"I had noticed that when people talk, they talk over one another, especially people who talk fast or who are arguing or describing something. So we wrote the dialogue in a way that made the beginnings and ends of sentences unnecessary; they were there for overlapping." - Howard Hawks on His Girl Friday
Hir Girl Friday (1940) Movie Trailer
His Girl Friday - 1940 (Original Poster)
Experts tell us that Americans speak at an average rate of about 125 words per minute in ordinary conversation. Howard Hawks generally spoke much slower than that average rate. He would often sprinkle his sentences with pauses to emphasize a thought or to set up a punch line.
It remains a wonder that this slow talking man gave us film that contains some of the fastest spoken dialog in movie history.
The verbal fireworks in “His Girl Friday” explode at a dizzying rate. One count has the actors in this romantic comedy firing off their lines at speeds of up to 240 words per minute.
In remaking “Front Page” with a female in the reporter role, Hawks gave his lead actors, Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell the freedom to ad-lib their lines and their actions. As a result, they threw themselves into their roles with an enthusiasm that is contagious. Their combined energy sets off sparks that cause almost every scene to have an electric presence.
Many of the most memorable lines and scenes from this comedy classic weren’t scripted. In an early scene, Roz Russell’s Hildy tosses her handbag at Walter Burns, her former editor and ex-husband played by Cary Grant. When she misses her mark, Burns responds, “You’re losing your arm. You used to be able to pitch much better than that.” Russell ad-libbed the throw and Grant ad-libbed the line.
It is almost impossible to catch all the great lines and inside jokes in this fast moving picture in just one viewing.
When threatened by Fred the Mayor, Walter Burns warns him that “the last man who said that to me was Archie Leach just a week before he cut his throat.” Hollywood fans who knew that Cary Grant’s birth name was Archibald Leach got a special laugh out that ad-lib.
Another Grant ad-lib was almost left on the cutting room floor. In a phone conversation, Grant’s Walter Burns describes Hildy’s fiancé Bruce Baldwin as looking like “that fellow in the pictures - you know, what’s his name - Ralph Bellamy.”
Bellamy, who actually played the part of Bruce Baldwin was watching the dailies with Columbia studio head Harry Cohn when he heard this line for the first time. Bellamy was amused, Cohn was not. He considered the remark impertinent and demanded that Hawks remove it from the movie. The director fought to keep the line and eventually won Cohn over. His judgment about the bit was vindicated when audiences gave it one of the biggest laughs everywhere the film was screened.
“His Girl Friday” opened to great reviews and was a box office hit. It continues to entertain us decades after its release. In 2000, when the American Film Institute chose the top 100 comedies of the first 100 years of filmmaking, “His Girl Friday” came in at number 19.
On a side note, the happy vibes from this comic masterpiece extended beyond the silver screen. Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell became close friends while working on this picture. Grant introduced his co-star to his close friend Frederick Brisson. In 1941, Cary Grant had the honor of being best man at the wedding of Frederick Brisson and Rosalind Russell.
Director: Howard Hawks Producer: Howard Hawks Screenplay and Play: Charles Lederer, Ben Hecht (play "The Front Page") and Charles MacArthur (play "The Front Page")
Music: Sidney Cutner and Felix Mills
Cinematography: Joseph Walker Editor: Gene Havlick
Art Director: Lionel Banks Columbia Pictures
Released: January 11, 1940 Running time 92 minutes
By following the life and art of Howard Hawks one can capture the true essence of the Golden Age of Hollywood, as if slipping on special lenses that suddenly pull away the grain and glare to reveal an unforgettable time of Movie Magic.