Front Page, The (1931): Lewis Milestone’s Oscar Nominated Newspaper Drama

United Artists (Caddo Company)

Lewis Mileston’s newspaper drama, The Front Page, launched a whole cycle of serio-comic, cynical, and melodramatic movies about magazines and papers. Making an impressive screen debut, Pat O’Brien plays Hildy Johnson, the bright, fast-talking and ambitious star reporter of the Chicago Press, who would do anything to get a headline.

When the saga begins, Hildy’s shifty editor Walter Burns (Adolphe Menjou) is trying to prevent him from quitting his job and moving to a New York advertising position with Peggy (Mary Brian). Peggy says she hates everything about Hildy’s line of work and tabloid world, the endless sensation-chasing stories, the sleaze and manipulation in getting them, the male camaraderie that excludes women, and she puts pressure on him to declare it’s his last day on the job.

We of course know better and, indeed, while paying bidding farewell from his colleagues at the pressroom, Hildy gets caught in a scandal, the escape of an anarchist named Earl Williams (George E. Stone), just before he’s set for an execution.

Sharply written by Bartlett Cormack, Charles Lederer, and an uncredited Ben Hecht, the witty scenario is based on the famous play by Hecht and MacArthur.

The entire ensemble, from the leads to the supporting actors, is excellent, even Menjou as the wily and manipulative rascal editor.  Rumor has it that director Lewis Milestone wished to cast James Cagney or Clark Gable in the lead role, but producer Howard Hughes was vehemently against his first choices.

The film was remade in 1940 by Howard Hawks as “His Girl Friday,” a wonderful screwball comedy, in which the gender of the protagonist was reversed, with Rosalind Russell playing Hildy.

In 1974, Billy Wilder remade the film, using the original title while casting his two favorite actors in the leads: Jack Lemmon as Hildy Johnson and Walter Matthaw as Walter Burns.



Walter Burns (Adolphe Menjou)

Hildy Johnson (Pat O’Brien

Peggy (Mary Brian)

Bensinger (Edward Everett Horton

Murphy (Walter Catlett)

Earl Williams (George E. Stone)

Molly (Mae Clark)

Pincus (Slim Sommerville)

Kruger (Matt Moore)

McCue (Frank McHugh)

Oscar Nominations: 3

Best Picture (The Caddo Company; UA), produced by Howard Hughes

Director: Lewis Milestone

Actor: Adolph Menjou

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context

In 1931, “The Front Page” competed for the Best Picture with the Western “Cimarron,” which won, “East Lynne,” “Skippy,” and Trader Horn.” The Directing Oscar went to Norman Taurog for “Skippy,” and the Best Actor Oscar to Lionel Barrymore for “A Free Soul.”

Oscar Nominations: 3

Best Picture (Paramount), produced by Adolph Zukor
Director: Norman Taurog
Actor: Jackie Cooper
Adaptation: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Oscar Awards: 1


Oscar Context

The Best Picture Oscar went to Cimarron, which also won Screenplay Adaptation for Howard Estabrook; the Actor Oscar went to Lionel Barrymore for A Free Soul.