Study Guide

His Girl Friday

His Girl Friday Summary

Once upon a time (before the film starts) Hildy Johnson was the star reporter of the Morning Post and the wife of its editor, Walter Burns.

But then Hildy realized that Burns was a "stinker" (that's 1940's for "dirtbag"), divorced him, quite her job, left town, and got engaged to nice-guy insurance salesman Bruce Baldwin… who treats her like "a woman" instead of "a water buffalo." And they lived happily ever after.

Or they would have, except that fate and some pretty explosive chemistry intervenes. Hildy stops back in at the office (Bruce in tow) to tell Walter she's leaving for Albany to get re-married. Walter doesn't like that at all; he's determined to get Hildy back (the stinker).

Walter has another problem too. Earl Williams, a bookkeeper, is due to be executed for shooting an African-American policeman. The black voters in the city hold the power to sway the upcoming election, so the Sheriff and the Mayor have decided to execute Williams even though he's not in his right mind.

  

Walter wants to save Williams, embarrass the mayor, sell papers, and get back Hildy… not necessarily in that order. So, he offers to take out a big fat insurance policy from Bruce if Hildy will write him a story that makes Earl Williams look innocent. Hildy agrees. And her fate is sealed.

At the prison, Hildy is embroiled in an escalating series of scoops. First Earl Williams escapes. Then he climbs into the pressroom where Hildy is alone, and she hides him in a rolltop desk. Then Molly Malone, Earl's friend, throws herself from a window after being tormented by the press dudes, who really are stinkers, too. ("They ain't human!" Molly declares. "They're newspapermen," Hildy replies wearily.)

While all this is going on, Hildy keeps trying to write her story and leave. But she can't quite pull herself away, in part because she loves the newspaper business, and in part because Walter keeps plotting against her. He arranges it so that Bruce goes to jail over and over (once by planting a watch on him; once by sending a woman to solicit him). He even has Bruce's mother kidnapped. (Your mother-in-law isn't likely to forgive you when your ex-husband has her kidnapped. Sad truth.)

Finally, Walter shows up at the pressroom in person to try to help Hildy remove the desk in which Earl Williams is hiding. Bruce comes back too, finally out of jail, and insists that Hildy go away with him immediately—but she's too excited by the prospect of writing her awesome exposé, and he ends up leaving without her.

Before Walter and Hildy can take the desk out they're discovered by the Mayor and the Sheriff, who arrest them for obstruction of justice. All seems lost—but suddenly a messenger (named Pettibone) shows up from the governor saying the Earl Williams is pardoned.

Walter and Hildy question the messenger and find out that he'd come earlier, and the Mayor had tried to bribe him not to deliver the pardon. So now Walter has his big scoop, and the Mayor and the Sheriff are in deep doo-doo (that's the technical legal phrase).

Hildy is about to leave to try to catch Bruce, when she and Walter find out that the wayward fiancée has been arrested again, this time for trying to pass counterfeit money Walter set him up with. Defeated, Hildy realizes she still loves Walter, and they agree to get remarried and honeymoon at Niagara Falls—or possibly in Albany, since at the last minute Walter discovers there's an important strike happening there.

You might get the girl at the end, but you're still a stinker, Walter.

  • Credits

    Credits

    • Bouncy music (just about the only music in the film) over the credits. Then there's a title card assuring you that reporters aren't cutthroat jerks anymore… but they are in this movie. (Don't you feel reassured?)
  • Scene 1

