The Front Page and His Girl Friday

Happy Noirvember everyone! I’m back for the first entry of 3 this month kicking November off with Phyllis Loves Classic Movies’s remake of the THEY REMADE WHAT? blogathon.

His Girl Friday poster.jpg    Image result for the front page

When it comes to His Girl Friday (1940) and The Front Page (1931), its easy to dismiss Lewis Milestone’s The Front Page as just simply, “the original His Girl Friday”. And of course His Girl Friday is so famous in its own right many may forget that it is a remake- it was one of the first movies ever to have overlapping dialogue, is a favorite amongst Cary Grant fans, and contains the now iconic performance of Rosalind Russell as Hildy Johnson (as Howard Hawks switched this character from a man to a woman during audition read-throughs, when his secretary read the part of Hildy).

However, upon viewing The Front Page for the first time ever, The Front Page is significant in its own right. Up until His Girl Friday, it was the fastest talking picture ever produced and even though yes- it can sometimes struggle with that pre-code dialogue delivery by some of its actors- its very forward in its production and it paves the way in what was to come in the style of which movies were made (see a video link at the end).

Image result for ben hecht

 Ben Hecht- co writer of the original play

The plot of both these films is the same, and both are adaptions of the 1928 Ben Hecht- Charles MacArthur Broadway play of the same name. Editor Walter Burns and reporter Hildy Johnson are perfect work partners (and in His Girl Friday– ex man and wife), that is until Hildy announces s/he is getting married and will therefore be leaving the newspaper’s employment. Walter wanting to keep his star reporter on board then entices Hildy with the assignment of covering the story on escaped accused murderer Earl Williams. Hilarity then follows when Walter sets up stunts to delay Hildy’s departure- from kidnapping his/her future Mother in law to hiding Williams in a roll top desk!! (And of course there’s the additon of the throw -away fiancee for even more laughs!)

Image result for his girl friday

Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell 

Comparing the two- I have seen His Girl Friday many more times- and I will say it does have the edge in terms of a picture overall but, sometimes the Walter-Hildy romance sidelines the main focus of the newspaper and the dialogue goes so fast you have to go back and play certain lines again to make sure you are hearing it right. The delivery of the dialogue in The Front Page may be weaker, and that’s not the actors fault’s, as this is still an early talkie picture, when speech was still being perfected, but it’s better than a lot of others made around the same time. Adolph Menjou especially gives a great performance as Walter- and hits the dialogue marks nicely- but I’m saying it- he can’t top Cary Grant’s manner of speaking- Cary owns this role.

Image result for the front page 1931

Adolph Menjou, Pat O’Brien, Mary Brian

In terms of Hildy- its not really applicable to compare the two- as they are basically different characters in these movies. I think its fair to say that while His Girl Friday is a comedy of remarriage The Front Page is more a buddy- buddy comedy and is actually (probably) more comparable to the 1974 Billy Wilder remake (I have not seen this version), in which Hildy is once again a male character. I will say Rosalind Russell is superb in her role. She won the part at the last minute- and after basically everyone else (Jean Arthur, Ginger Rogers, Carole Lombard to name a few!)  in Hollywood turned it down.

Overall, I do declare these two films do tell a story of Hollywood evolving in its ability to tell the same story in different production eras. The Front Page came out in 1931- the early talkie, pre code era that was on the verge of change, and His Girl Friday is from 1940, at the height of screwball comedy- and I can see now they both influenced the later works that followed.

Front page movie poster.jpg         Switching Channels.jpg

Remade again! in 1974.. and again  in 1988 as Switching Channels

If I had to give a key difference to describe both of these movies, I conclude that while The Front Page is a more faithful adaption to the play, His Girl Friday is what happens when filmmakers give their own spin on an established story- and in this case it paid of wonderfully for both Howard Hawks and the screwball legacy.

Both of these movies are also in the public domain and are available to watch on youtube.

Check out this video from filmstuck  discussing some of the changes made to His Girl Friday- they talk about character framing/ placement and the side by side comparison of the dialogue- it really gets at the distinguishable changes!!

 

PS- Check out this  cool new musical for Buttons!!! with an all star cast- the film comes out Dec 8 in select theaters only! Check Fathom events links for details!!

Buttons Ticket Page 
Buttons Website
Official Trailer
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7 thoughts on “The Front Page and His Girl Friday

  1. His Girl Friday is a perfect remake due to making a significant change while remaining true to the classic original.

    In Pat O’Brien’s autobiography, he said he got the role of Hildy because he mentioned that he had been in a touring company of The Front Page. Trouble was, he wasn’t Hildy in the play but one of the reporters. Louis Wolheim was originally cast as Walter Burns but sadly passed away early in the production. It is fun to imagine what he would have been like in the role. O’Brien also said in his book that everybody was set to hate Menjou because they all liked Wolheim, but he proved himself to be “one of the boys.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As you mentioned in your article, I am one of the many who did not know HGF is a remake! It is my favourite Cary Grant film, probably because Grant and Russell are perfection together. But I really like how you showed that The Front Page is worth considering, too!You’ve convinced me to add it to my list 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. How did I miss the fact that Lemmon and Matthau star in a remake?? That is going on my watch list ASAP. I was actually disappointed with The Front Page when I finally watched it. But that is my fault because I couldn’t help comparing it to the beloved My Girl Friday. Plus, no one can top Cary Grant in my book!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The version I watched first was actually the 1974 one – and it was hilarious,with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau as the buddies. I haven’t seen the 1931 versionWhen I watched His Girl Friday, I remember thinking that, other than the gender switch, there was not a lot of change in the plot from 1940 to 1974. The desk sequence is one of the favorites in both versions.
    Kisses!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Leila

    Well, I have watched only “His Girl Friday” so that proves your point about the movie being more famous than “The Front Page”. I guess it would be interesting to see the latter to compare it with ‎Howard Hawks’ production.

    Like

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