In the day and age where classic black and white movies are getting more and more difficult to view, and if you don’t believe me, check out your favorite streaming services and see how many classic movies made before 1960 they offer, it’s becoming more and more important to celebrate these gems of yesteryear.
With that in mind, on today’s MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES column, we look at the hilarious dialogue in Howard Hawks’ classic comedy HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940), starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. For my money, HIS GIRL FRIDAY has the funniest rapid-fire script this side of the Marx Brothers!
HIS GIRL FRIDAY is the remake of THE FRONT PAGE (1931), but in this Howard Hawks version the character of Hildy Johnson was changed from a male reporter to a female one, which changed the whole dynamic of the story for the better. THE FRONT PAGE was remade again in 1974 by Billy Wilder with Hildy once again cast as a man in a vehicle for Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. It’s been remade other times as well. HIS GIRL FRIDAY is my favorite version.
In HIS GIRL FRIDAY, which pokes fun at the ruthless newspaper business and the even more ruthless but completely incompetent political leaders of the day, newspaper reporter Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) is about to get married to the easy going and honest Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy), but her wise-cracking and impossibly dedicated editor and former husband Walter Burns (Cary Grant) will have none of it and will stop at nothing to keep Hildy at the paper while they work on the explosive happening-in-real-time story of a massive manhunt for a fugitive wanted for murder.
The script by Charles Lederer, based on the play by Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht is nonstop hilarious, with the key word being nonstop. The dialogue is fast and relentless, the actors speak at a rapid-fire pace and if you’re not ready, you’ll be caught off guard. But the pace is ripe for humor, and without further hesitation, let’s have a listen:
A lot of the humor comes from the banter between Cary Grant’s Walter Burns and Rosalind Russell’s Hildy Johnson.
WALTER: Look, Hildy, I only acted like any husband that didn’t want to see his home broken up.
HILDY: What home?
WALTER: “What home”? Don’t you remember the home I promised you?
WALTER: What were you when you came here five years ago – a little college girl from a school of journalism. I took a doll-faced hick…
HILDY: Well, you wouldn’t take me if I hadn’t been doll-faced.
WALTER: Well, why should I? I thought it would be a novelty to have a face around here a man could look at without shuddering.
It’s also a very playful script with in-jokes and moments that break the fourth wall, like this one where Walter is trying to describe what Bruce, who’s played by Ralph Bellamy, looks like:
WALTER: He looks like that fellow in the movies – Ralph Bellamy.
There are parts which play on misunderstandings, like the exchange between Hildy and newspaper heavy Louis:
LOUIS: What’s the matter, Hildy?
HILDY: Don’t give me that innocent stuff! What did you pull on Mr. Baldwin this time?
LOUIS: Who, me?
HILDY: Yes, you and that albino of yours!
LOUIS: You talkin’ about Evangeline?
HILDY: None other!
LOUIS: She ain’t no albino.
HILDY: She’ll do till one comes along!
LOUIS; She was born right here in this country!
Then there are moments which highlight Walters’ ruthlessness to get the job done, like in this moment where he’s talking to his copy editor:
WALTER: Hey, Duffy, listen. Is there any way we can stop the 4:00 train to Albany from leaving town?
DUFFY: We might dynamite it.
WALTER: Could we?
The dialogue between Walter and Bruce, where Walter consistently leaves the slow-witted and well-meaning Bruce in the dust is energetic and funny:
WALTER: Well, Bruce, you see, I thought… You don’t mind if I call you Bruce, do you? After all, we’re practically related.
BRUCE: Oh, not at all.
WALTER; You see, my wife, that is, your wife, I mean, Hildy, oh Hildy, you led me to expect you were marrying a much older man.
BRUCE: Oh, really? What did I say that led you to expect that…
WALTER: Oh, don’t worry about it. I realize that you didn’t mean old in years.
The local politcians are corrupt and inept. In this scene, the mayor tries to convince a messenger, Joe Pettibone, that he didn’t deliver the message, but Pettibone is a wide-eyed innocent and quite clueless citizen who won’t hear of it:
MAYOR: Now, remember, you never delivered this.
JOE: Yes, I did.
MAYOR: No, you didn’t. You got caught in the traffic or something.
JOE: No, I came around the…
MAYOR: Well, pretend you did. Now, get out of here and don’t let anybody see you.
And we finish with one of my favorite lines of the movie, and it comes near the film’s climax, where Walter finds himself surrounded by the authorities, and the fugitive they’re all looking for who Walter desperately wants to interview, is hiding inside the oversized desk. As the authorities enter the office and Walter struggles to come up with a plan of escape, the sheriff announces that if Walter doesn’t cooperate, they’ll start impounding his belongings, and he starts pointing to some of them, like the desk.
A light bulb goes off inside Walter’s head:
WALTER: This desk? I dare you to move this desk out of here!
To which the sheriff responds, “Come on, boys!”
Hilarious moment in a hilarious movie.
Check out HIS GIRL FRIDAY. It’s directed by one of my favorite movie directors, Howard Hawks, and stars Cary Grant at the top of his game, and Rosalind Russell who is equally as good, with a screenplay that is one of classic comedy’s best.’
Hope you enjoyed today’s MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES column and that you will join me again next time when we’ll look at more quotes from other classic movies!
As always, thanks for reading!