Filled with sharp dialog and quick wit, this stage adaptation was remade nine years later as His Girl Friday with Cary Grant in the lead. The story is principally the same except Hildy was gender bent to be Grant’s ex-wife, a fairly clever twist if you think about it. What Girl Friday had in marquee stars and Hollywood polish, The Front Page matched with a darker tone and pre-code edginess. The internet strongly prefers the Grant version but I liked it only a bit more. Billy Wilder directed another version in 1974 with Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon which has to be pretty good. Additionally there are four TV versions and a Burt Reynolds vehicle.
Let’s talk about Adolphe Menjou. I just recently saw him in A Star is Born (1937) in which I barely remember him and also in A Farewell to Arms (1932) which I don’t remember him at all. To be fair, that was a while ago. Those were character roles but he is front and center in The Front Page. His career went from silent film villain, to ladies man, to background character. A healthy career filled with ‘A’ pictures. His roles diminished as things went on but when you spend your life crusading against Hollywood Commies and other phantoms, people don’t offer you the juiciest roles.
There was a surprising amount of casual racism. Reporters call in stories into their news desk that don’t pertain to the story at hand but provide atmosphere to the environment. Sometimes those stories involve language surprising to my puritanical ears. Equal parts hate and quaint. When Hildy tells the guys he’s getting married they ask if she is white. When the editor talks about a wife he loved, he says he “treated her white”. What does that even mean? The message I took was that while the reporters were hand-to-mouth working stiffs, society afforded an even lower caste for them to look down upon.
Another interesting pre-code remnant are pictures of topless women seen around the newsroom, particularly near the door. A fussy newsman orders a sandwich using “gluten bread”, comedically emphasizing the ‘gluten’, so I was curious what that could mean in 1931. Was there non-gluten bread back then? Googling gluten bread here in the 21st doesn’t produce useful results, so my question was left unanswered.
Other than the fact that audio equipment of the day required the actors to shout their lines, the movie plays very well. It was clever, charming, and surprisingly well shot. Oh, and the racism. AMRU 3.5.
“Williams is a poor bird who had the tough luck to kill a colored policeman in a town where the colored vote counts!”