His Girl Friday

His Girl Friday Summary and Analysis of Part 2: Earl Williams


Walter is surprised to hear that the new couple will be leaving New York in two hours and spills his drink down the front of his suit. Standing, he calls for a waiter and walks over to Gus. As Gus wipes the front of Walter’s suit, Walter whispers to him, “Call me to the telephone as soon as I get back to the table.” When he returns to the table, Walter confirms with Bruce that he and Hildy are getting married the following day. Just then, Gus interrupts them (per Walter’s order) to summon Walter to the telephone. Walter feigns surprise, and excuses himself. Left alone, Bruce tells Hildy that he can see why Walter isn’t a match for her, but that he isn’t so bad. “He’s got a lot of charm,” Bruce says, to which Hildy responds, “Well, he comes by it naturally, his grandfather was a snake.” We see Walter in the phone booth calling Duffy. He asks Duffy if they can prevent the 4 o’clock train to Albany from leaving town. When Duffy tells him that this is probably not possible, Walter tells him to send Sweeney on a two-week vacation and informs him that while “she doesn’t know it yet,” Hildy is coming back to work for the paper. He also tells him to make sure that Louie sticks around the office, before hanging up.

Walter returns to the table and informs the couple that he just received bad news on the Earl Williams case; Williams is a man who recently lost his job and then shot a cop. Bruce says, “Well if he was out of his mind when he did it, why doesn’t the state just put him away?” Hildy and Walter inform Bruce that the victim of the murder happened to be “colored,” so it could skew the “colored vote” in the upcoming election. When Bruce suggests that there must be some way to show that Williams was out of his mind at the time, Walter insists that it isn’t so easy. “Maybe it isn’t so hard, either,” says Hildy, knowingly, before suggesting that they get an interview with Earl Williams for the paper, and alongside it run a statement from the specialist who examines him, in order to prove that he is insane. Seeing his opportunity, Walter insists that Hildy do the story herself, but she insists that she has to leave town. When Bruce asks how long the interview will take, Walter tells him it will only take about two hours. “Hildy, we could take the 6 o’clock train if it’d save a man’s life,” says Bruce, but Hildy insists that Walter can do it himself. When Walter counters that this kind of article needs a “woman’s touch,” she tells him that Sweeney can do it, but he informs her that Sweeney is missing after getting drunk to celebrate the birth of his twin children.

Walter urges Hildy to work on the story, suggesting that if she leaves town, a man will be executed. He levels with Bruce, saying that if they go to get married, he will have blood on his hands. Hildy interrupts Walter’s histrionics, mentioning that she just remembered that Sweeney only got married 4 months ago and so couldn’t possibly be having twins. Walter laughs and admits that he bluffed, before unfolding another proposition for the couple, outlining a business plan for the article that involves taking out a large policy from Bruce’s insurance company. While Bruce doesn’t feel comfortable with the arrangement, this idea convinces Hildy. She rushes to get changed and tells her companions that she’ll be in the press room at the criminal courts building. Before leaving, she tells Walter to make sure he writes Bruce a certified check. When Walter walks away, Hildy whispers to Bruce, asking him to give her the $500 that they have between the two of them. While Bruce is hesitant at first, she insists that she will handle it and get the tickets, and that if he keeps it, Walter will try and get it in a craps game or something. He eventually agrees to give her the money, reminding her, “it’s everything we have in the world.” They are interrupted by Walter, who asks Bruce for some cash, but Bruce tells him that he just gave everything he had to Hildy. Walter goes to tip the waiter and Hildy and Bruce go on their way.

The scene shifts to a group of men gambling around a table at the pressroom at the criminal courts. A phone rings and one of the men answers. Another speaks on the phone discussing the fact that Earl Williams is going to be interviewed. One of the gamblers asks, “Is this guy Eggelhoffer any good?” referring to the specialist who is going to examine Earl Williams to determine whether or not he is insane. The men are evidently gambling around the table about the Earl Williams case, and one of the gamblers takes a call while eavesdropping on another phone call nearby. The man on the phone discusses the fact that hundreds of new employees have been hired to suppress radicals from rioting and protesting following the court ruling. Hildy enters and greets the men, who all treat her with affection and admiration. When they ask her what she’s doing there, she assures them that this is her last journalistic endeavor, and that she is getting married the following day. One of the men questions whether or not Hildy is joking with them, but she assures them that she is getting married, producing the tickets to Albany from her pocket. “I’m through with the newspaper business,” she laughs. The men joke that Hildy seems ill-suited for the role of doting wife.

