His Girl Friday

His Girl Friday Summary and Analysis of Part 4: The Pressroom


One of the journalists informs the mayor and Pete that the governor has issued a statement saying that there will be an uprising the following day, to which the mayor responds, “anything the governor says is a tissue of lies.” The journalist continues, saying that the governor has issued a statement calling the mayor and the sheriff “a couple of 8-year-olds playing with fire” and issuing the statement, “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.” The governor is blaming the mayor and the sheriff for Williams’ escape. The journalists laugh at the corrupt mayor’s expense. The sheriff then announces that he has a tip about where Earl is, and the group rushes downstairs. In the lobby of the courthouse, the mayor informs the sheriff that he’s replacing him on his ticket next Tuesday, and blames him for wrongly accusing Williams of sympathizing with communism. The sheriff’s misstep, according to the mayor, will cost them 200,000 votes, and his election is dependent on Earl Williams being executed.

Just then, there is a knock on the door and a man comes in with a letter from the governor, stating that he wants reprieve for Earl Williams. The mayor is furious and requests to speak to the governor on the phone. The messenger informs the mayor that the governor is duck hunting, as the sheriff reads the reprieve declaring Williams’ insanity. The mayor is furious with the sheriff and tells him he wants him to resign immediately, when suddenly the phone rings. The sheriff answers and learns that the rifle squad has Earl Williams surrounded at his house. Seeing an opportunity to still win the election and have Williams killed, the mayor tells the messenger to forget he ever delivered the reprieve. When the messenger doesn’t take the hint, the mayor offers him a job with a huge raise as a bribe. The messenger doesn’t accept the bribe, and the mayor quickly ushers him out of the office, slipping him $50, urging him to tell no one that he delivered the reprieve, and urging him to visit him the following day. After the messenger has left, the mayor tells the sheriff to order the rifle squad to “shoot to kill” and that whoever kills Williams will receive a cash reward.

We see Diamond Louie arriving at the pressroom, and Hildy scolds him for double-crossing Bruce and asks for her money. Louie hands her the counterfeit cash, and she asks for Bruce’s wallet, which he also hands over. As she packs up her stuff, Louie grabs Hildy’s briefcase, but she stops him, accusing him of intending to take it to the police and get her arrested. Afraid of getting arrested himself, Louie throws the briefcase at Hildy and rushes down the stairs. Hildy runs to the phone and starts to make a call when she is suddenly apprehended by Earl Williams, who has slipped in through the window of the pressroom. She drops the phone and stares at him, as he tells her not to tell anyone where he is. Hildy tries to calm the crazy man down, telling him that she’s going to write a story that reveals his side of the story, but as she begins to walk towards him, he tells her not to move or he’ll shoot. “You can’t trust anybody!” he exclaims, as the phone rings.

When Hildy goes to answer the phone, Earl urges her not to answer it, and tells her that he’ll shoot her if she does. “You don’t want to kill anyone,” she says calmly, and Earl agrees, close to tears. As she turns to go to the door, Earl asks what she’s doing, and she tells him that she’s closing the door so nobody sees him. “No you weren’t. You were going to get somebody. But all I want is to be left alone!” Earl exclaims. Hildy tries to calm him down, when suddenly there is a noise outside. Earl turns and fires the gun anxiously. As Hildy reaches for it and takes it from his hand, he tells her it is filled with shells, and she rushes to the door. Fearing that they will know Earl’s there, Hildy hastily closes the door and the blinds as Earl laments his sorry state. Hildy then calls Walter, but is interrupted by a call from Bruce, who tells her he is leaving her. Hildy is caught between two phone calls, one from Bruce and one from Walter, and she flies back and forth between them, on one phone informing Walter that she has Earl Williams in the pressroom, and on the other urging Bruce not to leave her.

As someone starts knocking frantically on the door of the pressroom, Hildy is forced to hang up on Bruce. It’s Mollie Malloy, who seems upset. After turning off the lights in the pressroom, Hildy lets Mollie in, and Mollie is confused about where the journalists have gone. Hildy attempts in vain to get Mollie to leave, but Mollie is determined to tell her that the rifle squad has Earl Williams surrounded. Just as Hildy gives Mollie the location of the other journalists, Earl calls out to Mollie, who is startled to realize that Earl is in the pressroom. She runs to him and he tells her he is innocent, and thanks her for the roses she sent him in jail. When Mollie tells Hildy she wants to get Earl out of there, Hildy insists that they have no chance of escaping unseen. As Hildy tries to help Earl and the hysterical Mollie strategize about what to do next, there is a knock on the door. Two of the journalists have returned and are confused about why the door is locked. Hildy helps Earl climb into a desk and closes the lid over him, and orders Mollie to pull herself together and sit in a chair nearby.