    Scene 1

    • We see a bustling newsroom. Seriously, we've never seen an office that looks so manic.
    • In comes Hildy Johnson, with a spectacular hat.
    • Everyone is excited to see her (and not just because of her hat).
    • She says goodbye to Bruce Baldwin in the lobby, who's a shy, unglamorous guy that's crazy about her. She's going to meet her ex-husband, Walter.
    • We pan in a long single take across the newsroom, following Hildy to the office of Walter Burns.
    • Walt is shaving (because that's what you do at work, right?) while talking to Louis, a guy who used to be a "slot-machine king" and still appears to be a gangster.
    • They all say hello, but then Duffy the copy editor bursts in to say that some guy named Earl Williams is going to be executed.
    • Walter says to get the governor on the phone and bribe him with positive press coverage to reprieve Williams.
    • Duffy and Walter are concerned the paper will look bad. Do they care about Earl Williams dying? Maybe a little. Not much.
    • Newspapermen: not moral paragons.
    • Duffy and Louis vamoose.
    • Walter and Hildy banter. This is the first bantering in the film, and it is fine, top class, bantering.
    • We learn that they haven't seen each other in four months, and that Hildy is the one who wanted the divorce.
    • Why did she want the divorce? Because Walter is kind of a selfish dope (or "stinker" in 40's slang) who ended their honeymoon so they could go cover a story in a coalmine.
    • Hildy was also Walter's employee, and he doesn't treat employees that well.
    • She's trying and trying to tell Walter that she's engaged, but he talks so much she can't get a word in edgewise.
    • The phone rings; it's Duffy, the copy-editor, but Walter pretends it's the reporter Sweeney.
    • Walter's trying to convince Hildy that Sweeney's wife is having a baby, and that Walter needs Hildy to write the Earl Williams story.
    • Hildy finally manages to tell Walter she's getting married; she shows him the engagement ring. He seems pretty upset about it.
    • He tells her she won't be able to abandon the newspaper business—she loves it too much. She doesn't agree.
    • Walter asks her about Bruce. She says he's in the insurance business. Walter is snotty about that. (He's often snotty, in a fast-talking, charming kind of way.)
    • Hildy says Bruce treats her like a woman, not like a water-buffalo or an errand boy.
    • Also that she's marrying Bruce tomorrow. Walter doesn't like that at all.
    • He goads her into letting him meet Bruce.
    • And they go walking back across the newsroom. Walter doesn't open doors for her. Bruce would open doors for her.
    • Walter pretends he thinks a much older guy in the lobby is the one Hildy is marrying. (Because Walter is a stinker.)
    • Bruce interrupts, and Walter shakes his umbrella instead of his hand.
    • Bruce carries an umbrella and wears rubbers in case it might rain; he plays it safe. Walter pokes fun at him. He's not subtle, but Bruce doesn't get it.
    • Walter insists they go to lunch. Hildy tells him it won't do him any good, but he's unfazed.
  • Scene 2

    Scene 2

    • Out to lunch; Walter seats himself between Hildy and Bruce, blocking Bruce. Because Walter is… well, you know. A stinker.
    • Bruce says Hildy always does the unexpected; Walter talks up her newspaper skills.
    • Bruce explains they're going to live in Albany with Bruce's mother for the first year. Walter sneers at him. Bruce doesn't get it, but Hildy does.
    • She keeps kicking Walter under the table. Once she misses and kicks the waiter.
    • Walter learns that they're leaving in two hours for Albany on the train.
    • So he dumps food on himself, then goes and asks the waiter to tell him that he has a phone call.
    • Subterfuge. That's what Walter's all about.
    • Walter goes back to the table and is concerned that Bruce and Hildy are going to be on the sleeper together to Albany.
    • But Hildy assures him that Bruce's mother is coming along.
    • No sex. Phew.
    • Gus the waiter calls Walter to the phone (like Walter asked him to) and Walter calls Duffy. He tells Duffy to send Sweeney away, and says Hildy is coming back to work at the paper (though she doesn't know it), and generally plots nefariously.
    • Walter returns to the table and starts talking about the Earl Williams case.
    • Williams lost his job, became mentally ill, and ended up shooting a black policeman.
    • The paper has been taking his side, but because of the black vote in the city, the mayor and sheriff have decided they want to execute Williams.
    • Watching the film, you'd think black people controlled the city, when in reality, this movie was made before the Civil Rights Movement
    • His Girl Friday doesn't want to think about that though. It knows Walter's a stinker, but it's not really interested in the ways that he and the other characters are racist stinkers.
    • Hildy gets excited about the case and suggests doing an interview with Williams to show that he's insane and shouldn't be hanged.
    • Walter tells her she should do it; Bruce thinks she should too… to save the man's life.
    • She says Sweeney should do it. Walter says Sweeney's wife had twins.
    • Hildy points out Sweeney got married only four months before.
    • And of course, under the Hays code (see Shock Rating) no one can have sex before they're married, so no kids are possible.
    • Walter switches tactics and offers to take out an expensive insurance policy if Hildy will write the story.
    • Bruce is reluctant, but Hildy says she'll do it because they need the money.
    • She says she'll go to the press room and wait for Bruce's call. She'll write the story when Walter has handed over the money.
    • Hildy takes all the money Bruce has ($500) because she's worried that Walter will steal it from him.
  • Scene 3

