Mollie Malloy confronts the journalists about their having published a story that said that she loves Earl Williams and said she was “willing to marry him on the gallows.” This is untrue, she says, but the men continue playing cards and insist that “everybody knows you’re his girlfriend.” Mollie protests, telling them that she approached Earl in the park on the rainy day before the shooting because he didn’t have a hat or an umbrella, and she invited him up to her room because she felt sorry for him. Hildy listens to Mollie as she grows more and more upset about the memory, typing on a typewriter all the while. Mollie insists to the men that she and Earl did not have a physical relationship of any kind, and that they simply talked, Earl telling her his story and leaving the next morning. Sobbing, Mollie then reveals that she next saw Earl at the trial and that she was his witness, and that Earl is one of the only men who has ever treated her with any respect. The men don’t pay Mollie any mind, and suddenly she rushes to the window, where she sees them preparing the noose for his execution. “Shame on you! A poor little fellow that never meant anybody no harm!” she yells, before the men usher her out of the office. Hildy takes Mollie’s arm and escorts her out.
The men sit in silence, when suddenly the phone rings. One of the picks it up, and it’s someone calling for Hildy. He tells the caller that Hildy will be back in a minute, and the men decide to stop playing cards. Hildy reenters and simply says “Gentlemen of the press,” sarcastically, before one of the men hands her the phone. It’s Bruce, who delivers apparently disturbing news. Hildy hastily hangs up and rushes out of the room, as the sheriff enters. The sheriff, named Pete, wanders over to the men and tells them that he has tickets for the hanging. One of the men asks why the hanging cannot happen at 5 rather than 7AM. When Pete tells him that he cannot simply change the time to appease the journalists, they confront him about the fact that they already delayed the execution so that it would fall three days before the upcoming election. “What if they find Earl Williams insane?” one asks, but Pete assures them that no such discovery will be made. Pete distributes tickets as the men tease him.
The scene shifts and we see Bruce behind bars, telling Hildy that he has been accused of stealing a watch, which he most certainly didn't do. When Hildy insists that the prison guard let Bruce out, he tells Hildy that they found a stolen watch on Bruce’s person, and thus cannot let him out. Hildy confronts the guard, insisting that the man that accused Bruce of stealing the watch, “Diamond Louie” (the associate of Walter’s) is “the biggest crook in town.” As Bruce insists that he’s innocent, Hildy persuades the guard to let Bruce out. The scene shifts to Hildy and Bruce in the back of a car, with Bruce wondering how he ended up in jail. Hildy asks him if he still has the check in his hat, and he laughs and pulls it out, calling her made up instruction a “funny superstition.” Suddenly, Bruce frantically realizes that he no longer has his wallet, handing Hildy the check as she assures him that she has their money. “Don’t worry about it, Bruce,” Hildy says, “You’ll find lots of things missing.” When they arrive at the pressroom, Hildy urges Bruce to stay in the car, that she will go up herself, and that she intends for them to be on the next train to Albany.
In the pressroom, the journalists read Hildy’s story sitting on her typewriter, which details Earl’s insanity and the toll that his execution will take on the poor, wayward Mollie Malloy. They are impressed with Hildy’s writing, and agree that she cannot possibly give up her journalism career to marry a guy in the insurance business. As one of them bets against Hildy’s marriage, Hildy enters briskly, saying, “I’ll take that bet.” She picks up the phone and calls Walter, as the man explains himself, that their betting against her marriage has to do with her being such a good reporter. When Walter picks up the phone, she tells him that she got the interview and then tells him to write down the next bit of news she has to report, before saying, “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 20 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.” She tells him that she’s mad because he had Louie frame Bruce for stealing that watch, before decisively ripping up the story she just wrote and hanging up the phone. “And that, my friends, is my farewell to the newspaper game!” she exclaims, as she puts on her coat and tells them that she plans to get married and have children. Walter calls back, but Hildy rips the phone out of the wall.
The scene shifts to a waiting room where Dr. Eggelhoffer is examining Earl Williams. Pete enters and apologizes for his lateness, complaining about the newspapermen. Dr. Eggelhoffer tells Pete that he would like to honor an interview that the newspaper requested, but Pete discourages him, telling the doctor that he is the one who is supposed to correspond with the press. Eggelhoffer recommends a joint interview with Pete, to which Pete agrees, and Earl complains that he is getting very tired and wants to go back to jail. Eggelhoffer tells Earl that he has some further questioning and asks Pete to lower the lights for more questioning. When Eggelhoffer asks Earl who he thinks is responsible for the murder, Earl insists that he is innocent.
