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.
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).
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!)
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.
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.
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!!