Filmsite Movie Review 100 Greatest Films
His Girl Friday (1940)
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Plot Synopsis (continued)

Just before Hildy returns to get her typewritten interview, the press boys admire her well-written story - still fresh in the typewriter - with inventive angles about "production for use" and Mollie's redeeming friendship with the doomed prisoner:

(read out loud) And so, into this little tortured mind came the idea that that gun had been produced for use. And use it he did. But the state has a 'production-for-use' plan too. It has a gallows. And at seven a.m. unless a miracle occurs, that gallows will be used to separate the soul of Earl Williams from his body. And out of Mollie Malloy's life will go the one kindly soul she ever knew.

The press guys know Hildy's superb reporting ability and the difficulty she may have in leaving her beloved profession - now the length of her marriage is reduced to "three months":

Newsman: Well, I still say that anybody that can write like that ain't gonna give it up permanently and sew socks for a guy in the insurance business. Now I give that marriage three months and I'm layin' three to one. Any takers?
Hildy (entering the room): I'll take that bet. Geez. It's getting so a girl can't leave the room without being discussed by a bunch of old ladies...
Newsman: Oh, don't get sore, Hildy. We were only saying a swell reporter like you wouldn't quit so easy...
Hildy: Oh, I can quit all right without a single quiver. I'm gonna live like a human being. Not like you chumps.

Hildy telephones Walter and lambasts him for double-crossing her and Bruce:

Now get this, you double-crossing chimpanzee! There ain't gonna be any interview and there ain't gonna be any story. And that certified check of yours is leaving with me in twenty minutes. I wouldn't cover the burning of Rome for you if they were just lighting it up. And if I ever lay my two eyes on you again, I'm gonna walk right up to you and hammer on that monkey skull of yours 'til it rings like a Chinese gong!

Breaking off their "bargain," she noisily tears her story into shreds next to the phone receiver: "Do you hear that? That's the story I just wrote. Yes, yes, I know we had a bargain. I just said I'd write it. I didn't say I wouldn't tear it up. It's all in little pieces now, Walter, and I hope to do the same for you some day." She bids a final farewell (so she thinks) to her associates and her past profession:

And that my friends, is my farewell to the newspaper game. I'm gonna be a woman, not a news-getting machine. I'm gonna have babies and take care of them. Give 'em cod liver oil and watch their teeth grow.

As she leaves, she battles vainly to put on her overcoat and hat: unknowingly, she jams her right arm into the coat's left sleeve, and she asks: "Where's my hat?" - she's oblivious that it's already perched on top of her head. The phone rings again - Walter has called back, but Hildy in her exasperation pulls out the telephone cord and disconnects herself.

Before a psychiatric interview between the official psychiatrist Professor Egelhofer and Williams in the Sheriff Hartwell's private office, the doctor discusses with Hartwell the resultant publicity and how they should be "shaking hands" in pictures, while off to the side Earl sits dejected and ignored - Egelhofer is insensitive to the prisoner's plight: "Oh, I'm awfully sorry, I forgot you were there." During questioning under a bright light, Earl affirms his innocence: "It wasn't my fault."

While Hildy is striding out of the press-room, she claims that she's leaving for good:

Next time you see me, I should be riding in a Rolls Royce giving interviews on success...So long you wage-slaves...When you're crawling up fire escapes and getting kicked out of front doors, and eating Christmas dinners in one-armed joints, don't forget your pal, Hildy Johnson!..And when the road beyond unfolds...

She is interrupted by a terrific fusillade of gunshots from the courtyard in the direction of the jail. Everyone jumps up to the window as sirens wail, a searchlight sweeps over them, and Endicott cries out: "It's a jail break." The reporters rush to the phones, caught in a montage as they report the breaking story of Williams' escape from the county jail. Even Hildy joins them, calling back Walter and assuring him: "Yeah, yeah, yeah, don't worry! I'm on the job!" Immediately, she rips off her hat and is out in the midst of traffic - now a confused mess of police cars and motorcycle cops. Totally unladylike as she hikes up her dress, she chases after Warden Cooley and tackles him headlong on the sidewalk to get the scoop on the escape: "I want to talk to you."

