Mildred Pierce and His Girl Friday: Portrait of Working Women in the Pre- and Post-World War Period
His Girl Friday and Mildred Pierce are two films from the 1940's that deal with the position of women within the workforce in the time prior to America's involvement in the war, and after the tide turned in the Allies' favor respectively. This has a great deal to do with the ways in which these women--Hildy and Mildred--are portrayed. The two films are of drastically different genres and plots, and this in addition to the social milieu in the two drastically different times that they were made shows the changes in attitudes towards women in the workforce over the course of the war. His Girl Friday is a screwball romantic comedy that creates a fantasy world and a fantasy woman who navigates this world with great ease. She finds love at every turn, and succeeds in earning her heart's desire, which is both a career and a man who loves her, who, with every underhanded trick, proves the power of love. Mildred Pierce on the other hand, was made in a combination of the film noir and melodramatic styles, showing a woman's struggles for both success and love, and within the diagetic space of the film, she is constantly frustrated.
Mildred, at the beginning of the film's timeline, has the life that Hildy Johnson, throughout His Girl Friday, claims that she wants--a nice suburban existence with a nice family and a nice house with a metaphorical white picket fence. But a darker picture quickly reveals itself, and this life is not as perfect as it seems. To support herself and her family, Mildred begins to work for a living, soon realizing that with her ambition and intelligence, she can prosper. She wants to give her daughters the life that her parents were not able to provide her. Hildy, on the other hand, comes to work on the newspaper fresh out of college because that is what she wants to do. She chooses a career, but decides that she wants a `normal' life. Throughout the film, she is constantly reinforcing her desire just to be a `woman' with all the baggage and benefits that society attaches to that linguistic signifier.
The world of the reporter is a difficult one, but one within which Hildy is seen to prosper. She is consistently referred to as the best writer the paper has had, and her writing seems effortless. Even when she only has two minutes or less, she is able to dash off a quick story that makes the other (male) reporters in the Press Room at the Criminal Courts building green with envy. She is accepted as "one of the guys' and constantly refers to herself, and is referred to as a good `newspaper man'. At the same time, however, her attractiveness is never in question. She has both Bruce and Walter completely enamored with her, both trying to win her love. Because Hildy makes the eventual choice to return to the work that she loves, the work that she cannot give up no matter how hard she tries, she also chooses the man that the...