    Scene 3

    • The scenes are pretty long; you can tell this movie was adapted from a play.
    • This one is the pressroom at the criminal courts building, where the newspaper guys are playing cards.
    • A couple of the reporters call into their papers to say that a psychologist, Egelhoffer, is going to interview Earl Williams to determine he's not insane and can be executed.
    • Hildy comes in; everyone's happy to see her.
    • She tells them all she's getting married.
    • She says she's through with newspapering. She also kind of sneers at Bruce's mom, though, which doesn't bode well for domestic bliss.
    • They look out the window and see the police preparing for the hanging.
    • She asks for more info on Williams, and the guys tell her he was a bookkeeper who lost his job and listened to too many political speeches in the park.
  • Scene 4

    Scene 4

    • We're back in Walter's office, where the insurance doctor is finishing up examining him.
    • Bruce asks who the insurance policy should be made out to; Walter says to Hildy.
    • Bruce isn't so sure about that, but Walter says he still loves her. Awww.
    • Walter fast-talks him.
    • Walter wipes away a tear, but Bruce doesn't see it, so Walter taps him on the shoulder and then wipes it away again.
    • Duffy comes in and gives Walter the certified check for $2,500.
    • Walter sets Bruce up to call Hildy. He tells her he has the check. She tells him to put it in the lining of his hat (she's afraid Walter will steal it).
    • While Bruce is finishing the phone call, Walter points him out to Louis. (No doubt telling Louis to perform some nefarious deed.)
    • As Bruce goes out, Louis follows him.
  • Scene 5

    Scene 5

    • Hildy goes to the jail in the criminal court, bribes the guard, and talks to Earl Williams.
    • Earl didn't want to plead insanity; Hildy asks him about how he used to listen to speeches in the park.
    • He says he heard a speaker talking about "production for use."
    • She convinces him that that's why he shot the policeman (it doesn't make much sense, but since she wants him to look like he's insane, that's all the better).
    • Hildy also asks him about Molly Malloy, a friend of Earl's who sent him flowers.
    • And Hildy leaves.
  • Scene 6

    Scene 6

    • We're back in the press room. They're talking about how they don't think Hildy will be able to leave the paper.
    • Molly Malloy shows up. She tells the press guys they're all jerks. They wrote lies about her having slept with Earl Williams and being willing to marry him.
    • She says she only met him once the day before the shooting and she tried to help him out. She says that she's not her girlfriend.
    • Hildy comes in during her speech and is starting to write her story.
    • The newspaper guys don't listen to her and make jokes about the execution.
    • Molly gets very upset and Hildy takes her out. The newspapermen seem kind of abashed. They're still jerks, though.
    • There's a call for Hildy; she comes back in and takes it.
    • It's from Bruce; it sounds like he's in some kind of trouble.
    • Hildy runs out, the Sheriff comes in; Hildy accidentally kicks him in the shin.
    • He hops around. That's physical humor for ya, Shmoopers.
    • The Sheriff passes out tickets for the hanging and the newspaper guys tell him he's dumb and corrupt.
  • Scene 7

    Scene 7

    • Hildy's at the jail, where Bruce has been put in jail for stealing a watch from Diamond Louie, Walter's henchman.
    • She gets him out by threatening the cop she'll write a story about him.
    • In the cab going away, Hildy gets Walter's check from Bruce.
    • Bruce discovers his wallet is gone…but it doesn't matter since Hildy has the money.
    • Louie stole it though, on Walter's orders.
    • She leaves Bruce in the cab and heads up to the newspaper room.
  • Scene 8

