The Front Page 1931
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THE FRONT PAGE (1931)
Directed by Lewis Milestone. The first and best version of this great story with Pat O'Brien, Adolphe Menjou, Mary Brian, Mae Clarke, Frank McHugh, Edward Everett Horton and Slim Summerville. Pat O'Brien plays one of a motley group of wisecracking reporters. Pat is tired of the game and wants to settle down and get married. When a convict, who is sentenced to die by hanging, suddenly escapes, all hell breaks loose and Pat is thrust into the middle of the action! A great early sound comedy with realistic dramatic elements and fine performances by an outstanding cast.
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Here's the problem: "The Front Page" has been released (and reworked) many times! So, that's one source of confusion. You may be wanting The Front Page I'm a big fan of that version, too. Or, you may be wanting the reworked comedy classic: His Girl Friday Want even more confusion? The Howard Hawks version (His Girl Friday) is infamously available from so many different companies that you're as likely to get a bad copy -- as a good one.
Then, the original 1931 "Front Page" with Adolphe Menjou and Pat O'Brien has been sold on the cheap (or packaged in combination DVD sets) countless times over the years. As the New York Times pointed out, nearly all of those knock-off versions lacked key elements that were only recently restored to the film -- not to mention the fact that the picture and sound quality often was so dreadful that these cheap versions were tough to watch.
Remember that in 1931, Hollywood sound wasn't what it was today. Even in this beautifully restored version, the sound quality varies. Often, it had to do with how close the actors were to the microphones strategically placed around the set.
So -- if you've read this far -- you already understand why "The Front Page" is considered one of the all-time greatest newspaper movies. You're simply trying to make a smart purchase. My review is mainly aimed at saying -- if you're finding my review of the movie on the product page for the KINO DVD with the Library of Congress logo on the cover -- that's the "good one."
While Hawks' version, which changed the gender of reporter Hildy Johnson to a woman, is the most popular incarnation of the story, the '31version has the advantage of having been made during the pre-Code era which gives it a grittier edge, allowing it to be more faithful to the source. Although the vulgarities in the play had to be toned down for the film, the risqué content that was retained such as photos of topless women adorning the pressroom walls and a character flashing the finger, would never have been allowed after the Production Code was enforced in 1934.
The plot concerns the Chicago press' coverage of the upcoming execution of anarchist Earl Williams during a crucial election. Star reporter for "The Morning Post" Hildy Johnson is about to quit his job for marriage and a better career in New York. When Williams escapes and wins Hildy's sympathy, Hildy hides him in a roll-up desk. The "Post" 's manipulative editor, Walter Burns, uses the Williams break as a means to appeal to Hildy's love for a scoop and convinces him to stay and write a headline story that would expose the corrupt politics of the city's mayor and sheriff.
Stylistically directed by Lewis Milestone, THE FRONT PAGE is innovative in its use of a mobile camera within an enclosed set and in its rat-a-tat dialogue delivery.
The performances in this riotous movie are terrific. Dapper Adolphe Menjou is perfect as the control-freak Burns, as is newcomer Pat O'Brien in the role of Hildy. Pretty Mary Brian is sweet as Hildy's girl Peggy, and Mae Clarke is a standout as the prostitute Molly, the only friend of Williams who is played by diminutive character actor George E. Stone. The other hard-boiled reporters are played by familiar Golden Age faces, including Edward Everett Horton, Frank McHugh, Walter Catlett and Phil Tead.
Kino Lorber's Blu-ray of THE FRONT PAGE finally allows us to see the film in the best condition since its initial release, having been transferred off an archival 35mm print acquired by The Library of Congress in 1970 from East Germany. Age-related issues in the image and soundtrack are still evident, although they're very minor. Sharpness and contrast levels are excellent, and inherent grain is preserved to afford a very pleasing, film-like viewing experience. Extras include a fascinating audio commentary by filmmaker/historian Bret Wood, a documentary on the Library of Congress' preservation methods, and two radio adaptations - one from 1937 and another from 1946 starring the film's original stars Adolphe Menjou and Pat O'Brien.
As Bret Wood mentions in his commentary, THE FRONT PAGE is an underrated classic. I couldn't agree more; it is an early sound masterpiece and a must-see for film buffs. For my money, this one beats the remakes.
It was remade later into the classic "His Girl Friday" with big name stars.
This is one of the few cases where the remake is better than the original.
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