Front Page, The (1974)

Universal

This third film version of the 1928 Ben Hecht-Charlie MacArthur Broadway smash hit, “The Front Page,” is the weakest, and a low point in Billy Wilder’s distinguished career.

Despite the fact that some of the fould language of the original play is in this rendition, the end result is disappointing.  Wilder didn’t have any new angle on the text and his two stars, favorite actors Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon, were far too old for their parts.

Lemmon and Matthau play ace reporter Hildy Johnson and ruthless newspaper editor Walter Burns, respectively. The plot of the play remains intact, which means it’s no longer relevant or shocking.

Burns pulls every game in the book to prevent Johnson from leaving his Chicago paper to get married. Menwhile, the duo uncover political corruption related to the planned execution of anarchist Earl Williams (Austin Pendleton).

Carol Burnett (also too old) brings some light in her extended cameo as Williams’ tart girlfriend, Mollie Malloy.

“The Front Page” was first made into an Oscar-nominated picture in 1931, then Howard Hawks changed one of the leads’ gender in his fabulous 1940 screwball comedy “His Girl Friday,” starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell.

The play was (unnecessarily) remade for the fourth time in 1988 as “Switching Channels,” which turned out to be both an artistic and commercial flop.

Rating: PG.

Running time: 105 Minutes.

Directed By: Billy Wilder.

Screenplay by I. A. L. Diamond and Billy Wilder.

Released December 1, 1974.

DVD: June 15, 1998

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