Script: Ben Hecht
Walter Burns: Cary Grant
Hildegard (Hildy) Johnson: Rosalind Russell
Bruce Baldwin: Ralph Bellamy
Bruce's mother, Mrs. Baldwin
Sheriff Peter B. Hartwell
Mr. Eiglehoffer, the psychologist
an ace reporter, comes to see her ex-husband Walter Burns, the editor of The Morning
Post. They have been divorced for four months, and now she has some surprising
news for Walter: she is getting married again, tomorrow. Her husband-to-be is
Bruce Baldwin, an insurance salesman. Hildy wants to leave the newspaper business,
she says, and settle down as a normal person leading a normal lifestyle. As Walter's
wife she didn't even get a honeymoon, much less a home. Walter decides he will
stop the wedding and win Hildy back.
He plans to delay the wedding by convincing Hildy to write the story of the upcoming execution of Earl Williams.
Earl Williams is a condemned criminal convicted of killing an African-American (colored) policeman. Since much of the town is African-American, the mayor wants to execute Earl Williams, satisfy the citizens, and thus secure his own re-election. The Morning Post, Walter Burns's paper, opposes the Mayor and his corrupt government and wants to see them ousted from office. They believe Earl Williams is insane, and ought to be pardoned.
takes Bruce and Hildy out to lunch and offers them a deal: he will buy a 100,000
dollar life insurance policy, thereby giving Bruce a commission of 1,000 dollars,
and in exchange, Hildy can write the story of Earl Williams. If everything works
out, Hildy and Bruce will leave for Albany on the 6:00 train. Bruce and Hildy
agree. Of course, Walter makes a few plans. After Bruce has written out the insurance
papers, Walter sends Louie, a small-time criminal, after Bruce.
In the meantime, Hildy interviews Earl Williams. He is confused and frightened, having been harassed by the police and the expert psychologists for months, and is now more-or-less crazy. After Hildy returns to the press room to write the interview, Molly Malone comes in. Molly was friendly to Earl Williams and let him stay in her room one night when he didn't have anywhere else to go. She has been a witness in his favor at the trial. The press has called her Earl's girlfriend, although actually she isn't, and have made some unpleasant remarks about her character. When she comes into the room the other reporters are very cruel to her, making fun of her and Earl. Hildy kindly escorts her out, and then gets a call from Bruce.
Bruce has been arrested by the police for stealing a watch. The accuser is none other than Diamond Louie. Hildy pays the bail and asks Bruce to wait in the taxicab while she phones Walter. She calls Walter, rips up her story and tells him the deal is off--but just then Earl Williams escapes. All the reporters rush out of the room, and Hildy can't help it--deep in her heart she is a dedicated newspaperwoman, so she runs out too. She tackles one of the Sheriff's deputies and pays him all the money she's got--Bruce's 450 dollars--to get the story of Earl Williams's escape.
Hildy returns to the pressroom,
phones Walter, and gives him the story: the psychologist asked Earl to reenact
the crime. The sheriff gave the psychologist his gun to aid in the reenactment,
and the psychologist handed it to Earl. Earl shot the psychologist and escaped.
Walter thanks Hildy and promises to send her 450 dollars. Then he sends a prostitute
to get Bruce in trouble and 450 in counterfeit money to Hildy.
While Hildy is waiting for the money, the reporters return to the pressroom. The mayor comes in, and the reporters question him, but he will say nothing. The sheriff tells the press that Earl Williams has been seen in his old apartment. The mayor and the sheriff step into another room, and are arguing about the Earl's escape when Joseph Pettibone, a messenger from the governor comes with a reprieve for Earl. The mayor bribes Mr. Pettibone and sends him out as news comes over the phone that Earl Williams has been surrounded in his old apartment. The mayor orders that the police gunmen shoot to kill.
Diamond Louie comes into the empty pressroom, gives Hildy the counterfeit money, and leaves. Earl Williams appears only moments later. Hildy hides him under a table, and just then Molly returns to ask where Earl is. Together Hildy and Molly hide Earl in a desk, and then Hildy calls Walter to tell him the news. Bruce's mother walks in at the same time the reporters return. The reporters harass both Hildy and Molly, and Mrs. Baldwin shouts at Hildy and tells her she needn't go with them to Albany. Molly is confused and suicidal already. To protect Earl, she jumps out the window. The reporters rush out to see if she is alive or dead. Walter gets Louie to take Mrs. Baldwin away and talks Hildy into staying until the problem of what to do with Earl Williams has been settled: "it's the biggest story of your career!" he says. "You'll be responsible for throwing out a corrupt city government! They'll name streets after you!." Hildy is convinced and begins writing the story.
is writing, Bruce walks in. He is angry because he's had to wire for the bail
money from Albany, instead of getting it from Hildy. Distractedly she hands him
the counterfeit money Louie has given to her. Bruce asks Hildy whether she will
go with him or not on the train, but she is too wrapped up in the story to answer.
Bruce leaves, and not until he's gone does Hildy realize what she's done.
Then Diamond Louie comes back to the pressroom: he was in a traffic accident with the police, and Mrs. Baldwin was injured, or maybe killed. Seeing as he hit a police car, and he is a known criminal, Louie didn't stay to find out whether or not Mrs. Baldwin was all right. Louie leaves and Hildy calls the local hospitals. The pressmen return again, this time with Bruce's mother and the police. She accuses Walter of having her kidnapped, and the both of them of harboring a murderer. The Sheriff and the Mayor come in, and Earl Williams is discovered hiding in the desk. Bruce comes back and finds his mother, and the two of them leave. Hildy and Walter are arrested for obstructing justice, and it seems they will certainly go to jail when Mr. Pettibone comes back. He doesn't want a job with the city government, and he delivers the reprieve to the mayor in front of Hildy and Walter. They are released, and the mayor apologizes to them.
Now Hildy can go catch Bruce and explain all. Walter urges her to go--he says he loves her, but only Bruce can give her the kind of life she wants. She starts to leave reluctantly. But just as she gets to the door, a phone call comes: Bruce is in jail again, this time for having counterfeit money. Hildy hangs up, breaks down and cries.
"I thought you were sending me away with Bruce. I thought you didn't want me. I didn't know you had him locked up."
"Whaddya think I am, a chump?" answers Walter.
Walter tells Hildy they can get married again, and Hildy happily agrees. They will go to Niagara Falls for their honeymoon--but his assistant editor, to whom he is speaking on the phone, tells Walter there is a strike in Albany. Hildy resignedly agrees to go to Albany for her honeymoon. "Maybe Bruce can put us up," says Walter cheerfully as he swings out the door.
His Girl Friday was originally a stage play, and it shows: the film's humor comes from the quick, overlapping, brilliant dialogue by Ben Hecht, who specialized in portraying witty and humorous characters just one step removed from actual criminality. Because it was staged before it was filmed, there are only two or three settings for most of the action, and the phone is crucial to the plot. Also in keeping with its origins, the director primarily uses medium shots punctuated by a few closeups and long shots for effect.
The surprising ending, in which Hildy
confesses that she doesn't want to go with Bruce, makes us wonder how much she
is responsible for all the trouble Bruce has experienced. Maybe somewhere deep
in her heart she knew that resisting would make Walter keep trying to win her
back. Walter has not been manipulating her, she has been manipulating him! The
two seem to be better suited to each other than to anybody else.