(sub)Text: Production for Use in “His Girl Friday”

Before she settles down to life of homemaking, security, and insurance policies with Bruce Baldwin in Albany, star reporter Hildy Johnson has one more story to write for her ex-husband and ex-boss Walter Burns, editor of the Morning Post. Hildy must write up an interview with convicted killer Earl Williams that will grant him a last-minute reprieve on the basis of insanity. The ingenious angle she finds to prove he’s insane: Earl listened to so many soapbox speeches in the park about the socialist concept of “production for use” that when a gun was placed into his hands, he had to shoot it.

Howard Hawks’s 1940 film “His Girl Friday” knits together two plots from two very different genres. One is a romantic comedy that intends to reunite its main couple in something like wedded bliss. The other is a dark drama of murder and corruption, complete with a gallows lurking just outside the window and a suicide attempt that takes place on screen. Yet Earl Williams and Hildy Johnson’s fates in their respective plots are twinned. Both are, in a sense, looking for their own reprieves. And Hildy has her own production-for-use dilemma. What was she made for—the life of a newspaperman, or the life of a housewife? To what kinds of production should we devote our own lives? What are we made for—risk and adventure or security and insurance? Wes & Erin discuss.

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