Back in the pressroom, Hildy says her goodbyes to the men, but as she gloats about her future happiness, a series of gunshots go off outside. The men and Hildy rush to the window, where they see that a jailbreak is taking place. Someone from the street calls up to them, telling them that Earl has escaped. They frantically run to the phones and make calls before sprinting out of the room, as Hildy watches. After they have left, she goes to the phone herself and calls Walter, frantically telling him that Earl has escaped and she’s on the story. She sprints out of the room as sirens blare and cops pile into the streets. Hildy runs across the street, through a stream of police cars and runs after a frightened man, the warden she paid off earlier, and eventually springs at and tackles him. “I need to talk to you!” she tells him as he lies on the ground, helpless.
In the pressroom, a series of phones begin ringing. One of the journalists runs in and answers, giving the full scoop on what happened: Earl was being examined by Dr. Eggelhoffer, when he suddenly shot his way out, escaping through the skylight in the infirmary. Another journalist rushes in and dictates his own story. Pete, the sheriff, enters and presents a document, becoming visibly upset when he realizes that the journalists are breaking the full story. Pete rushes out, and another journalist gets on the phone. As more gunshots are fired outside, Hildy rushes into the pressroom and calls Walter. Once through, she tells him that she has the full exclusive story of how Earl got the gun, that she had to pay the warden $450 for the story but she got it. Walter is overjoyed and wants to hear the full story, but Hildy tells him that the money she spent for the story was Bruce’s and she needs to get it back. Snickering that Hildy is evidently much more invested in journalism than she is in her engagement, Walter tells her that she’ll get the money back soon enough, and she tells him what happened. Eggelhoffer was giving Earl a final sanity test and decided to recreate the crime completely as it happened. Pete, the sheriff, provided Earl with a gun for the re-creation, and Earl shot the doctor. Hildy and Walter laugh at the stupidity of the event, with Hildy adding that Eggelhoffer is recovering at the hospital.
Hildy then asks after the $450 she is owed for the story, telling Walter that Bruce is waiting for her in a cab downstairs. Walter instructs a seductive looking blonde woman in the office talking to Diamond Louie to go visit Bruce in his cab and then asks Louie to deliver $450 in counterfeit money to Hildy immediately. A few moments after Walter and Hildy hang up, Hildy receives a call from Bruce, who informs her that he’s been arrested again for being seen with the woman who Walter sent to his cab. Hildy immediately recognizes Bruce’s arrest as once again devised by Walter, and becomes furious. She tells Bruce that she would come and get him in 20 minutes but she has to wait for her money to arrive. After she hangs up the phone, the mayor arrives, and a group of journalists press him for the story of Earl’s escape. He remains tight-lipped, and when they ask if Earl’s escape will have an effect on the upcoming election, he insists, “How can an unavoidable misfortune like this have any influence on the upright citizens of our fair city!” The journalists roll their eyes at his political maneuverings. As Sherrif Pete enters, the journalists prod him and the mayor even more, asking if there will be a “red uprising” the next day, and pressing them about their using the Earl Williams case for their own political machinations.
The intrusion of Mollie Malloy introduces some of the first earnest emotional moments into the film. While the film has largely been a witty and fast-paced romp, filled with verbal games, white lies, and playful machinations, Mollie’s position in the narrative is high stakes and dramatic. She is worried about the fate of Earl Williams, a man who was decent to her and treated her with respect, and whom she believes is being unfairly treated for his crime. Her emotional and hysterical presence in the pressroom reorients the entire atmosphere. While the men have previously been snakily playing a relentless game of cards, fedoras cocked and cigarettes hanging out of their mouths, when Mollie leaves the room, crying that she has been misrepresented by the press and that it will negatively affect Earl’s fate, they decide to pack up the card game and are rendered momentarily speechless. Mollie’s victimhood is genuinely upsetting, and we see this in the effect she has on the normally glib and indifferent journalists.
