I know I'm committing some form of film critic sacrilege, but this is my favorite of the many film adaptations of Ben Hecht and Charles McArthur's iconic play about the press' thirst for scoops no matter how grisly and tragic the subject. Yes, that includes His Girl Friday. One advantage that Billy Wilder's version has over that classic screwball comedy is that it sticks to the gender assignment of the play and has two male protagonists. This strips the project from His Girl Friday's unnecessary romance sub-plot and dated sexism.
Yet there are many other adaptations with two male leads, what makes this one special? First of all, Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau come to the rescue once again as they bring their trademark manic, moral opposites energy in full force. Another reason is that Wilder captures a nostalgic old Hollywood feel by only using obvious soundstages and a lush, colorful look. There was a flurry of such aesthetic during the ‘70s, from The Sting to Bugsy Malone, but The Front Page captures it perfectly.
Wilder's pedigree in wisecracking humor and sly social commentary makes him perfect to helm this story about a group of 1930s bloodthirsty reporters trying to get the scoop on a prison escape and the screwball ways it gets out of control. As usual with this duo, Lemmon plays the moral character who's forced into shameless exploitation in the name of success and money by Matthau's opportunist.
The 1080p transfer is the best HD copy you'll find of The Front Page. It's a clear transfer with almost no scratches and blemishes, and it channels the sepia, smoke-filled press rooms, in which most of the movie takes place, rather well. However, it also feels digitally overscrubbed. The details look a bit too rigid and clinical, leaving behind a lot of the grain that's essential in recreating films from this period.
The DTS-HD mono track is fine when comes to representing a mix between the dialogue and the ragtime-y score. Yet overall, it sounds a bit tinny without much depth.
Commentary by Michael Schlesinger and Mark Evanier: The two film historians, experts on Wilder's work, dive into many intricate details about The Front Page's production, and where it stands in Wilder's filmography. They also offer a lot of detail about the differences between the many film adaptations of the play.
Interview With Howard G. Kazanjian and Rex McGee: Wilder's first assistant director and assistant, respectively, give out some scoops about the behavior and workflow in the production.
Interview With Austin Pendleton: Pendleton, who plays the convict who gets away, talks about Wilder's meticulous techniques in directing actors.
We also get a Trailer.
The Front Page isn't even in the top ten of my favorite Wilder films (If you're interested, you can read my ranking here), but it's a true to its kind ‘30s style screwball comedy that was a loving throwback when it was made in the ‘70s, turning into a unique double time capsule of a comedy.