Suddenly, a bell chimes, which startles Hildy, and she asks if it’s the central school. The men question her interest in the bell, to which she responds, “Just thought it might be a good fire, that’s all.” She approaches the window with one of the men, and looks down to see some policemen preparing the gallows for an execution. One of the men asks Hildy if Walter knows that she is getting married, and she assures him that she just had lunch with Walter, and that she needs to get the scoop on Earl Williams. “Did he know what he was doing when he fired that gun?” she asks the men assembled. The men tell her that Earl Williams was a bookkeeper, that his business went under, and that he abruptly lost his job. As the men play cards, another journalist informs Hildy that after Earl was fired, he began hanging out in the park and listening to preachers and other zealots, which led him to commit his violent act. The scene shifts and we see Walter getting examined by a doctor in his office, while Bruce sits nearby at a desk, filling out a form. When Walter asks Bruce how the paperwork is going, Bruce asks him who the beneficiary is on the insurance package, in case of Walter’s death. Walter responds, “Well, Hildy of course!” which makes Bruce uncomfortable. When Bruce insists that he wants to take care of Hildy, Walter tells him that he will still be able to, but that he can consider Hildy’s status as Walter’s beneficiary as a kind of repayment for his having been such a bad husband to her. He then launches into a dramatic monologue about the fact that he wants to make Hildy his beneficiary so that she can be well taken care of in her old age.

Duffy enters and shakes his head at Walter’s theatrics, as Bruce blows his nose, clearly moved by Walter’s profession of devotion to Hildy. Bruce feels as though he came between Hildy and Walter in some way, but Walter assures him that while he will always carry a torch for Hildy, she knew she didn’t want him before she even met Bruce. Duffy interrupts to ask Walter if he can talk to him and Walter excuses himself. In the hall, Duffy hands Walter a certified check for $2500. Walter brings the check into his office and gives it to Bruce, who says, “I’m afraid Hildy will be ashamed to think she never trusted you,” as he takes the check. Walter calls Hildy at the criminal courts and hands the phone to Bruce. Over the phone, Bruce tells Hildy that he has the check, and she urges him not to carry the check around in his pocket, that “there’s an old newspaper superstition, that the first big check you get you put in the lining of your hat.” The journalists sitting around the table look at one another skeptically; it is clear that Hildy is bluffing to Bruce, but it is unclear why. Bruce agrees, and puts the money in his hat, which Walter spies from the window in the hall outside the office, along with Louie, the gambler from the first scene. Bruce hangs up and leaves Walter’s office, thanking him for everything. Louie follows him out.

The scene shifts to Hildy entering the jail where Earl Williams is being kept and asking the warden if she can interview him. The warden tells her that Williams isn’t giving any interviews, at which point Hildy bribes him by dropping $20 on the ground in front of him. He lets her in to meet Earl, who is being kept in a small cell. Grabbing a chair, Hildy sits beside the cell and asks Earl some questions. The scene shifts to the middle of their interview, as Earl Williams assures Hildy that he is not insane, and that he didn’t actually kill the policeman, that it was an accident and he isn’t guilty. Hildy asks him about how he spent his time after losing his job, and Earl tells him that he spent some time just wandering around, going to the park. She follows up by asking if he ever listened to the men who give speeches in the park, asking if he remembers anything in particular. Earl tells her about one man who talked about the fact that “everything should be made use of.” Hildy then asks him if he can recall what he was thinking about when the policeman approached him, and he tells her he doesn’t know. “What’s a gun for?” she asks him, to which he responds, “To shoot of course.” When she suggests that perhaps that is why he used it, and that perhaps he was thinking of the usefulness of the gun in relation to what the man in the park had preached about, Earl begins to agree. “There’s nothing crazy about that, is there?” he asks Hildy, and she agrees. She then asks who sent Earl the flowers in his cell, and he tells her that it was a woman named Mollie Malloy. Time is up, and Hildy is dismissed. She wishes Earl good luck and leaves.

We see the men gambling around the table in the pressroom, as they wonder what the newspaper is going to do without Hildy. One of the men recalls that Walter does not treat people who want to leave the paper very well; apparently, Walter had one journalist who wanted to go to Hollywood thrown in jail. “Who’s she marrying?” one of the men asks, and another announces that he doesn’t think the marriage will last more than 6 months, because she won’t be able to stay away from the newspaper business that long. The men all fantasize about leaving journalism and taking a normal job, when Mollie Malloy walks into the office. She is angry with them about the article they released about her, and she begins to get angry with them. Hildy enters and sits down at a desk nearby, listening to the argument.


