Film: The Front Page

There have been two films called The Front Page, both adaptations of the 1929 play of the same name. The first was released in 1931 and the second was released in 1974.

Walter Burns, editor of the Chicago Examiner, wants Intrepid Reporter Hildebrand "Hildy" Johnson to cover the execution of convicted murderer Earl Williams—but Hildy announces that he's quitting the newspaper business, getting married, and moving to Philadelphia. Burns promptly sets out to lure Hildy back, mainly by sabotaging his engagement to the sweet but bland Peggy. Then, when Hildy goes to the courthouse to say goodbye to the other reporters, Williams escapes, and Hildy gets drawn back into the game as he senses a lead and starts uncovering the political machinations behind Williams's arrest and pending execution.

The 1931 film was directed by Lewis Milestone and starred Adolphe Menjou as Walter and Pat O'Brien as Hildy. The 1974 adaptation was directed by Billy Wilder, and starred Walter Matthau as Walter and Jack Lemmon as Hildy, in one of the ten films they starred in together. A young Susan Sarandon as Hildy's dull fiancee Peggy.

Besides being made twice under this title, the story has been remade two more times under different titles. The 1940 classic His Girl Friday did a Gender Flip, casting Rosalind Russell as a female Hildy Johnson, and making Walter (Cary Grant) her ex-husband as well as her old boss. The Front Page was remade yet again as Switching Channels in 1988, which updated the story from newspapers to TV and starred Burt Reynolds and Kathleen Turner.

This movie contains examples of:

  • All Psychology Is Freudian: Dr. Eggelhofer has a patently absurd Oedipus Complex theory explaining Williams's crime. Justified; the movie's set in 1929.
  • Batman Gambit: In the 1974 adaptation Burns assigns an inept cub reporter to replace Hildy, knowing that Hildy won't be able to stand by and let the kid mess up.
  • Blatant Lies: The reporters phoning their editors about Williams's capture — an event they are currently watching — describing it as a blood-filled firefight.
  • Bring My Brown Pants: In the 1974 adaptaton the new Examiner reporter "did a bad thing in [his] pants" when the guards start shooting during Williams' breakout. This spoils a key photograph of Earl Williams due to wet film.
  • Camp Gay: Bensinger, the prissy Tribune reporter.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Bensinger's desk, and the governor's reprieve for Williams.
  • Da Editor: Burns.
  • Dirty Cop: Sheriff Hartman.
  • Disposable FiancÚ: Peggy, as revealed at the end of the 1974 film. In the 1931 film Hildy does dump her, but feels bad about it, and they get back together at the end, although Walter is clearly going to keep meddling.
  • Groin Attack: When Dr. Eggelhofer gets Williams to re-enact the shooting, Williams winds up shooting him in the groin. After operating on himself at the hospital (he doesn't trust American doctors), Dr. Eggelhofer publishes The Joy of Impotence.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Mollie Malloy.
  • Hypocritical Humor: In the 1931 film, the reports who relentlessly slut-shame poor Molly have pictures of naked women on the wall.
  • Insanity Defense: Williams tries for this, but it doesn't work.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Hildy; Burns, once he gets back into the field.
  • Ironic Juxtaposition: The 1931 film opens with a large bag of flour that is labeled "Sunshine Flower—Insures Domestic Happiness." The camera zooms out to reveal that the bag of flour is being used as a weight to test a gallows.
  • Last Minute Reprieve: A messenger arrives with a reprieve for Earl Williams hours before he's scheduled to be executed (but after he escapes). The Mayor explains he can't accept a reprieve for someone not in their custody and offers the messenger a night at a brothel on his dime. The Sheriff then raids that same brothel ("for the family vote") and the reprieve winds up in the cell next to Walter and Hildy, who are more than happy to see it used.
  • Manipulative Bastard / Guile Hero: Burns as he schemes to get Hildy back; Hildy as he manipulates the other reporters so he can get a scoop.
  • Married to the Job: The core conflict is largely about this, for Hildy anyway, as Walter isn't at all conflicted about being married to the job.
  • Self-Surgery: As he's being wheeled away, Dr. Eggelhofer demands a scalpel and a mirror to operate on his wound.
  • Sleazy Politician: The Mayor and Sheriff "Honest Pete" Hartman.
  • Streetwalker: Molly Malloy, Earl Wlliams' only friend, identifies herself as this in the 1931 film.
  • Train-Station Goodbye: Walter sends off Hildy and Peggy at the station, giving Hildy his watch as a wedding gift. Then he wires ahead to have Hildy arrested for stealing it.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: This is how we learn that Hildy left Peggy and ended up as Managing Editor of the Examiner.