The phones ring unattended in the press-room while everyone is away during the chaotic escape - the camera tracks from right to left over them. Details about the dramatic escape eventually emerge in the newsroom as reporter Endicott phones in his report on one of the phones. After being examined in the Sheriff's private office by Dr. Egelhoffer, Williams "shot his way out...nobody knows where he got the gun. He went upstairs to the infirmary and got out through the skylight. He must have slid down the rainpipe to the street...The Crime Commission offers ten thousand dollars reward for Williams' capture." McCue surmises: "Maybe the Sheriff let him out so Williams could vote for him."

Hildy phones in an "exclusive" to Walter at the Post about how Williams got his gun and escaped ("It's a pip"), but the story will cost Walter $450. (Hildy had to spend Bruce's money - the money they were going to get married with - to bribe Cooley and "tear it" out of him.) After Walter promises reimbursement ("I'll swear it on my mother's grave" or actually his "grandmother's grave"), she tells him the story, including one of the most-quoted lines in film history:

All right, now here's your story. The jailbreak of your dreams. It seems that expert Dr. Egelhoffer, the profound thinker from New York, was giving Williams a final sanity test in the Sheriff's office - you know, sticking a lot of pins in him so that he could get his reflexes. Well, he decided to re-enact the crime exactly as it had taken place, in order to study Williams' powers of co-ordination...Of course, he had to have a gun to re-enact the crime with. And who do you suppose supplied it? Peter B. Hartwell, "B" for brains...Well, the Sheriff gave his gun to the Professor and the Professor gave it to Earl, and Earl shot the Professor right in the classified ads...No 'ads.' Ain't it perfect? If the Sheriff had unrolled a red carpet and loaned Williams an umbrella, it couldn't have been more ideal...Egelhoffer wasn't badly hurt. They took him to the County Hospital...

Walter promises the money in fifteen minutes - enough time to mastermind another distraction for Bruce who has been tirelessly waiting in a taxi in front of the Criminal Courts Building for Hildy (after she rescued him from jail), enroute to the Albany-bound train. He sends another decoy named 'Vangie' (Evangeline) (Marion Martin), Louis' blonde girlfriend-moll, and in one of the film's most famous in-jokes, he identifies what Bruce looks like to frame him:

Walter: ...he looks like, uh, that fellow in the movies, you know, uh, Ralph Bellamy.
Evangeline: Oh, him.
Walter: Can you handle it?
Evangeline: I've never flopped on you yet, have I?

Walter then turns and asks Louis to take $450 worth of "counterfeit money" to Hildy. She is exasperated when Bruce soon lands up arrested and in jail again - this time for "mashing" with Evangeline ("Vangie"):

I was sitting right in the taxi where you left me and the young lady seemed to have a dizzy spell and I just...Yes, she's a blonde. Yes, very blonde.

Hildy is wise to Walter's trap but is powerless to get Bruce out of a second predicament for the time being. She juggles conversations between telephones, racing from the one with Bruce at the jail (in the 27th Precinct) to the other one with Walter in his office. The corrupt Mayor (Clarence Kolb), normally unruffled but now extremely agitated under the extraordinary circumstances, enters the press room, looking for the Sheriff (one of his henchmen):

Mayor: Have you seen Sheriff Hartwell?
Endicott: It's hard to tell, your Honor. You see, there's so many cockroaches around here.

The press reporters - in rapid-fire fashion - demand a statement from the Mayor about many matters (the escape, how Williams got out, where he got the gun, the predicted effect on the election or on the voters), but he refuses to give them one.

Mayor: How can an unavoidable fortune like this have any influence on the upright citizens of our fair city?
Murphy: Baloney.
Endicott: Mr. Mayor, please. Is there a Red Menace or ain't there?
McCue: How did Williams get out of that rubber jail of yours?
Murphy: Are you going to stand the gaff? Or will you pick out somebody to be responsible?
Endicott: Is there any truth in the report that you're on Stalin's payroll?
McCue: Yeah, the Senator claims you sleep in red underwear.
Mayor: Never mind the jokes. Don't forget I'm the Mayor of this town.

