Howard Hawks’s His Girl Friday at BAM


Howard Hawks’s 1940 His Girl Friday reworked a decade-old Broadway smash, The Front Page, in which adversarial paper editor and star reporter squeeze a racially charged, politically loaded murder for every drop of sensation. Arid old Republican Hawks was something of a radical in his knowledge that women are more interesting when doing things than when just lounging on divans. So reporter Hildebrand got a sex change to Hildegard, played by rangy Rosalind Russell; editor Walter became her still-covetous ex-husband, played by Cary Grant; and added to the stay-of-execution suspense was Hildy’s threatened re-marriage. The result is a frenetic movie about attraction, ambition, and work that hasn’t lost a step—it’s funny, and not in that appreciative-titter “Ah, that was the Golden Age” way. The play was punched up by Charles Lederer and Morrie Ryskind—with Grant and Russell ad-libbing like mad. Hawks set out to break the land-speed record for dialogue, and annihilated it in a run-on of overlapping lines (W. Winchell had been proposed to play Walter, and his staccato delivery found its way in). The movie bears reviewing because there’s always something new in the confetti of one-liners, while its depiction of the Fourth Estate remains relevant: “Take Hitler and stick him on the funny page! . . . Keep the rooster story—that’s human interest.”