HILDY: All I know is that instead of two weeks in Atlantic City with my bridegroom, I spent two weeks in a coal mine with John Krupsky. You don't deny that, do you Walter?
WALTER: Deny it? I'm proud of it. We beat the whole country on that story.
HILDY: Well, I suppose we did. That isn't what I got married for!
Walter's ambition is unvarnished and unabashed; as long as he gets his story, he's proud. Hildy's more uncertain. She admits that they did a good job getting the story. But she's also concerned about personal things, not newspaper things. And really, who can blame her? If you can't put your ambition aside on your honeymoon, when can you? Walter's kind of a one-note jerk.
WALTER: That mayor would hang his grandmother to be reelected.
The mayor would hang his grandmother… but Walter would walk out on his own honeymoon to get a story. How different is the mayor than Walter, really? Walter does all sorts of crooked things in pursuit of his goal too. Maybe we're not supposed to like the mayor because he isn't played by Cary Grant?
WALTER: The movies will be after you. There'll be a Hildy cigar. I can see the billboards: "Light up with Hildy Johnson"
HILDY: Oh Walter, will you stop that acting? We've got a lot to do.
WALTER: Now you're talking.
Walter dazzles Hildy with images of her future success. Hildy has lots of ambition… but unlike Walter, she isn't quite in control of it. It gets the better of her. Walter just always puts his ambition first. As a woman, and as someone who is not a complete louse, Hildy doesn't, which means it can sneak up on her.
HILDY: This is the biggest thing in my life.
Hildy's referring to the story she's writing, and to her career. Bruce is upset to hear that she's putting her career ahead of him. Bruce is kind of a jerk (though, to be fair, he's had a rough day.)
HILDY: How you have messed up my life. What am I going to do?... I could be on that train right now. What a sap I am, falling for your line: "They're gonna name streets after me." Johnson Street!
"What a sap I am, falling for your line" sounds like it means she's fallen for a romantic line. Actually she fell for Walter telling her how famous she'd be. But the two things are constantly tangled together in His Girl Friday. Walter is Hildy's ambition personified; he's both the career and the guy who wants to marry her. It's hard to separate the two.
HILDY: A big fat lummox like you hiring an airplane to write: "Hildy, don't be hasty. Remember my dimple. Walter." Delayed our divorce twenty minutes while the judge went out and watched it.
Walter very rarely says how he feels directly. He's willing to spell it out in skywriting, though. You could see his action throughout the film as similar indirection; he's always telling Hildy he loves her by sending Bruce to prison, or by insisting she come back to work for him. Like the skywriting, it's cute… and also annoying.
HILDY: Do you know what it is? It's an engagement ring.
WALTER: Engagement ring?
HILDY: I tried to tell you right away, but you would start reminiscing.
Hildy has to show Walter the ring to get him to realize she's getting married. He talks so much he makes communication difficult—especially when you're trying to tell him something he doesn't want to hear.
EVANGELINE: What does he look like?
WALTER: That guy in the movies, Ralph Bellamy.
Walter is pointing out that Bruce looks like Ralph Bellamy—the actor who actually plays Bruce. This is a joke directed at the audience; Walter is really speaking to you, watching, not to Evangeline. There are a number of jokes like this in the film. They're a reminder that all the quick conversation and joking here is not necessarily meant to communicate from character to characters—it's meant to entertain you, the audience. And that, in turn, points out that a lot of Walter's talk (and Hildy's) is meant to entertain each other. They're flirting, and trying to impress one another. The talk is like spreading peacock feathers—what it communicates isn't anything so much as, "I am pretty and appealing, aren't I?"
WALTER: Wait a minute, wait a minute, aren't you going to mention the Post? Doesn't the paper get any credit?
HILDY: I did that. Right there in the second paragraph.
WALTER: Who's gonna read the second paragraph? Listen honey, for ten years, I've been telling ya how to write a newspaper story and that's all I get?
Walter is claiming that he taught Hildy how to use words. He's her mentor, he says. In a film in which words are so important, that tells you who Hildy's going to end up with.
