Are women supposed to be ambitious? His Girl Friday isn't exactly sure. The film admires Hildy's talent and drive… it's fun to watch her chase down and tackle that Warden.
But the film, and Hildy herself, also worry that there's something not quite decent, or not quite right, about a woman wanting to succeed and have her name on a street sign. Ultimately, Hildy gets to have her ambition and her career—but only if she's working for, and married to, Walter. Maybe it's okay for a woman to be ambitious, the film decides, as long as she's working for her husband.
In His Girl Friday, Hildy abandons love for ambition.
In His Girl Friday, Hildy abandons ambition for love.
Everyone talks and talks and talks in His Girl Friday… but they're not necessarily talking to communicate. Often they're talking not to communicate; Walter (and to some extent Hildy too) use words to bamboozle, to overwhelm, and to obfuscate.
They also use them to flirt—it's not what you say, but how dashingly you say it. Whether in person, by phone, or through skywriting, language in His Girl Friday keeps you off-balance and staggering—out of one guy's arms and into another's.
Walter and Hildy never communicate, because Walter always lies.
Hildy and Walter communicate well, because Hildy knows he always lies.
His Girl Friday is fascinated with the question of whether or not Hildy is a woman. At various points, she asserts that she is a woman, not a news machine; a woman, not an errand boy; a woman, not a water buffalo.
But all that protesting makes you wonder—why do you need to hear so often, that yes, she really is a woman? The reason, of course, is that, at the time, woman were not, in theory, supposed to work. Can Hildy have a career and still be a woman? The film isn't sure—which is why you get all that talk about water buffalos.
The film also spends some time trying to figure out what it means to be a man. Bruce is one model; nice, devoted, gallant, bland. Walter's another—masterful, sneaky, and a crook. Which is more manly, the chump or the crook?
His Girl Friday suggests that Hildy is Walter's best reporter because she's a woman.
His Girl Friday suggests that Walter has to be Hildy's boss because she's a woman.
His Girl Friday seems concerned with justice at first; a big part of the plot is trying to keep Earl Williams from being executed. But why does Walter want to keep Williams from being executed? Is it because Williams is innocent (he isn't)? Or is it because Walter wants to embarrass some politicians and thinks the stay of execution will be good for the circulation of the paper?
Justice seems secondary, in the end, to rooting for Walter and Hildy, the glamorous and entertaining stars. Stars are good guys, so there's a plot that makes Walter and Hildy good guys… but the actual morality of their actions isn't considered too much.
Walter isn't any more interested in justice than the Sheriff.
Earl Williams kills a black policeman; the film doesn't seem to believe that that black man's life matters.
Love is patient. Love is kind. Supposedly.
But in His Girl Friday, love is more like heads knocked together, shins kicked, and trains blown up. Hildy and Walter treat love as arm-wrestling, or word whacking, blasting each other with barrages of babble, while Bruce stands off to the side and makes "aw gosh" noises.
The romance in His Girl Friday (and in screwball comedies in general) is a fight; you go to the altar less out of transcendent happiness than out of exhausted resignation.
Hildy loves Walter from the beginning of the film.
Hildy never loves Walter; what she loves is the newspaper business.