The Front Page | Ben Hecht & Charles MacArthur | 1928
Hecht and MacArthur’s most important book, and the rarest by a country mile, this being the only copy in a collectible jacket we have ever seen. A drama that is the basis for three key films: “The Front Page” in 1931 with Adolphe Menjou and Pat O'Brien, “The Front Page” in 1974 with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, and most importantly of all, the classic screwball comedy “His Girl Friday,"with Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in 1940.
A cornerstone film source title by two of the greatest screenwriters of Hollywood’s golden era.
Near Fine in a Near Fine example of the rare dust jacket. In a custom quarter-leather clamshell box.
The Front Page(Kino Classics, Blu-ray, DVD) – The original 1931 screen version of the rapid-fire newspaper comedy written for the stage Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur stars Pat O’Brien as the crack reporter Hildy Johnson, ready to leave the beat for marriage and an office job, and Adolph Menjou as the crafty editor who pulls every trick to keep Hildy on the job to cover a breaking story: the…
Videophiled: The original ‘The Front Page’ and newspaper screwball
The Front Page (Kino Classics, Blu-ray, DVD) – The original screen version of the rapid-fire newspaper comedy written for the stage Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur stars Pat O’Brien as the crack reporter Hildy Johnson, ready to leave the beat for marriage and an office job, and Adolph Menjou as the crafty editor who pulls every trick to keep Hildy on the job to cover a breaking story: the execution of a convicted killer who is more addled political radical than murderous felon. The film opens on a test drop from the scaffold that is to hang Earl Williams (George E. Stone), then the camera glides over to the reporter’s room where the thick-skinned gentlemen of the press prove that they are no gentlemen.
Is this the stuff of comedy? It is in the hands of Hecht and MacArthur, former newspapermen with plenty to say about the cutthroat tactics of journalists. These guys are equal parts con men who will do anything for a story, hard-boiled professionals jaded by the job, and public servants out to dig up the hidden dirt of corruption and crime (even if they have to commit a few themselves along the way). And they knew the dirty game of Chicago politics. Though the film never explicitly says so (the opening titles put this in “a mythical kingdom”), this is set in the cradle of Chicago politics, where everything is a matter of power and public appearances, including the impending execution of a socialist who has been railroaded to placate the voters. When he escapes—using the Chief of Police’s own gun!—Hildy and Walter become conspirators in hiding the felon until they can get their scoop and blow the lid off the mayor’s scheme.
Hecht and MacArthur didn’t write the screenplay but it’s a fairly faithful adaptation and director Lewis Milestone (who was fresh off an Oscar for All Quiet on the Western Front) drives the film with a rapid-fire pace that set the style of thirties screwball comedy. There were faster films to come but in 1931 this kind of rat-a-tat byplay was quite fresh and Milestone pushes the rapidly-evolving technology of sound recording and editing to create punchy montage sequences that hadn’t been since the silent era and sophisticated camerawork—dollies, whip-pans, and a 360 degree turn—that we tend to forget began early in the sound era.
This wasn’t Pat O’Brien’s first film but it was his first lead and his big Hollywood break, and it established the persona he played (or played off of) for decades to come: street smart, witty, clever, but also amiable and good-hearted. Adolph Menjou (a last minute replacement for the original actor, Louis Wolheim, who died just before shooting began) is pure calculation as Walter Burns, the manipulative editor who surely bleeds ink and is driven more out of competition and ego than dedication to the profession. Hildy’s bride-to-be (Mary Brian) is simply a competitor to Walter and he plies every dirty trick he can think of to stop their New York trip.
If that all sounds familiar, maybe it’s because it’s been remade three times since, including the best known version His Girl Friday, directed by Howard Hawks at an even faster pace and featuring Rosalind Russell as Hildy, giving a battle-of-the-sexes twist to the whole thing. If Hawks betters this version, he had a great template to work from and a high bar to meet.
This edition is mastered in HD from 35mm elements preserved by the Library of Congress, but it’s not a restoration. This film slipped into the public domain almost 50 years ago and has therefore not been protected by a studio. The source material varies, with some sequences clearly from second-generation copies, some patches full of scuffs and scratches, and parts of the soundtrack doused in hiss. Given all that, it is the best version I’ve seen on disc. The HD transfer captures detail and texture in the image that previous releases never showed and the scenes flow smoothly without the pops and jerks and rough splices of poor prints previously used.
Both the Blu-ray and DVD editions feature commentary by film historian Bret Wood, plus two radio play adaptations (an hour-long production from 1937 with Walter Winchell and James Gleason and a 1946 version reuniting Menjou and O’Brien) and a short documentary on film preservation at the Library of Congress.