Hildy answers the door and lets the two journalists in. When they spot Mollie, they ask what’s going on, and Hildy tells them that she burst in in hysterics. The two men ask Mollie if she’s seen Earl, but she lies and says she hasn’t seen him. One of the journalists calls someone to report that the capture of Earl was a false alarm, that he wasn’t at his house as previously believed. Another journalist who has filed in gets a call with a lead that Earl is hiding near an old woman’s house. Hildy offers to hold down the pressroom for them while they go investigate, but the men are discouraged by how much it would cost to take a taxi there. One of the journalists looks out the window suspiciously and posits that Earl isn’t any of the places he’s suspected of being, and that he might very well be in the building. “Sure sure, like a duck in a shooting gallery,” Hildy jokes, hoping to set them off Earl’s trail. When they don’t take her bait, she encourages them to search the building for him, but they are unconvinced. One of them gets wise to Hildy’s urging and notes that she seems “pretty anxious to get rid of us.”

As the men put forth their theories about how Hildy is trying to get the story from them, they are interrupted by the arrival of Mrs. Baldwin, Bruce’s mother. Mrs. Baldwin launches into an angry tirade at Hildy about leaving Bruce in jail and playing “cat-and-mouse” with him. Hildy offers to go with her, but Mrs. Baldwin won’t hear of it, saying, “Just give me Bruce’s money and you can stay here forever as far as I’m concerned.” Mrs. Baldwin then reveals what Bruce told her on the phone, that Hildy apprehended a murderer. Now the journalists really get suspicious, and they begin to ask Hildy what Mrs. Baldwin means. As Hildy denies the claims, Mrs. Baldwin insists that Bruce told her that Hildy had come across the murderer. All of a sudden, Mollie speaks up, telling the men that she’s the only one who knows where Earl is. Mollie begins sobbing, scolding the men for not listening to her before, but suddenly wanting her to speak up now. Growing more and more anxious, Mollie becomes so upset that she jumps out the window, just as Walter and Louie enter the pressroom.

The men rush to the window, look down and see that Mollie is still alive, still moving. They run out of the room to get the story as Walter approaches Hildy and asks her where Earl is. When Hildy tells him, he rushes over to the desk and tells Earl to keep “sitting pretty,” before closing him back into the desk. Mrs. Baldwin, who is still in the room, asks Walter who is in the desk, and Walter is confused. Even when Hildy has told Walter who the older woman is, he is uncomfortable and orders Louie to remove Mrs. Baldwin from the office. Louie throws Mrs. Baldwin over his shoulder and carries her out, much to her alarm, as Hildy calls after them, “Don’t worry, mother, this is only temporary!” Hildy tries to get past Walter to go collect Bruce, but Walter won’t let her leave in the middle of the story. “This is war, you can’t desert me now!” he pleads with her, but she counters that she got Earl for him, that she delivered his story directly to the pressroom.

Walter will not let her go, and insists, “There are 365 days in the year one can get married! Now you’ve got a murderer locked up in a desk! Once in a lifetime.” According to Walter, this marks a revolutionary journalistic moment, and Hildy will have played a part in exposing government corruption and making way for political change. Hildy gets excited as Walter details how this story will change her career and put her in a new class of journalists. As Walter spirals into a fantasy about the glory Hildy will receive for her work, Hildy becomes impatient, motioning towards the desk in which Earl is hiding and reminding him that they have a lot to do. Walter goes to make a phone call as Hildy questions him about how they are going to transport Earl to Walter’s private office with all the policemen waiting outside. Walter calls Duffy and instructs Hildy to begin writing up the story. She scrambles for her typewriter and gets to work, as Walter instructs Duffy to prepare the entire front page for the exclusive story about the capture of Earl Williams.

As Walter gives his instructions to Duffy and Hildy gleefully types up the story, Bruce enters, flabbergasted. “Hello Bruce,” Hildy says, barely looking up from the story. Bruce tells her that he got out on bail and that he’s worried about what people in Albany will say about it. Hildy assuages his concerns about the whole thing distractedly, as Walter eggs her on to finish the story as soon as possible. Growing more and more agitated, Bruce asks Hildy where his mother went and where the $450 went. Hildy directs him to her purse and he takes the counterfeit money and the tickets to Albany. When Bruce tells her he’s going to get on the 9 o’clock train, Hildy accidentally types it into her story, and becomes annoyed. Bruce pleads with Hildy and scolds Walter for manipulating Hildy back into her job. When he tries to get her to come with him, she says, “Oh give me just a second! Can’t you see this is the biggest thing in my life?” This only upsets Bruce more, who questions why she can’t live a decent life like a human being. Hildy types and types, and Bruce finally gives up, lamenting the fact that she never loved him at all, but offering to take her back if she changes her mind and wants to join him on the 9 o’clock train. “I’m no suburban bridge player, I’m a newspaper man!” she says, distractedly typing. After Bruce leaves, Earl peeks his head out from the desk, but Walter urges him to get back inside. Someone from the paper is coming to pick them up, but they just have to stay put for 15 minutes without getting found out. Walter goes over and taps on the desk 3 times, demonstrating to Earl that that is his signal to Earl. Looking up from her story, Hildy asks what happened to Bruce, as though she has been in a complete daze. Just then, a journalist arrives at the pressroom, annoyed to find it locked. When Walter asks Hildy who it is, she informs him that it is the man whose desk Earl is hiding in. They scramble to figure out what to do next.


