Nice Guy Bruce
If Hildy is like a jalapeño, and Walter is like a habañero, then Bruce is like… a bowl of cottage cheese. Scratch that. He's like a bowl of non-fat cottage cheese. Without salt.
He's good for you. He's wholesome. But he's so bland you kind of have to choke him down to get the nutrients.
Bruce is a nice, safe guy. He sells insurance, carries an umbrella when it's a little cloudy
just in case, doesn't take rum in his coffee, and is just crazy about his wife-to-be Hildy. When she walks across the newsroom to see Walter, leaving him in the lobby, he declares:
BRUCE: Ten minutes is a long time to be away from you.
And Bruce isn't just nice to Hildy either. He starts out disliking Walter, but he wants to think the best of him as soon as he has the chance.
BRUCE: I like him. He's got charm.
You could see this as Walter bamboozling Bruce. But you could also see it as Bruce just being that sweet of a person. He wants to think the best of everyone.
Yawn. Oh, sorry. We nodded off there for a second. It's just that Bruce is so nice he's… boring.
Bruce Baldwin… Or Bruce Banner?
It seems like there's something about Bruces and anger management, though. While Bruce Baldwin doesn't hulk out like Mr. Banner does, our Bruce Friday does get a little angry.
And you wouldn't like him when he's angry.
After Walter has him slung in jail for the tenth time or whatever, Bruce is good and mad. And when he's good and mad, the person he takes it out on isn't Walter—it's Hildy.
BRUCE: You're coming with me right now.
HILDY: Just a second. This is the biggest thing in my life.
BRUCE: I see. I'll keep. I'm like something in the icebox. You just don't love me.
HILDY: That isn't true. Just because you won't listen you say I don't love you.
BRUCE: You never intended to be decent and live like a human.
Oof. That's cold, Bruce.
Sure, Hildy's distracted during this discussion… but still, what she's saying to Bruce isn't that crazy. She has a chance to write a story that's important to her. She cares about her career. That doesn't mean she doesn't love Bruce. It just means that she also loves her career and her work.
But when Hildy says she has something important to do, Bruce flips out. First he whines that she doesn't love him. Then he says she isn't "decent" and that she won't "live like a human." If she doesn't put his needs first—if she doesn't give up her job—then she's uncivilized and unworthy of respect in his eyes.
All this despite the fact that, at the beginning of the film, Bruce says that what he likes about Hildy is her unconventionality:
BRUCE: Everybody else I've known, you could tell ahead of time what they'd say or do. But Hildy's not like that. You can't tell that about her.
Bruce thinks he likes Hildy's independence. But under pressure, it turns out he doesn't like it all that much—in part because he buys into the idea of his time that women should be domestic helpers, not people in their own right. He accepts the misogynist ideas of the day. If a woman has her own goals and dreams, and if she has interests other than him, he thinks she's unnatural and indecent.
(Man. Every time with think about how cool a time machine would be, we remember what life was really like in the days of fedoras and swing dancing and saying "Gee, that's swell.")
Bruce may be nice. But being nice, for him, also means being cruel. Bruce is normal, orderly, and decent. And for him to be normal, orderly, and decent, everything has to go just so… which means women in the home, and men telling them what to do.
Nice, as it turns out, isn't so nice at all.
So maybe Bruce isn't like a bowl of cottage cheese. Maybe, if Hildy and Walter are like chili peppers, then Bruce is like a salmonella-tainted custard. Hildy and Walter will burn you with their quips (and fiery tempers), but at least they're upfront about it.
Bruce, on the other hand, will go down sweet… but poison you slowly from the inside.