Remakes are nothing new in Hollywood, but even so, it’s nice to see a film’s original incarnation before you’ve seen the remake, if indeed your intentions are to see both films. Such is not the case with me and The Front Page, which would later be remade into the 1001 film His Girl Friday, and in doing so would have one of the main characters’ genders switched to add interplay between a man and a woman with the same plot. Here, both of the main characters are male, and it was hard not to go into the film with the mindset of how much different this would be from the 1940 remake, and how they’d make it work with two male characters instead of a male and a female. I will admit, after a little while of the film’s running time, I had gotten used to the two leads being male, as well as the different dynamic it offered between the characters and the story. That said, I don’t think this version can hold its head up next to His Girl Friday, and its unfortunate that that comparison is inevitably behind a viewing of this film.
Hildebrand ‘Hildy’ Johnson is a newspaper man looking to get out of the game and settle down with his girl, against the wishes of his boss Walter Burns. Fate, as it is wont to do in screwball comedies, throws him a curveball in the form of Earl Williams, an inmate on death row who escapes and ends up stumbling through the window into Hildy’s press room. Now, Hildy must struggle to keep the story to himself (and Burns, who shows up to the press room as well), as well as trying to actually get and finish the story before his girl, who is none too kind to Hildy forgoing her in favor of Burns & the paper, ends up leaving without him. First off, there was that word again: screwball. Screwball comedies and I have never quite seen eye to eye, but thankfully, this was a little less concerned with being screwy as it was with delivering its lines at the pace of a submachine gun. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a screwball comedy, good or bad, but man, was I unprepared for how rapid-fire everything in this film is. The editing, the dialogue, all of it was so fast I became a little afraid the film was going to derail itself from the sheer speed of it. Eventually, after the high of the rapid pace wore off, I began to wonder when the film would shift its focus from the speed of the dialogue to getting to the actual plot, and thankfully, the film seemed to notice as well, as it started to interweave the two storylines with errant dialogue tying them together, before Williams finally appears to throw the proverbial wrench into Hildy’s romantic plans. As I was watching this, the thought that it was directed by Lewis Milestone was never far from my head, and it was extremely weird to deal with. It actually seemed really incongruous to think that this was the film that Milestone directed after All Quiet, but his history as a comedy director is still a part of him, as this film does end up making clear.
The necessity for a decent restoration aside, this had some merit to it, though it comes at a price; trying to watch this one with no knowledge of its later, better remake is an exercise in attrition, especially if one reverses the order as I unfortunately did. It’s still a real shame when a film can exist only to be compared to a later version, but that’s the fate that has befallen The Front Page, Best Picture nominee or not. Is this worth a watch? I guess. Is it worth a watch in place of His Girl Friday? It should be obvious at this point that the answer is no. Even with its credentials, this has unfortunately become a redundant film, but it was still entertaining in its own right, so I can’t fault it for its poor fortune.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10