Filmsite Movie Review 100 Greatest Films
His Girl Friday (1940)
Pages: (1) (2) (3) (4)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

Frustrated, Bruce leaves while Hildy still sits typing furiously at her typewriter. She calls after him, puts down her identification with him (as a "suburban bridge player"), and calls herself a "newspaperman":

Bruce: Remember, if you change your mind, I'm leaving on the nine o'clock train.
Hildy: If you want me, Bruce, you've gotta take me as I am instead of trying to change me into something else. I'm no suburban bridge player. I'm a newspaperman. Darn it.

When Earl Williams peeks his head out from the rolltop desk, Walter orders:

Get back in there, you Mock Turtle. [A 'in-joke' reference to the character Grant played in Alice in Wonderland (1933).]

Walter paces frantically and curses out the window: "Now the moon's out!", worrying that Butch and his movers won't get there in time to move the desk concealing Williams before being detected. He works out a signaling system with Earl: "Three taps is me. Don't forget."

Suddenly, Hildy pauses and innocently asks: "Where's Bruce?" Then, she proudly reads her story to Walter:

Hildy: 'While hundreds of Sheriff Hartwell's paid gunmen stalked through the city shooting innocent bystanders, spreading their reign of terror, Earl Williams was lurking less than twenty yards from the Sheriff's Office where...'
Walter (dismayed): Wait a minute, wait a minute, aren't you going to mention the Post? Doesn't the paper get any credit?
Hildy: Well, honey, 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?

Roy B. Bensinger is the first press man to return to the office. Hildy and Walter are worried that Bensinger will go over to his rolltop desk and discover Williams hiding there. To stall for time, Bensinger is encouraged to recite his own "heartbreaking" poem that was printed in his paper - the morning Tribune, a competing newspaper:

And all is well
Outside his cell
But in his heart he hears
The hangman calling
And the gallows falling
And his white-haired mother's tears...

To prevent Bensinger from getting his rhyming dictionary in the desk, Walter offers the poetic newsman a job at the Post (with a raise and a by-line), and immediately sends him off to Duffy to write for their paper:

I want you to hustle and write me a story from the point of view of the escaped man. (Acting out) He hides, cowering, afraid of every sound, of every light. He hears footsteps. His heart is going like that. And all the time, they're closing in. Now, get the sense of the animal at bay.

In an unethical, "double-crossing" move (Walter's intention is to hire and then fire the effete newsman), Walter closes the door on Bensinger and then tells Duffy on the phone: "Handle him with kid gloves. Put him to work writing poetry. No, no, we don't want him. Just stall him along 'til the Extra's out. Then tell him his poetry smells and kick him down the stairs."

Suddenly, Hildy realizes that she can't possibly catch the nine o'clock train with Bruce on account of Walter's shenanigans: "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!"

As the film's finale approaches, in true screwball comedy fashion, all the principal characters begin to converge on the press room. Diamond Louis appears, his hat crushed, his face bruised, and his coat torn, telling of a car accident he had while riding in a taxi with Bruce's mother:

Down Western Avenue, we was going sixty-five miles an hour...We run smack into a police patrol. you know what I mean? We busted it in half!...Can you imagine bumping into a load of cops? They come rolling out like oranges!...When I come to, I was running down Thirty-fourth Street...The driver got knocked cold...I don't think she's [Bruce's mother] squawking much, you know what I mean?...Say listen, me with a gun on the hip and a kidnapped old lady on my hands, I'm gonna stick around askin' questions from a lot of cops?

It is feared that Mrs. Baldwin was killed in the mishap - Hildy feels responsible for her death after hearing Louis' tale ("Dead! Oh, this is the end!"). She is distraught: "I killed her. I'm responsible. What am I gonna do? How can I ever face Bruce again?" On the left of the frame under a hanging lamp, she telephones various city hospitals asking about the fate of Mrs. Baldwin:

Mission Hospital, Receiving Room please...Was there an old lady brought in there from an auto smashup?...Nobody?...Community Hospital, give me the Receiving Room, will you please?...Was there an old lady brought in there in an auto smashup?...Well, look around, will you please?!...