It is reported that the Governor is angered by the incompetency of the Mayor and the Sheriff - both political rivals:

Here's a red-hot statement from the Governor. He claims the Mayor and the Sheriff have shown themselves to be a couple of eight year olds playing with fire...You can quote him as follows: 'It is a lucky thing for the city that next Tuesday is Election Day as the citizens will thus be saved the expense of impeaching the Mayor and the Sheriff.'

In the privacy of his office, the Mayor threatens to remove his Sheriff - he has decided to scratch the Sheriff's name off the ticket on Election Tuesday and replace him with someone else named Sherman. He blames the entire botched Williams case on his Sheriff's incompetency. The Mayor is disturbed because his re-election depends on Williams' execution:

Do you realize there are two hundred thousand votes at stake? And if Earl Williams don't hang, we're gonna lose 'em?

At that moment, a messenger from the Governor, Joe Pettibone (Billy Gilbert) enters the office, relieved to have found the Sheriff. He has brought a pardon/reprieve for Williams, declaring him insane: "Dementia praecox." The Mayor and Sheriff interpret the reprieve as the Governor's purely political method to ruin them by political railroading ("A guy who's done nothing for the last forty years but play pinochle gets elected Governor and right away, he thinks he's a Tarzan"). The mayor demands Hartwell's resignation immediately. And to keep the news of the reprieve away from reporters, the Mayor intercepts the pardon and then offers the messenger a salary bribe and better-paying job:

They need a fellow like you in the City Sealer's Office.

To keep him quiet and have him "lay low," the Mayor hands the befuddled Pettibone a $50 bill and a card with an address on it as he leaves ("Go to this address - a nice homey place. They'll take good care of ya. Just tell 'em Fred sent ya"). Ignoring the Governor's reprieve, the Mayor then orders a "shoot-to-kill" ultimatum against Williams and a $500 reward "for the man who does it."

When Diamond Louis arrives in the press room, he defends his blonde "albino" girlfriend Vangie/Evangeline from Hildy's assault:

Hildy: You double-crossin' hyena. I'd like to take ya...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's ain't no albino.
Hildy: She'll do 'til one comes along.
Louis: She was born right here in this country.
Hildy: If she tries anything else, she'll have to stay right here in this country. And you too - and it won't be on a phony charge either.

She is handed $450 as reimbursement (with "counterfeit money" as instructed by Walter) - and Bruce's wallet. When Hildy is left alone, she is suddenly confronted by the confused, exhausted and crazed gunman Williams, who has escaped and come through the prison newsroom's windows from the roof's drainpipe. He threatens her with his drawn gun: "Maybe you're a friend and maybe you're not. But don't come any nearer. You can't trust anybody in this crazy world." When he shoots wildly at flapping pigeons outside the window, the gun clicks empty.

For the second time, Hildy sits between two different receivers and frantically speaks to both Bruce (on the left side of the screen) and Walter (on the right side) at the same time - to both of them, she blurts out that she has just captured Earl Williams in the press room:

(to Walter): Walter, get this. I've got Earl Williams. Here, yeah, right in the press room. Honest, on the level. Hurry, I need you. Right.
(to Bruce): Bruce, the best thing in the world has happened. I've captured Earl Williams. You know, the murderer.

When she hangs up on Bruce, the phone falls over - symbolizing the collapse of her relationship with him. Repeated knockings at the door bring Mollie Malloy into the room - hysterical and worried for Earl's safety.