In order to keep Hildy in town, Walter must devise an elaborate scheme, while also connecting that scheme to a time-sensitive public matter of the utmost importance. In enlisting her to write the Earl Williams piece for the paper, he assures that she will stay in town long enough for him to convince her to come back to him. Thus are the strategic lengths to which the silver-tongued newspaperman Walter is willing to go in order to win back his wife. Additionally, Walter knows intuitively that Hildy’s first love is journalism, and that a few hours on the case will likely make her want to return to working at the paper. A curious element of the film is the fact that Walter not only wants his wife back, but also his best journalist. It is as though the role of wife and the role of “newspaperman” are conflated in some way, that they are almost interchangeable. Thus, Walter knows that if he convinces Hildy to want to come back to working for the paper, that will also mean that he has convinced her to be his wife again.

His Girl Friday, in its examination of journalism and the backstory behind current events, seeks to expose the politics and behind-the-scenes conditions of the courts and high profile criminal cases, as well as the journalists who cover them. The fact that journalists depend on politicians and other institutions is first alluded to in the first section, when we see Walter throwing the paper’s support behind a Republican candidate for one day so as to secure funding, in spite of the paper having Democratic leanings. The political nature of journalism is further revealed when we are invited into the pressroom at the criminal courts, where men sit around a table gambling about the Earl Williams case. They each take phone calls for updates on the case, as they smoke and play cards around the table. The news and the courtroom are literally turned into gambling houses, where things could always skew another way. The news and the law are always a gamble, the film suggests. Walter and Hildy, in their desire to affect the outcome of the court case and bring justice to the insane Earl Williams—saving him from an unjust execution—hope to shine light on the truth and cut through the politics of journalism and the justice system.

While Hildy has been a steely and self-assured presence in the film up until this point, determined to leave the newspaper business once and for all, we begin to see in this section her investment in the field and her innate journalistic curiosity. For one thing, she is very friendly with the group of male journalists who work at the paper, and is at ease holding her own with them in their teasing and familiar conversations. Additionally, she is highly attuned and sensitive to any sign of a good story that presents itself to her. While it had seemed like Walter had to work to convince her to take the Earl Williams case, once she is at the pressroom, she begins to fall back into her old patterns. The sound of a bell nearby immediately gets her wondering if there might be a news story attached. “What do you care? You quit,” they say to her, to which she responds, “Just thought it might be a good fire, that’s all.” Only a true journalist could hear an alarm bell and imagine a story; indeed, only a true journalist could even conceive of a “good fire.” A disaster to someone else is an editorial dream to a journalist on the clock, and the viewer begins to get the feeling that Hildy is a born journalist, just as Walter suggested.

Another way that Walter begins to manipulate matters so that Hildy will want to return to him is by professing his devotion to Hildy in theatrical ways to Bruce. After informing Bruce that he wants Hildy to be his beneficiary in the case of his death, Walter launches into a dramatic speech about his desire for Hildy to be well taken care of in old age, demonstrating for Bruce his enduring commitment to Hildy’s well-being. Even if this monologue is overwrought and disingenuous, it convinces Bruce, who ends up wiping tears from his eyes and worrying that he has created a division between the formerly married couple. By emotionally manipulating Bruce, Walter seeks to convince Bruce of his devotion for Hildy. He also seeks to show Bruce that he is worth trusting, even though his motives are nothing if not ulterior. Bruce is an easy target, a simple man who doesn’t want to create any conflict. At the sight of Walter’s professed devotion for Hildy, Bruce is so moved that he forfeits his own feelings for his fiancé, which suggests that it will not be terribly difficult for Walter to win Hildy back; Walter virtually has Bruce’s permission already.

Indeed, journalism and the law are each depicted as corruptible and political spaces. After Bruce puts the check for $2500 in his hat on Hildy’s orders, Walter sends Louie, a gambler, to follow him. Then when Hildy goes to interview Earl Williams, the warden initially won’t let her meet with the criminal, but is easily bribed with $20. In order to be a good journalist, the film suggests, one need not only be smart and good at finding the right story, but one must also have ingenuity for getting through closed doors, making a buck, and getting the information one needs. In a corrupt system, a journalist has to be willing to bribe and use oblique means for extracting the information that’s needed. Underlying Hildy and Walter’s schemes are their desires to break a story that might save a man’s life. In this respect, their motives are pure, but their tactics are scrappy and dishonest. In the world of journalism, one must do what it takes to do the right thing.