfectly. His intuition paid off, and the central romantic tension between Hildy Johnson and Walter Burns became one of the most iconic romantic film couplings of all time.

The film is noted for its exceedingly witty dialogue and depiction of a strong-willed working woman who gives her male counterpart both a professional and personal run for his money. Upon its release, it was praised for its intelligent script and the masterful performances of its actors. Frank S. Nugent wrote in The New York Times, "Charles Lederer, who wrote the adaptation, has transposed it so brilliantly it is hard to believe that Hecht and MacArthur were not thinking of Rosalind Russell, or someone equally high-heeled, when they wrote about the Hildy Johnson who once had a printer's ink transfusion from a Machiavellian managing editor and never again could qualify as a normal human being." Many praised it as the quintessence of the "screwball comedy" genre, which blends suspenseful and whacky antics, sharp dialogue, and romantic intrigue.

Beyond its brilliant script and charming performances, His Girl Friday also benefited from an important innovation in film sound. Director Howard Hawks made a point of recording and mixing the sound so as to make the dialogue more fast-paced and overlapping, an innovation in film at the time. Noting that people often talk over one another in real life, Hawks felt that his film would be improved by more overlap in the dialogue, so enlisted sound editors to follow actors around and special procedures for mixing the recordings. He also encouraged improvisation and ad-libbing while filming, which his stars, Grant and Russell, approached with a competitive fervor.