Walter is also on the phone on the right of the frame (under a larger hanging lamp) as they engage in another duet of shouting words into receivers. He is panicked while yelling into the receiver at Butch for double-crossing him on account of some dame:

Well Butch, where are you?...Well, what are you doing there? Haven't you even started?...Listen, it's a matter of life and death!...Well, you can't stop for a dame now! I don't care if you've been after her for six years. Butch - our whole lives are at stake! Are you going to let a woman come between us after all we've been through?...Butch, I'd put my arm in fire for you, up to here (indicating up to where). Now you can't double-cross me...Put her on, I'll talk to her. Oh, good evening madam. Now listen, you ten-cent glamour girl. You can't keep Butch away from his duty!

The woman hangs up on him, and Walter has no other alternative but to ask Louis to go out and find some "guys...anybody with hair on his chest" out on the streets to move the desk. When the "dumb immigrant" has gone, he has more ideas: "If he's not back in five minutes, we'll carry it out alone...There's a million ways. We can start a fire. Have the firemen take it out in the confusion." Hildy starts for the door to locate her future mother-in-law, but is forced to retreat back into the room, swept in by a tide of reporters, Sheriff Hartwell and his deputies. They bust in with accusatory, suspicious claims and refuse to let go of Hildy: "She was goin' out to get Williams....She had the door locked...He and Mollie were in here talking...They know where he is!"

In a struggle with Hildy, Williams' gun drops to the floor. Sheriff Hartwell identifies it: "This happens to be the gun that Williams used to shoot his way out with!...I ought to know my own gun, oughtn't I?" McCue cleverly deduces: "And Hildy got it from Williams." Although "master-mind" Burns vows: "The Morning Post does not obstruct justice or hide criminals," the Sheriff threatens to jail both Hildy and Walter and fine them $10,000. The Sheriff plays into Walter's strategy by impounding Post property, including the roll-top desk:

Walter: (To the Sheriff) Now I warn you. You move this desk out of this building and I'll put you behind bars.
Hildy: He can do it to.
Sheriff: Is that so?
Walter: I'll see that Roosevelt hears about it.
Sheriff: Alright, tell him. Come on, boys! Confiscate this desk!

And then a disheveled Mrs. Baldwin (with her hat over one ear) arrives with a policeman, pointing a wagging, blaming finger at Walter Burns for staging her kidnapping: "That's the man that did it, right there!...They dragged me all the way down the stairs...He was in charge of the whole thing. He told them to kidnap me." With more characteristic deceitfulness, Walter accuses Mrs. Baldwin of being a joyrider who is framing him. He makes her look like the guilty one - until she lets loose with a bombshell:

Walter: Be honest. If you were out joy-riding, plastered, and got into some scrape, why don't you admit it instead of accusing innocent people?
Mrs. Baldwin: You ruffian. How dare you talk like that to me!
Hildy: He's just a little crazy, mother.
Mrs. Baldwin: And I can tell you something more. I can tell you why they did it...They had some kind of a murderer in here, and they were hiding him.

Walter righteously pounds three times on the top of the roll-top desk to accentuate his denial of her accusation: "Madam. You're a Cock-Eyed Liar, and you know it." Then, he stands there dismayed and horrified, remembering too late the coded signal arranged with Williams. There are three answering knocks from the inside of the desk.

The Sheriff and his deputies draw their guns on the desk, the reporters rush for their telephones, and panic-stricken Mrs. Baldwin (dubbed a "gray-haired old weasel" by Walter) streaks for the door into Bruce's arms in the hallway. The press room door closes them out. The reporters call in their news flashes about the moment of capture, speed-enhanced by rapid cross-cuts to each of their faces next to phone receivers. Sheriff Hartwell counts to three before opening the desktop to reveal the fugitive:

Newsman: In a minute...Hold the wire...
Sheriff: One of you get on each end of the desk.
Newsman: There's somethin' comin' up.
Sheriff: We got you covered, Williams.
Newsman: Have it in a minute!
Sheriff: Don't try to move!
Newsman: Any time now!
Sheriff: I'll count three.
Newsman: It's hot!
Sheriff: ONE.
Newsman: Ready for an emergency.
Sheriff: TWO.
Newsman: Any second now.
Sheriff: THREE - Up with it!

