What's not to love about the legendary screwball caper from 1940? If you're new to His Girl Friday, you're in for a treat. It's one of the original "rapid-fire repartee" comedies which influenced Tarantino, Sorkin, and many others. The conversation is so rapid, it was declared the fastest in the world. It was originally adapted from The Front Page, written in 1928. Even if you don't like black n' white movies, it's laugh-out-loud funny.
However, it's tough to find any modern copy of the original shooting script itself. What's below is a labour of love to create one for study and adoration.
What's It About?
His Girl Friday is a genuinely hilarious marker of the Jewish dry humour screwball comedy genre. The movie version is about the wonderfully-awful newspaper editor Walter Burns (Cary Grant) ruining his ex-wife Hildy Johnson's (Rosalind Russell) engagement to another man by tempting her with an exclusive story, whilst having immense fun screwing over her fiancee in the process.
IMDB says: "A newspaper editor uses every trick in the book to keep his ace reporter ex-wife from remarrying." TCM is similar: "An unscrupulous editor plots to keep his star reporter-and ex-wife-from re-marrying."
The original play, The Front Page, describes itself like so (note Hildy is male in this version):
An irresistible comedy with thrills and derring do set in the news room. Hildy wants to break away from journalism and go on a belated honeymoon. There is a jailbreak and into Hildy's hands falls the escapee as hostage. He conceals his prize in a rolltop desk and phones his scoop to his managing editor. Their job is to prevent other reporters and the sheriff from opening the desk and finding their story. Some hoodlums are enlisted to remove the desk, but they get mixed up with a Boy Scout troop and the mayor and a cleaning woman, among others. It's a whirlwind wrap up with Hildy finally making his breakaway, but the cynical managing editor has him arrested before he leaves town for having stolen a watch he planted on Hildy.
The chemistry between Grant and Russell is extraordinary. Their talent in reciting the ultra-fast dialogue and their ad-lib is extraordinary. They simply don't make them like this anymore.
The point here is Hildy and Walter are peas in a pod. They can't change; they're who they are. They're thick-as-thieves and entirely as terrible as each other. Hildy has lied to herself she is ready to settle down and get domestic, and the love of her life is also her nemesis who knows she can't and won't, before she does. They simply can't help it, and there's a wonderfully beautiful subtext to the relationship which has a deep intimacy in the middle of the chaos. They're best friends, really, underneath.
Rosalind Russell was a woman in the man's world of movies; in HGF, she plays a woman in a man's world of newspapers. She's a newspaper-man, and that's why she wants to leave; so she can be a woman. If Walter weren't so lovable, he'd surely be in jail as a sociopath.
Rotten Tomatoes summary:
"When hard-charging New York newspaper editor Walter Burns discovers that his ex-wife, investigative reporter Hildy Johnson, has gotten engaged to milquetoast insurance agent Bruce Baldwin, he unsuccessfully tries to lure her away from tame domestic life with a story about the impending execution of convicted murderer Earl Williams. But when Hildy discovers Williams may be innocent, her reporter instincts take over."
But perhaps the best overview is from AllMovie:
Rosalind Russell plays Hildy, about to foresake journalism for marriage to cloddish Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy). Cary Grant plays Walter Burns, Hildy's editor and ex-husband, who feigns happiness about her impending marriage as a ploy to win her back. The ace up Walter's sleeve is a late-breaking news story concerning the impending execution of anarchist Earl Williams (John Qualen), a blatant example of political chicanery that Hildy can't pass up. The story gets hotter when Williams escapes and is hidden from the cops by Hildy and Walter--right in the prison pressroom. His Girl Friday may well be the fastest comedy of the 1930s, with kaleidoscope action, instantaneous plot twists, and overlapping dialogue.
However, this movie is really about Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. Take them away, and it loses 60% of its appeal. They are irreplaceable. Everyone has had enormous difficulty remaking this piece, and with good reason. These two actors immortalized it during the first year of WWII.
Take Hitler's speech and put it on the funny page!