WALTER: Don't worry about the story. Hildy will write it. She never intended to quit. We're getting married.
Walter here announces his marriage to Hildy—not to Hildy herself, but over the phone to Duffy! This shows just how much Hildy has given herself up to Walter—she agrees to marry him again without him asking directly. But it also shows again Walter's odd reticence. He's more comfortable speaking next to someone than he is speaking to them. Maybe he's not quite as secure as he appears. He may have been afraid, even at this point, that Hildy would say no.
WALTER: I wish you hadn't done that, Hildy... Divorce me. Makes a fellow lose all faith in himself... Almost gives him a feeling he wasn't wanted.
HILDY: Oh, now look, junior, that's what divorces are for.
Walter presents divorce not as sad because he lost the love of his life, but as a blow to his self-esteem. In His Girl Friday, love is presented as a struggle—and especially as a struggle, on Walter's part, for manhood. Can the super-smooth alpha male keep his position as super-smooth alpha male, or will he end up losing out to Bruce Baldwin, of all people? The film is as much about Walter's effort to be a man as about Hildy's to be a woman.
WALTER: You can marry all you want to, Hildy, but you can't quit the newspaper business.
HILDY: Oh! Why not?
WALTER: I know you, Hildy. I know what quitting would mean to you.
HILDY: And what would it mean?
WALTER: It would kill ya.
HILDY: You can't sell me that, Walter Burns.
WALTER: Who says I can't? You're a newspaperman.
HILDY: That's why I'm quitting. I want to go someplace where I can be a woman.
WALTER: You mean be a traitor.
HILDY: A traitor? A traitor to what?
WALTER: A traitor to journalism. You're a journalist, Hildy.
Being a newspaperman (not a newspaperwoman, note) is contrasted with being a woman. Both Walter and Hildy seem to think there's a disconnect between being a woman and having a career. This is perhaps the root of Hildy's misery; if she, and those around her, could admit that women can have careers, she woudn't be so torn up about it.
HILDY: He doesn't treat me like an errand boy, but like a woman.
WALTER: How did I treat you? Like a water buffalo?
Walter treats Hildy often as a subordinate or errand boy, rather than as a wife or a lover. It doesn't occur to Walter that he could treat her as an equal; the best he can come up with, instead, is to treat her as a water buffalo.
HILDY: There was never anything to brag about. Now look, Bruce. I'll go back and change and dress. And after you get the check, you phone me. I'll be in the pressroom of the Criminal Courts Building. Oh Walter!
Hildy is under time pressure; she needs to write the story and then make her train. But she still is going to go change clothes, from her feminine attire to a plainer newspaper outfit. Mixing the two roles— wife and worker—just isn't done; they have to be kept separate.
BRUCE: You just don't love me... The point is that you never intended to be decent and live like a human being.
Bruce is feeling sorry for himself—and while feeling sorry for himself, he tells Hildy that as long as she focuses on her career, she can't be decent, and can't even be a human being. A woman with a career is outlandish and inhuman, to Bruce. Walter is kind of a stinker, but right at this moment, he looks better than the competition.
WALTER: Tell him if he'll reprieve Earl Williams, we'll support him for senator. Tell him the Morning Post will be behind him hook, line, and sinker.
Walter is offering to sell the paper's endorsement to the governor for political backing. That's bribery; the same crime that Walter nails the Mayor for at the end of the film. Why is Walter better than the Mayor? (Probably because he's played by Cary Grant.)
WALTER: It was a coloured policeman. You know what that means.
Walter is arguing that black voters will demand that Williams be executed. But the point he's making is also that black policeman, and black voters, encourage corruption and injustice. Black people faced tons of discrimination and prejudice in the 1940s. And His Girl Friday not only reflected the attitudes of its time, but also contributed to them.
HILDY: Look Walter, you get the interview with Earl Williams. Print Egelhoffer's statement. And right alongside of it—you know, double column—run your interview. Alienist says he's sane. Interview shows he's goofy.
WALTER: Aw Hildy, you can do it. You could save that poor devil's life.
