#50) The Front Page (1931)
OR “Same News, Different Editions”
Directed by Lewis Milestone
Written by Bartlett Cormack. Additional dialogue by Charles Lederer. Based on the play by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur.
Class of 2010
This is my original post on “The Front Page”; you can read the revised and expanded version here.
NOTE: There are at least two versions of “The Front Page” out there; the “British” print which is the most commonly seen, and the higher quality “domestic” version that was recently restored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. I was able to track down both versions for this post. The “domestic” print is vastly superior to the “British” print in sound and picture quality, and is comprised of almost entirely different takes. Check them both out below.
The “Domestic” Print
The “British” Print
The Plot: On the eve of the hanging of political prisoner Earl Williams (George E. Stone), Chicago newspaper reporter Hildy Johnson (Pat O’Brien) announces to his editor Walter Burns (Adolphe Menjou) that he’s leaving the business to get married. When Williams escapes the jail and takes refuge in the Criminal Courts press room, Hildy knows a scoop when he sees one and is torn between his love and his career. Also it’s a ‘30s movie so everyone’s wearing suits and hats and talks lots of slang real fast, see?
Why It Matters: The NFR highlights this film as an example of the rapid technological advances in film following the creation of sound pictures. The entire cast is praised, as is the screenplay. There’s also mention of the film’s recent Academy restoration.
But Does It Really?: Well, as an example of a talkie it’s just okay. If only there wasn’t a superior remake already on the Registry (See “Other notes” and “Legacy” below). If you only have room for one version, hands down go with the restored “domestic” print. But even then, I was more interested in the differences between the two prints than I was with the film itself.
Seriously, Oscars?: At the 4th Annual Academy Awards, “The Front Page” garnered three nominations; Picture, Director, and Actor for Adolphe Menjou. It lost all three awards to, respectively, “Cimarron”, “Skippy”, and “A Free Soul”. Ever heard of any of those films? No, no you haven’t. Are any of them on the Registry? No, no they are not.
- The infamous Howard Hughes produced this film. He put his stamp on this one sometime between “Hell’s Angels” and the original “Scarface”.
- If Bensinger sounds familiar to you, I guess you also watched “Fractured Fairy Tales” as a kid. And if Murphy sounds familiar too, imagine he’s a talking fox con artist in a Disney classic.
- And yes, Walter spends most of the film being addressed as “Mr. Burns.”
- I know it was the beginning of the sound era, but would it have killed anyone to throw in a few musical cues?
- The cinematography in this film is very inventive, though at times distracting. It’s almost as if they were too worried about this film being stage-bound. Regardless, my salutations to Glen MacWilliams, with potential uncredited assistance by Tony Gaudio and Hal Mohr.
- Anyone know any of the songs the reporters sing when Hartman shows up?
- Say what you will about the inferiority of the “British” print, but it’s the version where reporter Kruger flips off the mayor. God save the Queen!
- And then Burns and Johnson reunite on screen and they have a contest to see who can talk faster.
- Both this film and “His Girl Friday” tell the same story, but “Friday” does it clearer and faster, and therefore funnier. Perhaps “Front Page” could have benefited from more sexual tension between O’Brien and Menjou.
- Speaking of, “The Front Page” includes Burns’ line “Get back in there, you Mock Turtle!” which I always assumed was a Cary Grant ad-lib for “His Girl Friday”. Oh, Hollywood lore.
- And then there’s the famous censoring of “That son-of-a-bitch stole my watch”. The diegetic bleep comes across cleaner in the restored version, but it’s still kinda weird.
- Is this the type of film that really warrants a “The End?”
- Nine years later Howard Hawks remade this film, but decided to make Hildy a woman and called it “His Girl Friday”. The result is everything “The Front Page” just falls short of.
- Billy Wilder adapted and directed another remake of “The Front Page” in 1974 with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. It’s…fine.
- “The Front Page” was also a 1949 TV series that didn’t even make it a full season.
- As for the play itself, it comes back to Broadway every couple of decades, most recently as a limited-run event starring Nathan Lane and John Slattery.
Further Viewing: A brief comparison between the common “British” print and the newfound “domestic” print. I guess the narrator gets caught up in the spirit of the film, because boy does he talk fast.