True to her profession, and symbolically representative of her deep romantic feelings for Walter, she hides her 'scoop' in the roll-top desk in the newsroom to protect Williams. Things get even more complicated when all the newsmen arrive back from a wild-goose chase/man-hunt for Williams, and Mrs. Baldwin (Alma Kruger) appears, aggravated at Hildy for delaying her boy's marriage plans on account of Hildy's announced capture of a 'murderer.' Hildy emphatically denies the charges:

Hildy: Mrs. Baldwin - Mother!
Mrs. Baldwin: Don't you 'Mother' me! Playing cat and mouse with my poor boy, keeping him locked up, making us miss two trains and you supposed to be married tomorrow.
Hildy: I'll be with you in five minutes.
Mrs. Baldwin: You don't have to go with me at all. Just give me Bruce's money and you can stay here forever as far as I'm concerned - you and that murderer you caught...Which one of these men is it? They all look like murderers to me.
Endicott: Wait a minute, Hildy. What murderer did you catch?...
Hildy: I don't know what she's talking about. I haven't said any such thing.
Mrs. Baldwin: I am quoting my son, and he has never lied to me.
Hildy: That's ridiculous. In the first place, I never said anything like that.
Mrs. Baldwin: Yes you did.
Hildy: No, I didn't. I said I was trying to find the murderer. (To the news-hungry reporters.) She got it all balled up. Can't you see that?

Mollie wildly jumps up from her chair in front of the rolltop desk, alleging that she knows Williams' whereabouts. She is quickly interrogated by the sneering, demanding newsmen and asked to "talk," but she resists in a distraught voice:

Now you want me to talk...Oh ain't that funny. You wouldn't listen to me before. Not even for a minute. And now you want me to talk...What do ya want to know for? So you can write some more lies, so you can sell some more papers.

To give them a story ("I'll give you a wonderful story - only this time it'll be true"), and to prove her love for Williams, she tears away from them, runs, and then hurls herself through the open second story window to the pavement below. The reporters rush forward toward the window, looking down at the tragic figure on the ground that appears to be mortally wounded. One of them mentions: "Look, she isn't killed, she's moving."

Both Walter and Louis arrive during the tumultuous turmoil. With a single-minded focus on his ultimate goal, Walter repeatedly asks Hildy: "Where is he?...Where is he, I said?...Come to, Hildy. Where have you got Williams?" and is finally told that Williams is in the desk. Walter orders Mrs. Baldwin to be taken away, only temporarily: "Louis, take the lady over to Polack Mike's...Lock her up - see that she doesn't talk to anyone along the way...Tell 'em it's a case of DT's."

Worrying that she has abandoned her bridegroom-to-be, Hildy is further lured with tantalizing, twin desires of career and romance. Walter, the ego-centric, story-driven newshound, takes charge and somehow persuades her that she is essential as both a reporter and romantic interest. As he aggressively speaks to her, he drives her backward around the room counter-clockwise, speaking impassioned words to her at an extreme clip:

Walter: Get Bruce out of jail? How can you worry about a man [Bruce] who's resting in a nice quiet police station while this is going on? Hildy, this is WAR! You can't desert me now!
Hildy: Oh Walter, get off that trapeze. You've got your story right over there in the desk. Go on. Smear it all over the front page. Earl Williams - captured by the Morning Post. I covered your story for ya and I got in a fine mess doing it. Now I'm gettin' out.
Walter: You're a drooling idiot. What do you mean you're getting out? There are 365 days in a year one can get mad. How many times you got a murderer locked up in a desk? Once-in-a-lifetime. Hildy, you got the whole city by the seat of the pants.
Hildy: Sure, I know, I know...
Walter: You know. You know. You got the brain of a pancake. This isn't just a story you're covering. It's a revolution. This is the greatest yarn in journalism since Livingston discovered Stanley.
Hildy: It's the other way around.
Walter: Oh, well don't get technical at a time like this. Do you realize what you've done, honey? You've taken a city that's been graft-ridden for 40 years under the same old gang. With this yarn, you're kicking 'em out. They're giving us a chance to have the same kind of government New York's having under LaGuardia. Listen honey, if I didn't have your best interest at heart, do you think I'd waste my time arguin' with ya? You've done something big, Hildy. You've stepped up into a new class.
Hildy: Huh?
Walter: We'll make such monkeys out of those ward heelers next Tuesday nobody will vote for 'em. Not even their wives.
Hildy: Expose 'em, eh...
Walter: Certainly. We'll crucify that mob. We'll keep Williams under cover until morning so the Post can break the story exclusive. Then we'll let the Governor in on the capture. Share the glory with him.
Hildy (warming up to it): I get it. I get it.
Walter: You've kicked over the whole City Hall like an applecart. You've got the Mayor and Hartwell backed up against a wall. You put one administration out and another one in. This isn't just a newspaper story, Hildy. It's a career. And you standin' there bellyache-ing about whether you're catchin' an eight o'clock train or a nine o'clock train.
Hildy: Well, Walter, I never figured it that way.
Walter: You're still a doll-faced hick, that's why.
Hildy: Gee, we'd be the white-haired boys, won't we?
Walter: Sure, they'll be naming streets after you. Hildy Johnson Street. There'll be statues of ya in the park. The movies will be after ya. The radio. By tomorrow morning, I'll betcha there's a Hildy Johnson cigar. I can see the billboards now. They say, 'Light up with Hildy Johnson.'
Hildy: Oh Walter, will you stop that acting!...We got a lot to do.
Walter: Now you're talking.

