Front Page (The)
In this 1974 remake, Billy Wilder is back on familiar comic turf: Jazz Age Chicago, where he set the spectacular fun of his classic farce "Some Like It Hot." Again, he elicits good fun from veteran actors Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, in a comedy-with-a-message that gets even funnier in the second half. The zingy wit and staccato energy remind us a little of "His Girl Friday," another of four films based on Hecht and MacArthur's 1928 Broadway hit, "The Front Page."
The sixth of Wilder's seven films with Lemmon casts the two-time Oscar winner as ace newspaper reporter Hildy Johnson. When crusty editor Walter Burns (Matthau) needs a scoop, Hildy's his man to bring back juicy reports from Chicago's crime-ridden 1920s' streets. Burns is now unhappy, to put it mildly, that Hildy is quitting his job to marry his sweetheart, Peggy (Sarandon) in Philadelphia. With just hours until the high-visibility execution of nebbishy cop-killer Earl Williams (Pendleton), Burns needs Hildy to cover the doomed man's final walk.
Although Hildy claims he's quitting journalism forever, Burns lures his star reporter back. Bickering like an old married couple, the two men stumble onto a scheme involving the crooked mayor (Gould) and his dullard sheriff (Gardenia), who want to exploit Williams' execution for political gain. Carol Burnett has a shrill, non-comedic turn as Williams' devoted hooker girlfriend, Molly Malloy.
But this version of "The Front Page" could have been funnier, subtler, and less crude. Although the stars rattle it off with as much enthusiasm as they can, Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond's dialogue lacks zest. Hurling mutual barbs, Matthau and Lemmon hit the mark, but given their inspired pairing in Wilder's "The Fortune Cookie," and "The Odd Couple," their one-liners should be effortlessly hilarious. The best laughs here are in the later part of the film, when Burns and Hildy try to hide recently-escaped Williams from other reporters and the slow-minded sheriff.
The film, panned by critics and ignored by audiences in 1974, was Wilder's third-from-final: at nearly 70, he made only "Fedora" (1978) and the unfortunate "Buddy, Buddy" (1981), also starring Lemmon and Matthau. But if you're a Wilder fan, you'll enjoy this and all his collaborations with Lemmon.
Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, based on the play by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur
Walter Amttahau, Jack Lemmon,Carol Burnett, Susan Sarandon, Austin Pendleton, Harold Gould
1920s' newspapers; judicial corruption; capital punishment
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