Thus we see that Hildy has the opportunity to make a difference in accurately depicting the story of Earl Williams and Mollie Malloy. Mollie’s anger with the newspapermen is that they have depicted her as having an unsavory relationship with Earl Williams, when in reality, she simply took pity on him and listened to his story the day before he shot the policeman. In pursuit of a good story, they portrayed Mollie in a negative light, and she has come to scold them about it. Thus, in writing the story that proves Earl’s insanity and saves him from execution, Hildy also has the opportunity to protect Mollie’s reputation and tell the truth. Even if Hildy knows how to hold her own in the boys’ room and play the politics of the journalism business, her commitment to getting to the heart of the story and telling the truth is stronger. She might be able to get by in the dog-eat-dog world of the press, but she has high moral standards. Her simple and sarcastic utterance, “gentlemen of the press,” upon reentering the pressroom after escorting Mollie out, speaks to her investment in the integrity of journalism. She doesn’t just want the “good story,” she wants the true one.
It turns out that the corruption at play in the Earl Williams case runs deep. When Pete enters the pressroom, he delivers tickets to Earl’s hanging, as though it were a stage show. One of the men asks why the hanging has to be so late in the day, and why it can’t be at 5. The casualness and complacency with which the men talk about the life of a man is comical and highlights the indifference that people feel towards impactful events. The execution of a man who may in fact be able to plead insanity is not a big deal to the justice system and the people who follow it. A hanging has been politicized rather than recognized for the dramatic event that it is. The newspapermen confront Pete about the fact that a series of reprieves were issued so that the hanging would take place three days before the election, thus ensuring the black vote (as the police officer who was killed was black). This moment shows the fact that many people have lost their sense of objectivity, in large part because the justice system has. Because the justice department sees the execution as beneficial to an election, the newspapermen are also forced to look at the story in a more political way, as a watchable event, almost an entertainment, rather than a real human issue with real human stakes. This tension, between the corruptibility of society, and the need to maintain journalistic integrity in order to set a proper moral standard, is at the heart of the film.
While the film deals with some heavy themes—insanity, crime, homicide, corruption, and politics—it does so always with a light touch. Firstly, the dialogue is always exceedingly witty, fast-paced and intelligent. Director Howard Hawks intentionally had the actors talk over one another, as he believed that this way of talking was true to life, in which no one waits their turn to speak. Hawks is quoted as saying, “So we wrote the dialogue in a way that made the beginnings and ends of sentences unnecessary; they were there for overlapping.” Indeed, The journalists speak to each other with clever one-liners at a rapid-fire pace. Hildy’s dismissive speech to Walter over the phone is delivered at an impressive and exterminating speed that strikes a comedic tone. She unloads her contempt for him with a cool detachment that startles the men in the room and shows just how no-nonsense she is. Hildy is not one to be trifled with, and she is determined to escape the tawdry world of journalism and become a devoted wife and mother. While one can hardly imagine such a tough and adventurous journalist feeling solely satisfied with a life of child-rearing, she maintains a strong conviction that she needs to escape the fate of a newspaperman. In this way, her journey is a comedic one, in that all she wants is stability, but she is constantly being called back to her work as a journalist. Hildy’s situation is an ironic one, contradictory and without easy solution.
Earl’s escape only heightens the comic dimensions of the film. Just as it seems that Hildy will be able to escape the clutches of journalism and leave the city, a symphony of gunshots ring out, as Earl has escaped from police supervision. The journalists wait at the window and call down to the people below, dodging rogue gunshots in order to get the new story. Even though bullets are flying, the scene takes on a farcical quality, as we see the men peeking over the windowsill expectantly, risking their lives for a chance at a good story. When the men learn that Earl has escaped, we see them all on the telephone, shot in short cuts, frantically calling people, trying to break the story. Howard Hawks depicts the frantic, chaotic, and bumbling world of print journalism, in which people fight mercilessly for their chance to get the byline. In creating a chaotic and farcical scene, he highlights the alternately exciting and comical elements of the newspaper business. The men run out of the room, more excitable than they have been the whole movie, as Hildy watches them, seemingly torn. The most comedic moment comes when we see that she is hardly torn and she runs out of the pressroom: the emergence of a new story is far more exciting to Hildy than the prospect of getting back in the cab with Bruce.