“Journalists. Peeking through keyholes, running after fire engines like dogs, waking people in the middle of the night to ask them what they think of Mussolini. A lot of daffy buttin-skies running around with holes in their pants holding nickels from office boys. And for what? So hired girls and motormen’s wives know what’s going on. Nobody needs to tell me about a newspaper. I’ve been a newspaperman for fifteen years”. In 1931 alone, Hollywood produced roughly thirty journalism-related movies or films with at least a reporter or the glimpse of a newsroom. Some were remarkable, like Frank Capra’s masterpiece Platinum Blonde, Mervin LeRoy’s Five Star Final and John Cromwell’s Scandal Sheet. Newspaper movie was already one of the best tested genres. But there’s no contest. The Front Page, the first screen version of Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s comedy (1928), is where the legend of the dirty profession started, and the film introduced its iconographic and (a)moral hallmarks: poker tables, clouds of smoke, cheap booze, beaten hats, hot phones; cynicism reigns supreme, stopping at nothing, certainly not at death, and contempt for one’s own job is coupled with a frenzied attachment, in accordance with the tenets of morbid love affairs.
After emerging triumphantly from the trenches of All Quiet on the Western Front, Milestone went head on into the trenches of a court press room with not too different weapons: short tracking shots creep up to or move away from the group of reporters waiting for the sentence; the tracking shot becomes circular and frenetic when Pat O’Brien, the reporter about to leave to get married and become a New York advertising man, is besieged by Adolphe Menjou, editor-in-chief and most experienced liar. Though our heart may belong forever to Cary Grant’s Walter Burns and Rosalind Russell’s Hildy Johnson in Hawks’s splendid reinterpretation (His Girl Friday, 1940), or we may enjoy the agonizing whirlwind Wilder throws the odd couple of Matthau-Lemmon into in the third remake (1974), the original value of this first version remains intact. The main characters are more tightly reined and the crowd of reporters dominates, those irresistible typing dogs, overlapping one another in their theater of words and profanity, the crude freedom of their pre-Hays sexual innuendoes, and their biting humor about anti-communist hysteria. They may be cynical bigmouths, but if it weren’t for them who would defend democracy? The Front Page is an American fairy-tale (with an undecidable happy ending), but we can’t help thinking that we would have liked to have known reporters like that, at least once in a lifetime.
Cast and Credits
Sog.: dalla pièce omonima Ben Hecht e Charles MacArthur. Scen.: Ben Hecht, Charles MacArthur. F.: Glen MacWilliams. M.: W. Duncan Mansfield. Scgf.: Richard Day. Int.: Adolphe Menjou (Walter Burns), Pat O’Brien (Hildy Johnson), Mary Brian (Peggy Grant), Edward Everett Horton (Bensinger), Walter Catlett (Murphy), George E. Stone (Earl Williams), Mae Clarke (Molly), Slim Summerville (Pincus), Matt Moore (Kruger), Frank McHugh (McCue). Prod.: Howard Hughes per The Caddo Company, Inc.. DCP. Bn
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