To hide Williams from the other reporters and cops swarming around the building, Walter calls his office to have workers lower the desk out the window with pulleys as Hildy begins to "start pounding out a lead" on a typewriter. By phone, his managing editor Duffy is told that they have "the biggest story in years - Earl Williams captured by the Morning Post. Exclusive, yeah. And I want ya to tear out the whole front page...Well, never mind the European war. We've got something a whole lot bigger than that. Hildy Johnson's writin' the lead. I'll give it to ya as soon as she's finished." Walter asks that Butch O'Connor and a half a dozen of his wrestlers assist in moving the desk out of the press room of the Criminal Courts Building.

Disturbed by his continuing ordeal, Bruce enters the press room - he wired Albany for $100 for bail so that he could be released from the police station jail. In a classic scene with simultaneous conversations, Hildy is banging out the story on Earl Williams at a typewriter, while Walter is still on the phone, barking orders at Duffy on how to rearrange the next edition of the paper, and Bruce is asking about the welfare of his mother:

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.

Bruce stands dumbfounded between Hildy and Walter - trying to interject statements into their overlapping dialogue (with Walter on the phone and Hildy engaged at work on the typewriter). Bruce is desperate to know where his mother has gone, and asks Hildy for the train tickets, his wallet, the certified check, and the $450 in cash - he is determined to leave on the nine o'clock train. (His pleas interfere with her thought processes and she wrecks her story by mistakenly typing 'I'm taking the nine o'clock train' into her story):

Bruce: I don't know what they're gonna think up there in Albany. They had to send the money to the police station...Where's mother? She said she was coming up here...Where'd she go?...Hildy! Tell me where my mother was going?...Did she get the money from you?...I'll take that money, Hildy...I've decided I can handle things around here and I'll take that certified check too...This is my wallet. Say, there's something funny going on. (To Walter) Hey, what are you doing?...Hildy, I'm taking the nine o'clock train...Hildy, I just want you to answer me one question - you don't want to come with me...answer me, Hildy, you don't, do you?...Hildy, tell me, please tell me the truth. If you ever loved me, Hildy -?

During the same time that all of this transpires, Bruce badgers and pleads with Hildy to leave with him while she is frantically typing the story she calls "the biggest thing in my life." He realizes that she has been effectively snared by Walter and will probably not accompany her fiancee:

(To Walter) You're doing all this to her, I know that. She wanted to get away from you and everything you stand for, but you were too smart. You caught her and changed her mind...(To Hildy) Come on, Hildy, you're coming with me right now...I see, I'll keep. I'm like something in the icebox, aren't I?...You just don't love me...The point is that you never intended to be decent and live like a human being...I see what you are now. You're just like him and all the rest...I understand all right, I understand...Oh Hildy, I don't think you ever loved me at all...

At the end of this whirlwind of improvised conversation, Hildy sets up Walter for a joke:

Hildy: Walter? The mayor's first wife - what was her name?
Walter: You mean the one with the wart on her - (pause)
Hildy: Right.
Walter: Fanny.

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