His Girl Friday: A Traditional Love Story…?

Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday
Photo courtesy of IMDB

On Wednesday May 17, the Byrd Theater will feature a screening of His Girl Friday, which stars Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. It’s considered one of the greatest screwball comedy films.

It’s somewhat difficult to describe what makes a film a “screwball comedy” and it’s a genre that’s difficult to define. According to film historian Wes Gehrig:

“(S)tudy of screwball comedy should begin with the realization that the genre satirizes the traditional love story. The more eccentric partner, invariably the woman, usually manages a victory over the less assertive, easily frustrated male. The heroine often is assisted by the fact that onlyshe knows that a -courtship- is going on. By the time the male becomes aware of the courtship, the final buzzer has has sounded, signaling an end to his comfortably rigid bachelor lifestyle.”

An astute observation by Gehrig, but this is not always the case in screwball comedies.

His Girl Friday focuses on newspaper reporter Hildy Johnson (Russell), who is quitting her job as a newspaper reporter to marry an insurance salesman Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy), move to Albany and become a housewife. Her editor and ex-husband Walter Burns (Grant) begs her to reconsider.

Photo courtesy of IMDB

The biggest news story in years is about to break. A convicted murderer named Earl Williams (John Qualen) is about to be executed. Burns believes Williams to be innocent and says he will be executed for cynical, political reasons. Hildy tells Walter that she will cover the Williams story, then run off to Albany.


But the plot is secondary here to the hilarious rapid-fire dialogue Grant and Russell spit at one another. His Girl Friday is 92 minutes long, yet the script is 191 pages! That’s a lot of lines! Russell’s Hildy is a very modern, proto-feminist character who will likely surprise movie fans who haven’t seen His Girl Friday.


Further reading:

Screwball Comedy: A Genre Of Madcap Romance by Wes D. Gehring.

Author: Jason Morris