With the introduction of the mayor and his power struggle with the governor, all over the fate of Earl Williams, we see just how corrupt the state of politics really is. The mayor wants Earl executed and declared a killer no matter what so that he can win the election. The governor, on the other hand, wants to see that Earl is declared insane, and issues a reprieve saying just that. When the mayor tries to get in touch with the governor, he is informed that the governor is in the middle of a number of sports and leisure activities. The absence and high-brow pursuits of the governor suggest that he, like most politicians, is cut off from the actual truth of the issues which he is assumed to represent. The issue of Earl Williams is not a case to the mayor or the governor, but a political issue that can be skewed in either of their favors. We see that the mayor is a man completely devoid of a moral compass; he thinks of nothing but votes, and he is quick to try to bribe the messenger with a fancy government job in exchange for keeping quiet about the reprieve.

Unlike the politicians who are abstracted from the issues with which they are involved and alienated from their own ethical centers, Hildy, a brave journalist with ethical integrity, confronts the truth quite literally when Earl Williams comes and visits her in the pressroom at the courthouse. Shaking and anxious, Earl is evidently distressed, crazed and alone. While the politicians are seeking a way to politicize Earl’s case and the journalists are seeking a way to editorialize it, Hildy is the only person with the true knowledge of Earl Williams’ plight. She can see clearly that he is both vulnerable and insane, and as she stands in the pressroom, nervous that he might shoot her should she make the wrong move, she is forced to confront her own journalistic subject in all its rawness and vulnerability. Standing there at gunpoint, Hildy must use her wits to collect herself and defend herself against the insane criminal whose life she is trying to save with her story.

Hildy is bound for the life of the journalist in this section of the film. In spite of her desire to escape from the city with Bruce into a life of domestic bliss, she keeps running after and finding herself in the middle of the action. Her position caught “in between” the life of journalism and the life of marriage is comedically represented when Bruce calls her just as she is calling Walter to tell him that she’s found Earl Williams. Darting ridiculously between telephones, Hildy has to simultaneously convince Bruce to keep waiting for her at the jail, even though she has far exceeded her estimated 20 minute arrival time, and get Walter to come meet her at the pressroom. Rosalind Russell’s intelligent and quick acting style perfectly shows the tension between her two desires, yet it is clear to the audience that Bruce doesn’t stand a chance against the life of a journalist. No matter how dogged Hildy is in her pursuit of a regular life, she is completely incapable of peeling herself away from her journalistic vocation.

Hildy's inability to leave behind her work as a journalist is partially due to the pleasure that the work itself brings—it is an opportunity for her to demonstrate her innate ingenuity, intuition, and intelligence—but also because of the glory it promises to bring her. In order to get Hildy to stay in the pressroom with him, Walter outlines all of the ways that her having found Earl will make her famous. He says, “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.’” In this monologue, Walter not only details his own admiration for Hildy’s work as a journalist, but also outlines the accolades that will accompany that work. It is notable that, for the times in which the film takes place, these accolades are ones that would typically be awarded to a man. The fame that Walter offers to Hildy is the fame and glory that would be not only exceptional for any person, but especially exceptional for a woman. In this way, the glory with which Walter seduces Hildy into staying is in direct contrast to the life with Bruce that Hildy so assuredly has said she wants. Life with Bruce would mean holing up and living a simple life in the country, with no aspirations to glory. As Walter frames it, a life with him at the paper promises an ascension to near immortality and a social recognition rarely afforded to women.

Director Howard Hawks mounts the tension and the suspense to delightful effect in this portion of the film. While the action of the narrative has hitherto unfolded at a slower pace, here it begins to really pick up. Earl Williams is hiding in a desk in the pressroom, the story promises to reverse government corruption once and for all, and Walter has convinced his best writer and the love of his life, Hildy Johnson, to work on the story. Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell possess a snappy and scrappy chemistry, each of them displaying a mental quickness and verve that invites the audience to take pleasure in their tasks and root for their reunion. In casting such appealing lead actors, Hawks shows the audience just how fun and exhilarating the life of a newspaperman can be. Hildy and Walter deliver rapid-fire exchanges before setting to work, Walter releasing the headline while Hildy types up the story on the typewriter. The camera zooms in on Walter as he gives his instructions about the exclusive to Duffy over the phone. This confluence of high stakes and classic screwball farce make for a thrilling narrative.