Hildy Johnson is the top reporter on a Chicago newspaper during the 1920s. Tired of the whole game he's determined to quit his job to get married. His scheming editor, Walter Burns, has other plans though. It's the day before guilty (but insane) murderer, Earl Williams, is due to go to the gallows and Burns tempts Johnson to stay and write the story.
Jack Lemmon ... Hildebrand 'Hildy' Johnson
Walter Matthau ... Walter Burns / Otto Fishbine
Susan Sarandon ... Peggy Grant
Vincent Gardenia ... 'Honest Pete' Hartman Sheriff of Clark County
David Wayne ... Roy Bensinger of the Tribune
Allen Garfield ... Kruger
Austin Pendleton ... Earl Williams
Charles Durning ... Murphy
Herb Edelman ... Schwartz (as Herbert Edelman)
Martin Gabel ... Dr. Max J. Eggelhofer
Harold Gould ... The Mayor / Herbie / Green Hornet
Cliff Osmond ... Officer Jacobi
Dick O'Neill ... McHugh
Jon Korkes ... Rudy Keppler of the Chicago Examiner
I'm sure that the reason for Billy Wilder to do a remake of The Front Page is the fact that around the time this was made, politicians running for office on 'law and order' platforms was suddenly coming into vogue. The chief example among these was Richard Nixon and we all know what happened to him in 1974. Seemed like a case of perfect timing to me.
The original material that Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur wrote in the Twenties was perfect for Billy Wilder's cynical mind. Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau were born to play the roles of Hildy Johnson and Walter Burns.
Of course other things now that the Code was lifted could also be made more explicit. David Wayne's character of Benzinger is quite openly gay in the film. It's an interesting characterization he does. Of course he's the butt of all the jokes in the pressroom, but I thought it rather funny when at the end when title cards show what happened to all the principal characters, he was the only one with a happily ever after ending. He settled down with a life partner and ran an antique store. A rather subtle comment on the sanctity of heterosexual marriage decades before gay marriage was an issue.
Carol Burnett was a big fan of Billy Wilder and it is mentioned in a recent biography of Wilder that she wanted very much to be in one of his films. Carol got her wish and did very well as Molly the prostitute who befriends poor Earl Williams, the anarchist who accidentally killed a policeman and is sentenced to be hung.
Austin Pendleton is all right as Williams, but no one ever played the role quite like John Qualen in His Girl Friday. Qualen had a patent on those little men up against the system parts.
Speaking of His Girl Friday, my favorite part in all versions of The Front Page is that of the messenger from the governor carrying Earl Williams reprieve. No one will ever top Billy Gilbert in His Girl Friday though Paul Benedict of The Jeffersons gives a good account of himself as well.
Sad to say that demagogic politicians who bray about law and order are still among us. Maybe it's time for another remake of The Front Page.
In 1950,Billy Wilder told the story of a reporter (Kirk Douglas ) who "exploited the "human interest story" for his own benefit "(Maltin).It turned into a tragedy.In 1974,he comes back to the dark side of the medias ,no matter if it's a comedy:you've got to pay attention to all the serious things the director is telling us.In 1950,people were having a wild time around a man buried in a hole(hence the first title "ace in the hole"!);in 1974,people are playing cards and drinking whiskey in front of the gallows :nothing really changes. You would have to search for a long time to find clever comedies like this one in the contemporary cinema;and if people are disappointed,too bad for them:Billy Wilder was one of the greatest American directors of all time,even when he was a bit sub-par,he was better than the rest.
There are numerous funny moments:Lemmon turned into a exhibitionist by his boss,the desk in which the two reporters hide the condemned person -which might be a spoof on Hitchcock's "the rope",the "stolen" watch...
What is sad is Wilder's end of career:after the overlooked "Fedora" (1976)which he made with European money and which was unfairly deemed "a poor man's "sunset blvd"",and the remake of the French movie "l'emmerdeur" ("buddy buddy"),he was never given a chance to direct another movie.How unfair!
I am not going to compare this to earlier versions of the story because I think that is unfair. If you are not going to watch the earlier versions, who cares how good they are in comparison? So, let me just say that this is a fine, almost slapstick comedy that will satisfy anyone looking for a series of one-liners and totally hammy performances by a cast of old pros.
This is a gorgeous film to watch and hear. The theme is instantly recognizable, and the cinematography is crystal clear and full of vivid colors. Never underestimate these points in judging a film, they can raise a mediocre film to well above average - not that this was a mediocre film to begin with, because that is not the case.
Jack Lemmon takes top billing, but the supporting characters really make this film go. David Wayne as a prissy reporter, Vincent Gardenia as a blustering sheriff, Harold Gould as the sleazy mayor, Martin Gabel who has some of the funniest lines as a prison psychiatrist, and the boys in the press room come out with the best lines in the whole show. Austin Pendleton as the killer is a bit of let-down, playing it as a poor-man's Woody Allen, but everybody around him is so busy hamming it up unmercifully that his understatement works well.
I'm not so enamored of Carol Burnett, who goes way over the top playing a stereotypical floozy and manages to bring the comic proceedings to a screeching halt, and of Susan Sarandon, who fades into the background, but they have so little screen time it is easy to overlook them.
There are all sorts of in-jokes and topical humor. I noticed some anachronisms - for instance, at one point Jack Lemmon does a James Cagney impression, but Cagney didn't make his first movie until a year after the movie was set - but this is not the kind of movie where that makes a lot of difference.
I am a big Walter Matthau fan, and he does the usual superlative job as the frantic editor. Lemmon is the real problem I have with this film, at times he seems to be sleep-walking through his role, and he has surprisingly few funny lines. He basically plays Jack Lemmon in awkward situations, and the situations aren't awkward enough most of the time for that to really work.
I like the film, but there is a lot of totally unnecessary swearing and at times it slows to a crawl. It is a very good film that I put just below classic status. See it for Matthau and the brilliant supporting cast and some very witty dialogue, but don't expect to be blown away the way you would expect because it just won't happen.
# Carol Burnett was extremely unhappy with her performance in this film (as were a lot of critics). The comedienne likes to tell the story of how she was a passenger on an airline that had "The Front Page" as its in-flight movie. At the film's conclusion, Burnett stood up and apologized to the passengers for what they'd just witnessed.