Front Page, The (1931)

“So, you’re leaving me for marriage. Why?”

Synopsis:
A wily editor (Adolphe Menjou) tries to prevent his star journalist (Pat O’Brien) from marrying his sweetheart (Mary Brian) by luring him into investigating a story about a cop-killer (George E. Stone) due to be hung that evening.

Genres:

Review:
Fresh from the success of All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), Lewis Milestone directed this 180-degree change-of-pace screwball comedy, based on the Broadway play by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur and famously remade and re-gendered by Howard Hawks as His Girl Friday (1940). Given the brilliance of Hawks’s classic, I was pleasantly surprised by this earlier iteration, which offers ample fast-paced enjoyment of its own. The Pre-Code screenplay reveals its age in terms of numerous good-ol’-boy comments that wouldn’t pass muster these days (“He’s going to write poetry about milady’s panties.”), but otherwise has held up well. One generally expects early talkies to be somewhat static and slow; however, that certainly isn’t the case here. This one’s worth a watch.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Impressive direction and editing


  • A consistently amusing and engaging screenplay: “This place is beginning to smell like… like an owl’s foot.”

Must See?
Yes, as an enjoyable and historically relevant screwball comedy. Selected in 2010 for the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

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One Response to “Front Page, The (1931)”

  1. First viewing – not must-see.

    I rewatched Hawks’ ‘His Girl Friday’ within the last year so it’s fresh in my mind. But, frankly, it would have been fresh there anyway. It’s a rare example (sorry to say) of a remake that (for countless reasons, really) renders the original almost completely obsolete.

    The only interesting thing (for me) about watching Milestone’s film was in realizing the number of ways that Hawks improved on it. Milestone’s version is not really a screwball comedy. There’s humor in it but not of the screwball variety – and the humor that’s there is outdated. On the other hand, even in 2019, Hawks’ version remains a laugh-riot. ~largely because the jokes are still funny.

    Hawks could have opted for simply making the script funnier but keeping the main characters as two men. But the genius of ‘His Girl Friday’ rests not only with the better script by Charles Lederer (credited with ‘additional dialogue’ on Milestone’s film) but in changing the sexual dynamics by making Hildy Johnson a woman. That opened wonderful floodgates!

    This is a chaotic story – but Hawks knew better how to harness the chaos in a way that would make it flow smoothly. Milestone (alas) wasn’t able to accomplish that. As a result… even though a handful of scenes in his film are effective, the bulk of it is an undisciplined chore to sit through. Much of it could have been cut or edited (either for being pointless or unnecessary) to better effect.

    I just don’t see much need to sit through the Milestone film when the Hawks film is infinitely better (and 8 minutes shorter!)

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