When the cover on the desk is raised and Williams is found cowering and sweating in the desk, he pleads with them: "Go ahead, shoot me." The weakened, pitiable criminal is assisted out the door, although the insensitive reporters sensationalize the news of Williams' capture as the camera tracks past them: "Williams was unconscious when they opened the desk...Williams put up a desperate struggle, but the police overpowered him...He offered no resistance...He might shoot out with the cops but his gun wasn't workin...He broke through a whole cordon of police...The Morning Post just turned Williams over to the Sheriff."

Now Hildy and Walter are physically handcuffed together side by side - one step closer to being linked once more (they "look kind of natural"). They are charged with aiding and abetting a criminal and kidnapping. Walter assertively tells the Sheriff: "You're gonna wish you'd never been born!" The corrupt Mayor enters the press room and congratulates the Sheriff for his fine work:

Mayor: You certainly delivered the goods. I'm proud of you!
Sheriff: Look kind of natural, don't they?
Mayor: A sight for sore eyes.

The Mayor is confident that the Post is finally licked, although Walter thinks otherwise, suggesting a horrible fate - in a classic come-back line [the second major "in"-joke of the film]:

Mayor: Well, it looks like ten years apiece for you two birds.
Walter: Does it?
Hildy: Whenever you think you've got the Morning Post licked, it's time for you to get out of town.
Mayor: Whistling in the dark? Well that isn't gonna help you this time. You're through.
Walter: Listen. The last man who said that to me was Archie Leach just a week before he cut his throat. [Archie/Archibald Leach was Cary Grant's real name.]
Sheriff and the Mayor: Is that so?
Walter: We've been in worse jams than this, haven't we, Hildy?
Hildy: Nope.

With the Mayor and Sheriff believing that everything is working their way, the Governor's messenger Pettibone reels in the doorway with an opened umbrella over his shoulder. By refusing a job as city sealer (because it might displease his wife), he exposes their previous bribery attempt:

Here's your reprieve...Oh, you can't bribe me...I don't want to be a City Sealer.

The politically opportunistic Mayor at first denies Pettibone's charges as a "cock-and-bull story":

Mayor: That's absurd on the face of it. Walter, he's talking like a child.
Walter: Out of the mouths of babes.
Pettibone: Hi, babe.
Walter: Hi ya, toots.

But then the Mayor quickly jumps on the bandwagon to support Williams' reprieve:

If this unfortunate man, Williams, has really been reprieved, I'm personally tickled to death....Sheriff, this document is authentic, and Earl Williams has been reprieved. And our Commonwealth has been saved the painful necessity of shedding blood.

Hildy responds with an improvised line: "That's awful." She and Walter are released from their handcuffs and now they turn the tables on the Mayor, threatening him with only three more hours in office until an expose is printed in the next special edition of the Post:

Hildy: That's long enough for us to get out a special edition asking for your recall...
Walter: ...and your arrest. You know, you little boys ought to get about ten years apiece, I think.
Mayor: Don't make any hasty decisions, Mr. Burns. You might run into a thumping big libel suit.
Hildy: You're going to run into the Governor.

So Earl Williams is reprieved, and Bruce is thought to be on his way home with his mother to Albany. As Walter recaps things with Duffy on the phone throughout the remainder of the film, he and Hildy glow with satisfaction over their successful teaming to turn the events of the day toward their own advantage - personally as well as for the paper-reading public.

Hildy: Remember the time we stole Old Lady Haggerty's stomach off the coroner's physician...We proved she'd been poisoned then, didn't we, Walter? We had to hide out for a week. Do you remember that?...That's where, I mean, how...
Walter: We could have gone to jail for that too, you know that.
Hildy: I guess so.

