The Front Page

Synopsis: The Classic Comedy Team–In The Classic Comedy Hit

In this fast-paced version of the comedy classic from legendary director Billy Wilder, Lemmon is an ace reporter Hildy Johnson and Matthau his irascible editor, Walter Burns. Hildy wants to quit and marry Peggy Grant (Susan Sarandon), but Walter will do anything to stop him, and an escaped killer gives him the scoop he needs to lure Hildy back to work.
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The Front Page 8.25

Culled from the same play on which ‘His Girl Friday’ (considered by many as one of the best comedies of all time) is based, this rendition of the classic comedy features Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau at their best. And, bolstered by a terrific cast and sharp dialogue, it’s no wonder that this one’s a winner.

Frankly, for a story that has graced our screens no less than three times over the course of (nearly) a century, it holds up exceptionally well. What helps in this case is that Billy Wilder decided to keep the story in the proper time period in his version – whereas the other versions had modernized it. By keeping it accurate, Wilder imbued the script with an authenticity that an adaptation would have lost.

I’ve read a number of times that the failure of this film is in the dialogue, which was meant to overlap but doesn’t here, and some of the performances. Admittedly, Lemmon is rock solid but slightly miscast. Still, he’s not out of his depth at all. Same goes for Carol Burnett, who gets lambasted for what is claimed by some as the worst on screen presence of her career. I didn’t see one bit, and rather enjoyed her, although she was hardly to the level of the best of the bunch.

Particularly good were Matthau as the newspaper editor, and Austin Pendleton as the convict. Matthau soberly turns in a forceful and devious character. It works beautifully. As for Pendleton, I don’t remember seeing him anywhere else, but I wish I had (or, at least, noticed him). In ‘The Front Page’, he plays a helpless, yet determined, simpleton with just the right balance between pathos and humour. He’s a standout.

While the manic quality of ‘His Girl Friday’ trumps this film’s mid-level energy, that adaptation is tougher to digest (they changed one of the two key characters’ gender and, thus, had to graft new motivations). By being more faithful to the original, this film flows effortlessly – the play is considered a classic for good reason, so why try to tweak it?

This film is well worth seeing, if given a chance.

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