With lines like these, why wouldn't you?
Hildy: Anywhere. Aw, you're repeating yourself, Walter. That's the speech you made the night you proposed.
Walter: Yes, I notice you still remember.
Hildy: Of course, I remember it. If I didn't remember it I wouldn't have divorced you.
And a proposal no-one would ever want....
Walter: Look, look, what's the use of fighting, Hildy. I'll tell you what you do. You come back to work on the paper. If we find we can't get along on a friendly fashion, we'll get married again.
For a deal they never got last time...
Walter: Look, Hildy, I only acted like any husband that didn't want to see his home broken up.
Hildy: What home?
Walter: "What home"? Don't you remember the home I promised you?
When there's a better deal on offer...
Hildy: He's kind and he's sweet and he's considerate. He wants a home and children.
Walter : Sounds more like a guy I ought to marry.
And he's absolutely the same awful rogue who hasn't changed...
Walter: Hey, Duffy, listen. Is there any way we can stop the 4:00 train to Albany from leaving town?
Duffy: We might dynamite it?
Walter : Could we?
First, Copyright Matters
"His Girl Friday", the movie, is public domain. It's one of the most famous public domain works out there.
“Most commonly, a film’s copyright might not be renewed after its initial 28 years of protection had expired,” Michael Mashon, head of the moving image section at the Library of Congress, wrote in an email.
He cited the examples of the Buster Keaton film “The General” (1926), “His Girl Friday,” “Meet John Doe” and “Nothing Sacred,” a 1937 screwball comedy starring Carole Lombard.
The original play, "The Front Page" (Ben Hecht, Charles MacArthur) is NOT in the public domain.
His Girl Friday is one of the most famous films in the public domain—but with an interesting loophole. The play on which the film is based, 1928’s The Front Page, was copyrighted and renewed, which means it’s still protected and therefore so is any work directly based on it. This makes His Girl Friday practically unusable in terms of free exhibition, because you’d need permission from the copyright owners of The Front Page, even though the film is, technically, public domain.
It can be licensed from Concord Theatricals (ISBN: 9780573609121): https://www.concordtheatricals.com/p/2473/the-front-page
To find who owns which copyright, you can search the US Library of Congress: https://cocatalog.loc.gov/cgi-bin/Pwebrecon.cgi?Search_Arg=his+girl+friday&Search_Code=TALL&CNT=100&HIST=1
The Educational Value: How To Break All The Rules
Why is this screenplay such a valuable read? It breaks almost all the so-called rules. How does it break them? Let us count the ways:
- It's 200 pages long. 90 pages longer than it "should" be;
- It's ridiculously heavy on dialogue;
- It's written in the passive voice. It "should" be in the active;
- It includes shooting directions;
- It uses (Parentheticals) to direct actors instead of Action blocks;
- It doesn't include DAY or NIGHT in the Location Slug;
- Its Action blocks are huge lumps of text, not broken lines taking one shot each;
- The dialogue is not "realistic" to ordinary people at all.
On that rat-at-tat dialogue:
"There is a clear contrast between the fast-talking Hildy and Walter and slow-talking Bruce and Earl which serves to emphasize the gap between the intelligent and the unintelligent in the film. The average word per minute count of the film is 240 while the average American speech is around 140 words per minute. There are nine scenes with at least four words per second and at least two with more than five words per second."
"The Hollywood romantic comedy: Conventions, history, controversies" by Leger Grindon (2011)
In the original play, as noted earlier, Hildy is a man.
The director, Howard Hawks, made the change. And by Jove, what an amazingly smart piece of forethought. It makes the entire story something else; the entire dynamic changes into a world which is far more tense and funny. A battle of the sexes and a wild love story twisted up together makes for fantastic viewing.
Download In Multiple Formats
If you're not sure which word processor to use and simply want to read, pick PDF. Final Draft Pro is still industry standard for some reason, but Fade In Pro is far superior.
- Final Draft Pro:
- Fade In Pro (Recommended):
- Fountain (Markdown):
- Standard PDF: