His Girl Friday

His Girl Friday Summary and Analysis of Part 5: The Reprieve


The journalist knocking on the door and complaining about it being locked is named Bensinger, and Walter goes over to the door to deal with him. When Walter opens the door, Bensinger immediately stops complaining, apparently in awe of Walter’s status in the press and saying, “Quite an honor having you come over here!” Before Bensinger can go to retrieve something from his desk, Walter distracts him by complimenting his journalistic work (even though it is clear that he has never read any of it). Bensinger is flattered, and especially wants to talk about the poem that he included in his article that day. It is a sentimental poem about the imminent execution Earl Williams and Walter looks confused as Bensinger quotes a few lines of his own work. In order to prevent Bensinger from going to his desk, Walter offers him a job at his paper, and calls Duffy to arrange the hire. Walter then tells Bensinger that he wants him to write a piece from the perspective of the escaped convict. “Let me just get my rhyming dictionary,” says Bensinger, but Walter insists that it doesn’t have to rhyme and sends the journalist on his way.

After Bensinger leaves, Walter calls Duffy to clarify that he should assign Bensinger some poetic projects, but only string him along until they get him off their backs. As Walter hangs up, Hildy scolds him for being so callous to Bensinger, and remembers that Bruce said he was leaving on a 9 o’clock train. Walter encourages her to keep writing, insisting that Bruce has already left, as she complains, “You messed up my life!” and scolds herself for having fallen for all of Walter’s grandiose promises. Suddenly the duo is interrupted by Louie, who bangs frantically on the door. When they let him in, Louie is all beat up, his suit ripped, and he tells them that the cab that he took with Mrs. Baldwin was apprehended by a bunch of policemen. Hildy becomes suddenly worried when Louie suggests that Mrs. Baldwin may have been killed. Louie can't be sure, as he ran away from the scene almost immediately. Looking stricken, Hildy sits down at the desk wondering, “What’ll I say to Bruce? What am I gonna tell him!” Walter tries to assure her that she did nothing wrong, but Hildy feels responsible for what she assumes is Mrs. Baldwin’s death.

Walter maintains that they all did it for the good of the paper and that if even it was his own grandmother he wouldn’t feel guilty. When Louie tells Hildy where it all happened, she tries to rush out of the room, but Walter pushes her back into the chair, insisting that she stay put. Enraged, she runs to a phone and calls a hospital. At the same moment, Walter receives a call from someone named Butch, who tells him that he’s gotten a late start sending someone over to collect Earl because he ran into a girl he’s been pursuing for a number of years. Walter furiously scolds him. On her call, Hildy asks a number of hospital attendants if Mrs. Baldwin is there, with little luck. Growing more impatient, Walter hangs up his call and asks Louie to find some thugs to help get the desk that Earl Williams is hiding in out of the office. Louie agrees, and when Walter closes the door, he laments, “That dumb immigrant will flop on me as sure as you’re born!”

Walter attempts to move the desk to no avail, as Hildy goes to leave in search of Mrs. Baldwin. Just as she opens the door to the pressroom, however, a throng of journalists as well as the sheriff pile in and start to confront her about something. Walter scolds the men, but they are suspicious that Hildy is trying to leave the pressroom to find Williams, even though she insists that she is going out to find her mother-in-law. Walter interrupts their accusations to say, “If you have any accusations to make, make them in the proper manner. Otherwise I’ll have to ask you to get out!” Defying Walter, the sheriff orders one of the journalists to close the door of the pressroom and begins questioning Hildy. “What do you know about Williams?” he asks, and when she refuses to talk, the sheriff orders the men to take her out of the pressroom. As they grab her, Earl’s gun falls out of her pocket. “Where did you get this gun?” asks the sheriff, but Hildy insists that she’s allowed to carry one.

When Walter tries to make the excuse that he advised Hildy to carry the gun if she was going to go looking for Earl Williams, the sheriff notes that the gun is the exact gun that Earl used to shoot his way out of confinement, as it is his. The sheriff questions Hildy about Earl’s location, but she tells him nothing. When he asks Walter, Walter informs him that his paper does not obstruct justice or hide criminals—though, as we know, that is exactly what they are doing. The sheriff informs Hildy that she is under arrest, and Walter becomes furious, menacingly calling the sheriff names. Firing back, the sheriff promises that he will have Walter’s paper fined, and says he will start by impounding the property. “Is this your desk?” the sheriff asks, motioning to Earl’s hiding spot. Seeing a way to get Earl out of the office without being seen, Walter encourages the sheriff to take the desk out. As a group of men go to take the desk out of the office, a number of policemen come into the pressroom, bringing Mrs. Baldwin with them.