    Scene 8

    • In the pressroom they're reading Hildy's story about Williams, which they think is tops.
    • Hildy stomps in and calls Walter and tells him he's a scumbag ("If I ever lay my eyes on you again, I'll hammer your skull so it rings like a Chinese gong!")
    • She tears up her story.
    • Cut to the sheriff's office: Egelhoffer is getting ready to interview Earl.
    • And back to the pressroom. Hildy's leaving; she seems much less upset, and razzes the other guys about how they still have to work.
    • There are shots fired, and everyone rushes to the window. Earl Williams has broken out of jail.
    • All the guys rush to the phones to report to the paper. Hildy calls Walter to tell him Williams just escaped (she seems to have forgotten that he's a snake and a rat and a baboon and that she'll hammer his skull, etc.).
    • She rushes out to get the story. Outside she chases after the warden and tackles him.
    • Back in the pressroom, the newspaper guys call into various papers.
    • Williams escaped, and the Sheriff's police force (largely composed of his relatives) have accidentally dropped tear bombs on themselves. They've also shot a cleaning lady.
    • The Sheriff comes in, is cranky, and then leaves with everyone else.
    • Hildy comes in, shuts the door, and calls Walter to tell him that Earl got the gun to escape from the Sheriff, who handed it to him because the psychologist wanted to recreate the crime.
    • The Sheriff isn't the sharpest tack in the box.
    • Hildy says she had to pay the warden almost all of Bruce's money to get the story. She tells Walter he has to pay her back.
    • He says sure.
    • But he sounds mighty shifty.
    • Hildy tells Walter to send over the money right away, because Bruce is waiting in a taxi cab.
    • Walter has Evangeline, a very blonde moll, in his office. He tells her to go get Bruce in trouble.
    • Then he tells Louie to go give Hildy counterfeit money.
    • Cut back to the pressroom; Hildy takes a call.
    • It's from Bruce. He says he's been arrested again; this time for mashing.
    • Evangeline is in the background looking very blonde and smug.
    • Hildy can't go to the precinct right away because she's waiting for Walter to send her the money he owes her.
    • The Mayor (named Fred) comes in; the press tries to get him to tell them what happened with the Williams escape, but he won't say anything.
    • Sheriff Hartwell comes in.
    • One of the reporters has a statement from the Governor, who says the Mayor and the Sheriff are incompetent and should be tossed out on their ears in the upcoming election.
    • The newspaper guys also taunt the mayor and sheriff a lot about the red menace.
    • Worries about Communism were prevalent at the time. (The suggestion is that the politicians are using the red menace as a way to stir up voters.)
    • The Sheriff says he's located Williams; the newspaper guys rush out.
    • The Mayor tells the Sheriff he wants to talk to him.
  • Scene 9

    Scene 9

    • The Mayor takes the Sheriff to his office. He tells him he's going to scratch him from the ticket, because he's such a doofus.
    • A messenger, Joe Pettibone, from the governor comes with a pardon for Earl Williams.
    • The Mayor and the Sheriff are super unhappy about this.
    • A call comes in saying the police have got Earl Williams cornered.
    • The Mayor tries to bribe Pettibone to say he didn't deliver the message, and then tells the Sheriff to order his men to shoot to kill Williams.
    • Sneaky, that Mayor.
  • Scene 10

