Monday, May 14, 2012

The Front Page

Billy Wilder is one of the greats. No contest. I believe I've said something along those lines just recently in my review of Ace in the Hole. In fact, Ace in the Hole inspired my wife and I to seek out another Wilder film. The combination of Wilder directing and Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau starring convinced us to take a look at The Front Page, a remake of a 1930's movie, based on a play. It was made pretty late in Wilder's career, and it's not even close to his best work, but it's still enjoyable enough.

Jack Lemmon stars as Hildy Johnson, a newspaper man through and through, who comes into the office to tell his editor in chief, Walter Burns (Matthau) that he's out of the game. He met a girl and fell in love, and they're about to take the next train out of Chicago. Burns won't have it, though, and he uses every dirty trick he has to pull Hildy back in.

Burns sends Hildy on one last assignment, to cover the hanging of a supposed radical. When the radical escapes death row, and basically falls right into Hildy's lap, Hildy's reporter instinct takes over and he goes to any length to hide the escaped inmate from the police, his fellow reporters, and the woman he's quitting the newspaper business for.

Though it came out in 1974, Wilder infuses The Front Page with snappy 1930's style dialogue, and frantic comedic pacing. It's always a joy to see Lemmon and Matthau, one of the great comedy duos, working together. I also liked seeing a young Susan Sarandon as Hildy's fiancee Peggy, who knows their marriage won't work as long as Hildy is married to the newspaper.

Despite the good things, though, the movie isn't exactly fresh. Wilder was one of the edgiest filmmakers of his time, that time mainly being the 1940's and 1950's. By the time The Front Page was made, the face of cinema had changed. Movies like The Godfather, Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate, and Badlands had all come out, and they were all able to tackle mature issues head on in a way that Wilder was only able to allude to in his day. The Front Page feels kind of limp compared to those movies, and also compared to Wilder's early work. Ace in the Hole is a Billy Wilder film from 20 years earlier, and it explores the lengths a newspaper man will go to get a good story in a much more subversive and edgy way than this.

The Front Page was still worth watching. It was well executed and funny and Lemmon and Matthau are a delight. But if you haven't already seen Wilder's other films, such as Sunset Boulevard, The Apartment, or Some Like it Hot, I would recommend you skip The Front Page and watch the classics ASAP.

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