Hildy rushes over to Mrs. Baldwin apologizing, but Mrs. Baldwin points at Walter and accuses him of having her kidnapped by Louie. Walter boldly feigns ignorance and accuses Mrs. Baldwin of framing him. Appalled, Mrs. Baldwin comes out with the news that the very reason Walter had her kidnapped in the first place was “because they had some kind of murderer here and they were hiding him!” This gets the sheriff and the journalist’s attention, and only infuriates Walter more. Doubling down in his lie, Walter slams the desk three times in anger, which Earl Williams mistakes for a signal from him. Three taps come from the desk and everyone realizes that Earl is inside. A number of journalists get on the phone and the sheriff orders the policemen to shoot the desk. Distressed, Mrs. Baldwin runs out of the pressroom, directly into the arms of Bruce, who has come to find her. A policeman closes Bruce and his mother out of the pressroom. Walter orders Hildy to call Duffy, but the men won’t let her.

The sheriff counts to three and they open the desk. “Go ahead, shoot me!” says Earl, but nobody does. As the other journalists dictate the story over the phone, the policemen drag Earl out of the office. Walter attempts to give Duffy the news that Earl was apprehended by the police, but the sheriff has him and Hildy arrested. The journalists run out of the pressroom to find Mrs. Baldwin, as the sheriff sits down and calls the warden’s office. The mayor comes into the pressroom, sarcastically congratulating Walter and Hildy for delivering the criminal. “You’re through!” he tells them, but Walter and Hildy remain smug. The sheriff informs someone on the phone that they have captured Earl and will proceed with the execution as scheduled. He then calls someone to have Hildy and Walter brought in for questioning. Suddenly, the messenger who the mayor tried to bribe with a fancy government job arrives in the pressroom with the reprieve. The sheriff and the mayor try and shoo him away, but he declares, “You can’t bribe me!” Walter grabs the reprieve, seeing yet another opportunity to expose the mayor’s corruption. “Who’s trying to bribe you?” asks Hildy, and the messenger informs her that the mayor and the sheriff would not accept the reprieve he was delivering.

The mayor orders the messenger’s arrest, but Hildy stops him, saying, “Trying to hang an innocent man to win an election, eh?” “That’s murder!” Walter chimes in. Hildy and Walter then get the full story from the messenger, whose name they learn is Pettibone. Walter is thrilled to see the corruption exposed and begins to question Mr. Pettibone. When the mayor tries to change his tune in order to make it look as though he hasn’t ignored the reprieve, Walter laughs and tells him, “Get off your soapbox. Save that for the Tribune.” The mayor orders the sheriff to take the handcuffs off Hildy and Walter, hoping to win some of their favor. Walter and Hildy are overjoyed and suggest that the mayor may well be arrested for his corrupt acts. The mayor takes Pettibone’s arm and escorts him to the office to deliver the reprieve, suddenly playing the act of a noble leader. After everyone has left, Walter goes to call Duffy to deliver all the news. Hildy laughingly reminisces about all the stories she and Walter have worked on over the years. Walter is surprised to see Hildy gushing about their past exploits, and brusquely tells her that she ought to be getting back to Bruce.

Confused, Hildy tells Walter that Bruce already left her, but Walter suggests that if she just sends him a wire, Bruce will be waiting for her at the station in Albany. Hildy is deflated by Walter’s sudden businesslike disinterest in her, as he tells her to go get her fiancé back. “Who will write the story?” she asks, to which he responds, “I’ll do it myself. Won’t be half as good as you can do it, but what’s the difference?” As Walter picks up the phone to call Duffy, Hildy gets frustrated and accuses Walter of using reverse psychology to try to get her to stay. Walter puts down the phone and says, “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?…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 offers to stay and do the story, then leave in the morning for Albany, but Walter insists that she go back to Bruce, wishing her luck and kissing her.

Walter picks up the phone to talk to Duffy as Hildy begins to leave. Suddenly, another phone rings—it’s for Hildy. She rushes over to take the call; it’s Bruce, who has been arrested yet again, this time for being in possession of the counterfeit money that Walter had Louie give to Hildy. Walter puts down his call with Duffy and starts to leave the room. Hildy hangs up the phone, weeping. Seeing her sorry state, Walter wanders back to Hildy and urges her not to cry. “What’s the matter? You never cried before!” Through tears, she tells him, “I thought you were really sending me away with Bruce! I didn’t know you had him locked up.” It turns out, her sadness is not about Bruce at all, but about her own fear that Walter wasn’t actually trying to win her back. In fact, he was, and he wraps his arm around her shoulder. Hildy urges Walter to have Louie bail Bruce out of jail and “send him back to Albany where he belongs.” Walter calls Duffy and tells him that Hildy is writing the story and that they are remarrying. “Can we go on a honeymoon this time, Walter?” she asks, and Walter informs Duffy that he is to be the managing editor while the couple is on their two-week honeymoon at Niagara Falls. When Duffy informs Walter that there’s a strike in Albany, Walter quickly changes his tune and decides that they will go on a working trip there instead of a honeymoon. As they rush out of the office, Walter jokingly wonders if Bruce will put them up.