As one final ploy to win her back, Walter argues that being a newspaperman is a "bad business." He feigns happiness and support for her marriage to Bruce, speaks unselfishly about being "noble" for once in his life, and encourages her to go off (with her coat) to Bruce - and Hildy believes him for once:

Walter: Aw yes, maybe you're right, Hildy. It's a bad business. Well, you're gonna be better off. Say, you better get going.
Hildy: Where would I go?
Walter: Well, to Bruce, of course.
Hildy: But you know, he's gone. He took the nine o'clock train.
Walter: Just send him a wire. He'll be waiting at the station when you get into Albany. Now go on.
Hildy: I don't know. I got so messed up, Walter. Maybe...
Walter: Get going, Hildy.
Hildy: Get going? What is that with you?
Walter: ...Now look, honey. Can't you understand? I'm trying to do something noble for once in my life. Now get out of here before I change my mind. Come on.
Hildy: But Walter, listen, just a minute...
Walter: ...Send the fellow a wire. He'll be waiting when you get in. Come on.
Hildy: Who'll write the story?
Walter: I'll do it myself. Won't be half as good as you can do it, but what's the difference?
Hildy: It's my story. I'd kinda like to think that it...I get it, Walter. The same old act, isn't it? Trying to push me out of here, thinking I'll be stupid enough to want to stay.
Walter: Now I know I deserve that, Hildy...but this is one time you're wrong. Look honey, when you walk out that door, part of me will go right with ya. But a whole new world's gonna open up for you. I made fun of Bruce and Albany and all that kind of thing, you know why?
Hildy: Why?
Walter: I was jealous. I was sore because he could offer you the kind of life I can't give ya. That's what you want, honey.
Hildy: I-I could stay and do the story, and take the train in the morning. Doesn't make that much difference.
Walter: Now forget it. (He takes her by her shoulders) Come on, come on. Goodbye dear, and good luck. (He kisses her goodbye, turns her toward the door, and resumes his phone conversation with Duffy.)

At the last minute, Hildy takes a phone call from Bruce at the 4th Precinct Police Station, arrested for "having counterfeit money," given to him earlier by Hildy (through Walter). The unscrupulous Walter stealthily tip-toes toward the door, but turns back after seeing a subdued and submissive Hildy driven to tears with her head down on the desk. The phone call reminds her that all along, Walter has been scheming to keep her away from Bruce so that she could return to him:

Hildy (sobbing and sniffling): 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: I don't know. Well, what are you standing there gawking for? We have to get him out of jail. Send Louis down with some honest money and send him back to Albany where he belongs.
Walter: Sure, sure.

Ultimately, the two are reunited in two of their favorite pursuits - love and work as newspaper reporters. She surrenders to him and accepts being a "newspaperman" and a "woman" at the same time. She will write the story of Earl Williams' reprieve, and the two will get married. But they will have to spend their planned honeymoon in Albany instead of Niagara Falls - covering a news story about a strike:

Walter (To Duffy on the phone): We're coming over to the office. No, don't worry about the story. Hildy's gonna write it. Course she's not quitting. She never intended to. We're gonna get married.
Hildy: Oh. Can we go on a honeymoon this time, Walter?
Walter: Sure. Hey Duffy, you can be managing editor. No, no, not permanently. Just for the two weeks we're away on a honeymoon...I don't know where we're going. (To Hildy) Where are we going?
Hildy: Niagara Falls.
Walter (To Duffy): Niagara Falls, Duffy.
Hildy: Two whole weeks, Walter?
Walter: Sure. You've earned it. (To Duffy) What? What? Strike? What strike? Where? Albany? Well, I know it's on the way Duffy, but I can't ask Hildy to...
Hildy: All right, we'll honeymoon in Albany.
Walter: ...Ha, ha, ha. Well, isn't that a coincidence? We're going to Albany. I wonder if Bruce can put us up?...

The film's improvised closing line is a suggestion delivered by Walter to Hildy about her suitcase as they exit the Press Room and speak to each other under the door frame's arch. As always, he strides in front of her, and observes:

Say, why don't you carry that in your hand?

[Note: The theatrical version of the script ended with the famous line: "The son of a bitch stole my watch", only heard in The Front Page (1974), but truncated, due to censor demands, to: "The son of a...stole my watch" in The Front Page (1931).]

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