Walter appeals to Hildy's instincts for justice… maybe. Actually, the appeal mostly works on Bruce. Hildy is only swayed when Walter offers money. (She and Walter are quite a bit alike.)
ROY BENSINGER: A new lead on the hanging—This alienist from New York, Dr. Max J. Egelhoffer, Egelhoffer, yeah, he's gonna interview with him in about half an hour in the Sheriff's office... Here's the situation on the eve of the hanging... A double guard is being thrown around the jail, the Municipal Buildings, railroad terminals, and elevated stations to prepare for the expected general uprising of radicals at the hour of execution.
MURPHY: The Sheriff has just put two hundred more relatives on the payroll to protect the city from the Red Army which is leaving Moscow in a couple of minutes.
The Sheriff is completely corrupt and ridiculous—and the newspapermen are the ones who know it. They expose injustice… though they're also often jerks, and printed lies about Mollie. It's not really clear whether they're crusading for justice, or just trying to print an enjoyably scandalous story.
WALTER: No, no, never mind the Chinese earthquake for heaven's sake... Look, I don't care if there's a million dead... No, no, junk the Polish Corridor... Take all those Miss America pictures off Page Six... Take Hitler and stick him on the funny page... No, no, leave the rooster story alone—that's human interest.
Walter rearranges the paper for the big scoop about the government scandal and Earl Williams. The paper will report on the triumph of justice… along with the rooster story. Can't get rid of the rooster story.
BRUCE: Even ten minutes is a long time to be away from you.
HILDY: What did you say?
HILDY: Go on. [He laughs sheepishly] Well, go ahead.
BRUCE: Well, I just said, "Even ten minutes is a long time to be away from you."
HILDY: I heard you the first time. I like it. That's why I asked you to say it again.
Bruce speaks directly; he tells Hildy he loves her. Walter has trouble doing that. Hildy seems to like the direct approach… but notice that she first pretends she hasn't heard Bruce. Like Walter, she's addicted to misdirection (to poor Bruce's misfortune).
HILDY: Walter, you're wonderful. In a loathsome sort of way.
Hildy seems to insult Walter… but she also compliments him. She's conflicted. Love; it's complicated.
WALTER: Any way we can stop the 4:00 train to Albany.
DUFFY: We might dynamite it.
WALTER: Could we?
Presumably Walter isn't serious here (is he?). But his willingness to resort to violence is typical of his approach to love. He sees it as a campaign; which may involve kidnapping, skullduggery, and the occasional blown up train.
WALTER: Now Bruce, don't you think that Hildy is entitled to spend her last remaining years without worries of money? Of course you do, Bruce.
BRUCE: Of course, if you put it that way.
WALTER: And remember, I love her too.
BRUCE: Yes, I'm beginning to realize that.
WALTER: And the beauty of it is, she'll never have to know until I've passed on. Oh well, maybe she'll think kindly of me after I'm gone.
BRUCE: Gee! You make me feel like a heel comin' between ya.
WALTER: No, no Bruce. You didn't come between us. It was all over for her before you came on the scene. For me... it'll never be.
This is Walter's most direct statement of love, and it's made to Bruce, not Hildy. Walter doesn't like to reveal weakness… but also, talking about his love to Bruce is a strategy. He's getting Bruce to feel guilty, and to trust him. Then he lowers the boom. Walter doesn't say anything (least about love) without a plot. Because he's a stinker. (Notice in the scene that Walter wipes away a tear, sees that Bruce isn't looking, taps him on the shoulder, and then wipes away the tear again.)
HILDY: I thought you were really sending me away with Bruce. I didn't know you had him locked up. I thought you were on the level for once. I think you were just standing by and letting me go off with him without doing a thing about it.
WALTER: Oh come on, honey. What do you think I was? A chump?
HILDY: And I thought you didn't love me.
WALTER: Oh, what were you thinking with?
Hildy starts to cry. At first it seems like she's crying because she thought Walter was on the level, and he betrayed her again. But as she talks, it becomes clear she was crying because she thought Walter was on the level, and was willing to let her go marry Bruce. She was afraid that Walter was too nice—but, of course, he isn't.