Even though Hildy is magnetically pulled to the world of journalism, a vocation which aligns her with Walter in many ways, she still feels intolerant of his ruthless, business-like, and often callous personality. For instance, after Walter offers Bensinger the job at the paper, he calls Duffy to clarify that the hire is just a ruse and that they should reject Bensinger’s work. Hildy looks over at her ex-husband, calls him a “swine,” and notes that he “would double cross anybody.” Knowing what she knows about Walter, Hildy is convinced that he is not to be trusted. While he might be good at managing a paper and maintaining a monopoly on the best stories, this does not make him a very good person. Remembering how unethical he can be when it comes to personal relations, Hildy thinks of Bruce, remembering that Bruce said he was leaving on the 9 o’clock train. Here we see that even though Walter offers Hildy a world of opportunities, intellectual stimulation, and professional advancements, she remains dubious of his moral character. The qualities that make Walter a good boss do not necessarily make him a good husband, or even a good man.

Walter’s dubious character calls into question all of the grand promises he made to Hildy in the previous scene. Realizing what a silver-tongued manipulator he is, she expresses disappointment in herself for falling for his scheme to get her to write the story. “What a sap I was!” she groans, remembering how taken in she was by Walter’s image of her as a public icon, with streets named after her and all the glories of fame. In this moment, it is as though she suddenly realizes that Walter never believed in her at all, that he only used an image of power to seduce her into staying with him and writing a story. This causes her to question whether he ever believed in her at all and gets her thinking about Bruce. While the viewer has known that Walter and Hildy’s marriage was rocky, we did not quite know the terms of its rockiness. Here we see how Walter’s conniving and opportunistic ways drove Hildy away in the first place. He cares more about his job than he does for other people.

Perhaps more than just his job, Walter feels an undying loyalty to journalism itself as an institution, and professes his belief in the prioritization of “the paper” above everything else. When Louie arrives and it looks as though Mrs. Baldwin may have been killed, Hildy is frantic and guilty, but Walter maintains that it’s no one’s fault. He even goes so far as to say, “If it was my own grandmother, I’d carry on—you know I would—for the paper!” The abstract idea of “the paper” and Walter’s sense of a journalist’s responsibility comes up again and again in the film. Working at “the paper” is not simply a job, but a calling, a duty and an obligation to society, and it is a great honor as well as a great responsibility. Walter’s sense of duty is what keeps him so firmly tethered to getting the story and doing his job, willing to do whatever it takes. However, this sense of duty also alienates him from his own personal life. He says it himself: if the life of his own grandmother were on the line, he wouldn’t waste time worrying about it, and would instead prioritize getting the best news story. Here, we see the complex contours of Walter’s workaholism; for him, journalism isn’t just a job, but a calling and a civic duty.

Much of the fun of the movie comes from the fact that Walter is so two-faced. He is willing to do whatever it takes for his story, even sidestepping the law. When the sheriff questions him about Earl Williams’ whereabouts, Walter assures him that his paper “does not obstruct justice or hide criminals.” The irony of this statement is that that is exactly what his paper is doing. However, they are doing so in order to expose the corruption of the justice system and the government. Therefore, their mission is of a higher moral quality than the law itself. Walter can play the role of an honest man, but has no problem with telling a baldfaced lie to the authorities, if the authorities are crooked. Indeed, nearly every other character in the film, other than Hildy and Walter, are depicted as dim-witted, pedantic, and easily-bought incompetents. Walter’s skill and success, therefore, are attributed to his ability to act outside the law and society in order to deliver the absolute truth and see justice served. While Hildy is more resistant to this way of being, she is continually called to it, and knows deep down that Walter’s mission is a noble one. Thus, while Walter and Hildy cut corners and break the law, their end goals—to deliver the news in the best way possible and to expose corruption— has a higher integrity than those of the authorities.

In the midst of all the suspense, action, corruption, and adventure of His Girl Friday is a love story between Walter and Hildy. The film is what is known as a “screwball comedy,” a film in which farcical antics, speedy dialogue, and complex plots underscore a light battle of the sexes and an ultimate heterosexual romantic plot. Throughout all of the complexities of Walter and Hildy’s mission to deliver the news, the viewer is left wondering whether or not they will end up together again. After all, from the very first scene, we know that Walter’s chief motivation for hiring Hildy to write the Earl Williams story is to win her back from Bruce Baldwin. Thus, we see that there is, in fact, something that Walter cares about more than delivering the news. Even though it may have seemed that all he ever wanted was the story, his passion for the story is matched by his desire to be reunited with Hildy. He is willing to do whatever it takes to get her back, and when she realizes just how far he has gone to win her affections, Hildy accepts him back and they live happily ever after, in true romantic comedy style. That is, until he turns their two week honeymoon into a work trip to Albany, and she’s left to carry her suitcase out of the office herself.