The Front Page (1931)
Directed by Lewis Milestone
This phenomenally fast-moving early screwball comedy has for years circulated in theatrical prints of dubious quality, a situation to be hopefully changed by the arrival of a new 35mm restoration undertaken in partnership between the Academy Film Archive and the Film Foundation and based upon a print owned by producer Howard Hughes. The first screen adaptation of Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s hit play relied in large part upon the authors’ experiences as journalists for rival Chicago publications in the 1910s and 1920s. The “mythical kingdom” (per an early title card) in which The Front Page unfolds is a cityscape filled with shady business on the part of lawmakers and breakers alike, and one from which ace reporter Hildy Johnson (played by film newcomer Pat O’Brien) wishes to escape into marriage against the wishes of his editor, Walter Burns (played by debonair, charming, conniving—who else?—Adolphe Menjou).
Although the play has been adapted for cinema a number of times (most notably with Howard Hawks’s 1940 comedy of remarriage, His Girl Friday), this version is by far the spiciest. As Burns tries to hook his star Hildy back with the bait of covering an upcoming state execution of a potentially innocent man, a variety of pre-Code sights and sounds occur: Not just swear words and potty jokes (although those are to be found), but repeated expressions of a blunt cynicism about politics. In the film, people are condemned in order to please electorates, journalists lie their heads off for the sake of their careers, and women across different social levels are pushed aside by men wishing to keep their homoerotic gamesmanships intact. The November 2nd screening of The Front Page will be introduced by Academy Film Archive representatives Michael Pogorzelski and Heather Linville. Aaron Cutler (November 2, 7pm; November 6, 6:15pm at “To Save and Project: The 14th MoMA International Festival of Film Preservation”)