You Complete Me
Think about what keeps couples together. Is it their shared interests? Do they have children? Do they own a successful business together? Or do they have similar drives and goals? Now, think about what drives couples apart: dissimilar interests, children, running a business, or different goals in life? Finally, examine the relationship between Walter Burns and Hildy Johnson in His Girl Friday. Despite the film throwing various obstacles in their way, they end up back together, out of necessity, not being able to help themselves be attracted to one another. The film is actively attempting to prove to the viewer that nothing will keep Walter and Hildy separated; fate demands their pairing.
In the first view minutes of the film, as we are introduced to Hildegard (Hildy) and her new fiancé, the insurance salesman Bruce, it is made immediately obvious that Hildy is made of a higher calibre than Bruce; both in class and ambition. Bruce is timid, always seems to be checking up on Hildy, as well as subconsciously checking in on himself, as he knows he isn’t good enough for her. Hildy, on the other hand, is an ambitious career journalist, with wit and drive and spunk that privies her to sink her teeth into exciting news stories. As both Bruce and Hildy are introduced, while this is a black and white film, Hildy seems to receive an extra sheen of light in her close-ups; literally glowing with personality. The purpose of their introduction and journey into the newspaper offices is to finally say goodbye to Hildy’s ex-husband and boss, Walter.
Similar to Hildy, Walter is the rude-mannered, hot-headed, alter ego to Hildy. As a top editor at the newspaper, The Morning Post, Walter is eccentric and brash, but certainly passionate about his job. To which he is equally passionate about Hildy. Recently divorced, the apparent power couple clearly still have quite the attraction to one another, so much so that Hildy went out of her way to say goodbye to Walter, when her and Bruce are scheduled to leave town by train within two hours of the film’s beginning. Walter and Hildy’s divorce seems to be predicated on the suspicion that Walter was too concerned with work, and Hildy had been driven to the point of exhaustion. Walter expresses that he is disappointed that he couldn’t give her the children she wanted, or slow down enough to find a settling point. This bothers him to the point that he does two things: 1) feel bad enough about it that we wants to give Hildy some kind of meaningful and happy life at the paper, and 2) basically manipulate Hildy into wanting to continue working at the paper. At first glance, it may appear malicious to manipulate a former spouse into continue working for you, but as we’ll see later on in the film, he and Hildy fit so well together, that I think it ends up being justified. And he doesn’t even have to scheme very hard in order for it to work.
When Walter does find out that Hildy is moving away with Bruce to start a life anew, he is taken aback, as he finds it difficult to believe that she would want to leave such a fulfilling career. But when she pushes back, restating her desire to find a different life with a man that she could push in her direction, rather than the other way around, Walter internalizes a new strategy: buy them lunch as their last meal together before they ditch town. When probed about the time it would take to sit and eat a meal before having to catch their train, Walter insists that it won’t take long and they’ll make their departure on schedule.
As they sit at their table, Walter and Hildy reminisce at their old days of finding stories together and how they would find themselves in harrowing situations, while at the same time almost completely dismiss Bruce. Knowing that he has little time, Walter attempts to convince Hildy to cover the upcoming execution of convicted police-murderer, Earl Williams. Hildy is reluctant at first, knowing full well what Walter is scheming. She knows herself just as well, and that if she were to undertake a story, such as the one she is presented, she would fully commit to it. Realizing that he has instantly been found out, he turns toward the easily manipulable Bruce, and claims that they could take the next train departure that night, and that know one is better at this sort of thing than Hildy, and that once she wrote the story, she could immediately leave for the train station, and begin her new life.
Bruce is completely swayed over by Walter’s swagger and prowess. It doesn't take long for Hildy herself to be completely enamored by the idea of covering one last story. On the way to a shared press room, Hildy has Bruce go to the train station to wait for her. But instead of Hildy covering the story in any normal way, she bribes the police where Earl is being held captive, in order to interview the man; already going extra lengths for front page news. In the background, Walter too goes out of his way and has Bruce framed for stealing a watch. Without knowing it, at least consciously, the dynamic duo are driving head-on back toward each other. Because Hildy must now bail out Bruce from Jail, she comes to the realization that her profession is too destructive, and that she must retire from her kind of behavior. As she goes back to the press room, where other journalists are themselves working on the same story, she tries to finish and skip town early with Bruce, but fate seems to have different plans for her.
Earl escapes his imprisonment, leading Hildy and the other journalists to scramble to be the first one’s to find and get their story. As fate would have it, the escaped alleged murderer, enters through the fire-escape window into the shared press room, when Hildy is there alone. Scared and carrying a gun, Earl becomes emotional and confesses to Hildy that shooting the police officer was only an accident. Seizing on the opportunity, Hildy has Earl stay in the building, and hides him away in a roll-top desk, knowing she could truly be the first one to get her big story heard. Shortly thereafter, Walter arrives, and joins in Hildy’s plan on temporarily hiding Earl from the police. This is when the film goes out of its way to prove how well Walter and Hildy connect with each other on an emotional and pragmatic level.
The two of them become completely in sync with one another when working. As Hildy uses the typewriter to compose her story, Walter distracts the other journalists away from the desk that Earl is stowed away in, including its the desk’s owner. While Walter distracts and removes Bruce’s mother from the room, Hildy calms and reinsures Earl that he is of course innocent and everything will work out in favor, so long as she is able to write her story about it. The camera itself almost entirely keeps them in frame together, side-by-side and step-in-step, so that we buy into them working well with one another. Their paths meeting at a challenging road of destiny when the police chief and mayor of the city encroach in their building and press room, discovering that Earl had been hiding in a desk, and that Walter and Hildy are responsible for this act of obstruction of justice.
As Earl is escorted away by police, back to temporary holding, awaiting his death penalty, the chief of police and mayor interrogate Walter and Hildy to their involvement, and claim that they’ll both spend about ten years each in jail for this behavior. Comically, they both claim ignorance on the matter and take turns in throwing insults at the police chief. But before they can be escorted off to jail, their saving grace appears as the assistant to the state governor. Earlier in the film, as the police chief and mayor discuss how they plan to use this swift execution of Earl to both gain powerful positions, the chief being promoted and mayor being elected, they are brought a letter from the governor’s office stating that Earl has been completely exonerated from his crimes, and that he should be free to go. Knowing this wouldn’t look good for him, the mayor bribes the governor’s daft assistant with a city job and tells him to act as if he never delivered the letter of exoneration. As the same assistant returns, the mayor orders Walter and Hildy to be released from custody, and that the whole thing was a mistake, as he could not afford his scheme to be witnessed by two journalists.
Now set free, the two are relieved to be out of their predicament, but only Walter seems to revel in it. After a completely wild night, and missing her train to Albany with Bruce, Hildy realizes that she is too good at her job to leave it. Walter proposes to her, suggesting that they should remarry, have a proper honeymoon at Niagara Falls, and remain the dynamic duo they had previously suspended. But Hildy weeps momentarily, accepting that they must go bail Bruce out of jail again, disappointed that she cannot settle down, and be a housewife; as if burdened by societal norms, she cannot escape her nature. The film ends with Hildy and Bruce excited to be working together again, and practically skip out the door to deliver the bad news to Bruce.