    Scene 10

    • Back up to the newspaper room, where Louie brings Hildy the money from Walter.
    • Hildy gets the money, and Bruce's wallet (yep, Louie stole that too).
    • Lot of tough talk here. She and Louie banter almost as well as she and Walter banter.
    • Then she scares Louie off by telling him to go to the police station to get Bruce.
    • Hildy is calling the precinct when Earl Williams comes through the window.
    • He looks upset, and he has a gun. (This is the dramatic part of the film, y'all.)
    • A shade on the window goes up on its own. Earl shoots at it, and his gun is out of bullets. Hildy takes the gun away from him.
    • Earl starts whining about how he doesn't care if he's caught, but Hildy runs around trying to make sure he's hidden. She closes the door and puts down the shades.
    • She calls Walter, and Bruce calls her at the same time.
    • She's going back and forth between the phones explaining to both that she's captured Earl. Walter is pleased (though we don't see him). Bruce wants her to come get him out of jail already (though we don't see him either).
    • There's a banging on the door, and it's Molly.
    • Hildy tries to get her to go away, but Earl calls out to her, so Hildy has to bring her in.
    • The reporters come back and, just in time, Molly and Hildy shove Earl into a roll top desk.
    • Molly pretends to have fainted to explain why she's there.
    • The reporters call their papers and tell them that Earl wasn't really at the stakeout.
    • So everyone speculates that Earl might still be in the building, while Hildy tries to get them to go away (but subtly) so she can get Earl out of the desk.
    • Then Bruce's mother shows up. She's not pleased with Hildy, since she's left her son to rot in the jail.
    • (She does have a point.)
    • Mrs. Baldwin mentions that Hildy caught a murderer (Bruce told her), and the reporters want to know what's up with that.
    • There's much confusion.
    • Meanwhile Molly says she knows where Earl is.
    • She gets more and more hysterical and then she jumps out the window.
    • Which seems a little unlikely, but the scriptwriters wanted action (maybe?).
    • She doesn't die though; all the newspaper guys run downstairs to where she's lying.
    • Walter shows up with Louie and gets Hildy to show him where Earl is.
    • Mrs. Baldwin wants to know what's happening, so Walter has Louie kidnap her and take her away.
    • Hildy tries to go after them, but Walter stops her.
    • Walter convinces her that this is the story of a lifetime, and is a chance to expose the corrupt politicians and get them out of office.
    • Hildy's sold.
    • Her ambition can make her a little gullible.
    • Or a lot gullible.
    • Anyway, she's on board and the two of them set about trying to figure out how to get Earl out of the office.
    • Walter calls Duffy to try to work on getting the desk out of there. Hildy starts to write her story.
    • Walter orders Duffy to tear up the front page.
    • And Bruce comes in. He tries to get Hildy to listen to him, but she's too enraptured in her story.
    • He tells her he's going to leave on the train, and that she doesn't love him, and that she's not decent.
    • She doesn't really hear him, which is maybe just as well, because he's being kind of a jerk (though admittedly he's had a bad day).
    • They're all three talking at once: it's a barrage of babble; a whirl of words. Lots of talk.
    • Hildy gives Bruce his money and his wallet, and finally he leaves telling her he's going on the 9:00 train.
    • Though he doesn't know where his mother is—how's that going to work?
    • Earl tries to get out of the desk, but Walter tells him to get back in there.
    • Walter tells him to only come out if he taps three times on the desk.
    • Hildy asks Walter where Bruce is; she was too distracted to notice he left. Walter brushes her off.
    • Benzinger of the Tribune, another reporter, knocks on the door; it's his desk Earl is locked in.
    • Walter opens the door, hires him away from the Tribune, and sends him away before he can get to his desk and find Earl.
    • Benzinger trots off, and Hildy suddenly realizes that Bruce left for the 9:00 train, and that that train is gone (what happened to his mother, though?).
    • Louie comes in; he said he had a car accident when his cab (with Mrs. Baldwin) ran into a cop car.
    • Hildy thinks Mrs. Baldwin is dead, which seems like it'll interfere with her marriage plans.
    • Hildy gets on the phone to call police stations and find out if she can find Mrs. Baldwin.
    • Walter sends Louie off to find men to help move the desk.
    • Hildy gets her things and goes to try to find Mrs. Baldwin.
    • But, just as she's about to get out the door, the Sheriff and all the newspaper guys come bustling in, demanding to know where Earl Williams is.
    • The Sheriff interrogates her while the newspaper guys hold her.
    • In the struggle the gun she got from Williams falls out; the Sheriff inadvertently reveals it's his gun.
    • He's not the smartest pickle in the barrel.
    • Anyway, the Sheriff threatens to arrest Walter and Hildy for obstructing justice. He also threatens to impound the desk and take it out of the building.
    • Walter dares him to do it, figuring that's the best way to get Earl out.
    • But before they can start, police show up with Mrs. Baldwin, who accuses Walter of kidnapping her.
    • The Sheriff says to call the Mayor.
    • Walter denies that he kidnapped Mrs. Baldwin, and suggests that she must have been drunk.
    • Mrs. Baldwin says that Walter was hiding a murderer. Walter denies it, bangs on the desk, and Earl Williams bangs back.
    • Hartwell threatens to shoot through the desk; Mrs. Baldwin runs out into the arms of Bruce, who's finally found her. Then the police slam the door.
    • The newspaper guys all call their papers to tell them the big news. Reporting on news; it's what newspaper guys do.
    • The police handcuff Walter and Hildy for obstructing justice.
    • The press folks all scamper out to find Mrs. Baldwin.
    • The Mayor comes in and gloats about how he's going to put Walter and Hildy in prison.
    • It all looks like it's all over for our heroes.
    • But!
    • Pettibone comes in again with the pardon, and announces he can't be bribed.
    • The Mayor has been caught trying to hang a pardoned man… so he lets Walter and Hildy go in the hopes they'll overlook it.
    • Everyone bustles out except for Walter and Hildy.
    • Hildy starts to reminisce about other scrapes they've been in, but Walter encourages her to go meet Bruce in Albany and get out of the newspaper business.
    • Then the phone rings; it's for Hildy.
    • It's Bruce; he's been arrested for having counterfeit money.
    • Hildy breaks down and starts to cry.
    • Walter is upset (music starts to play…that's how you know it's almost at the end).
    • Hildy says she was upset because Walter was sending her away and that he didn't care about her any more.
    • Hildy says they'll get Bruce out of jail and send him off to Albany.
    • Walter calls Duffy and tells him that Hildy is going to write the story, and that they're going to get married.
    • Hildy is excited and says they should honeymoon in Niagara Falls.
    • But Duffy says there's a strike in Albany—and Hildy sadly agrees that they'll have their honeymoon in Albany.
    • Walter jokes that they can stay with Bruce.
    • And that's the end. Happiness for all. More or less.