Also new and notable:
Hot Pursuit (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD), an odd couple road comedy with Reese Witherspoon as a by-the-book cop trying to protect newly widowed drug dealer’s wife Sofía Vergara from both cops and crooks, plays it for pratfall comedy and PG-13 gags. Blu-ray and DVD with featurettes, a gag reel, and an alternate ending.
Welcome to New York (IFC, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital), Abel Ferrara’s take on the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case in New York City (with Gerard Depardieu as a barely fictionalized stand-in), comes to disc in the 109-minute version that was reedited without Ferrara’s participation or blessing.
The French Lieutenant’s Woman (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD), directed by Karel Reisz and featuring Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons, features a new 2K digital restoration and interviews with actors Streep and Irons, editor John Bloom, composer Carl Davis, and film scholar Ian Christie, plus a vintage episode of The South Bank Show featuring director Reisz, novelist John Fowles, and screenwriter Harold Pinter and an accompanying leaflet with an essay by Lucy Bolton.
The People Under the Stairs: Collector’s Edition (Scream Factory, Blu-ray), Wes Craven’s 1991 horror film, gets the deluxe treatment with two commentary tracks (one with Craven, the other with four of the stars), new video interviews with actress Wendie Robie, director of photography Sandi Sissel, composer Don Peake, and the make-up effects team (Greg Nicotero, Howard Berger, and Robert Kurtzman), and vintage behind-the-scenes footage.
War-Gods of the Deep (Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Blu-ray, DVD), inspired by a poem by Edgar Allan Poe and starring Vincent Price as tyrannical Captain who rules an undersea city of gill-man slaves, was the final film from filmmaker Jacques Tourneur. The 1964 film, which co-stars Tab Hunter, Susan Hart, and David Tomlinson, was another of AIP’s Poe-inspired films, though the inspiration is slim here and Roger Corman has no part of this one. Newly remastered for the Blu-ray debut, with an interview with Tab Hunter.
Three TV releases—The Knick: The Complete First Season (HBO, Blu-ray, DVD), directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring Clive Owen, the BBC mini-series Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (BBC, Blu-ray, DVD), and Person of Interest: The Complete Fourth Season (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD)—are covered in an upcoming post.
Digital / VOD / Streaming exclusives:
Enchanted Kingdom, a G-rated nature comedy from BBC Films, comes to VOD while it plays select theaters.
On Friday, August 14, same day as select theaters, comes: Final Girl, a horror film with Abigail Breslin Cop Car with Kevin Bacon
People Places Things with Jemaine Clement
Tom at the Farm, a French-language psychological thriller from Xavier Dolan Molly Moon and the Incredible Book of Hypnotism, from the popular kids book
Available for digital purchase in advance of disc: Mad Max: Fury Road (Warner, Digital HD) Aloha (Sony, Digital HD) Kingdom: Season One (Fox, Digital HD) Good Kill (Paramount, Digital HD) – Friday, August 14
And newly available on digital SD: Get Smart: The Complete Series(Warner, Digital SD)
Classics and Cult:
Agnès Varda in California (Eclipse 43) (Eclipse, DVD) A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (Twilight Time, Blu-ray) Summer Lovers (Twilight Time, Blu-ray) Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (Twilight Time, Blu-ray) House of Bamboo (Twilight Time, Blu-ray) The Little House (Chiisai Ouchi) (Twilight Time, Blu-ray) The Monster That Challenges the World (Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Blu-ray) Still of the Night (Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Blu-ray) The January Man (Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Blu-ray) The Rain Killer (Scorpion / Kino Lorber, DVD) Dead Silence (Universal, Blu-ray) Halloween III: Season of the Witch (Universal, Blu-ray) Hellfighters (Universal, Blu-ray) Soaked in Bleach (MVD, DVD)
TV on disc:
Dig: Season One (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD) Hell on Wheels: The Complete Fourth Season (eOne, Blu-ray, DVD) The Killing: The Complete Fourth Season (Fox, DVD) Rookie Blue: Season Five, Volume One(eOne, DVD) 2 Broke Girls: The Complete Fourth Season (Warner, DVD) Law & Order: Special Victims Unit – The Sixteenth Year (Universal, DVD) Maude: Season 2 (Shout! Factory, DVD) The Jeffersons: Season 8 (Shout! Factory, DVD) Kendra On Top: Season 3 (MPI, DVD)
Unfriended (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) 5 to 7 (IFC, DVD) Match (IFC, DVD, Digital) Patch Town (Kino Lorber, DVD) Cleveland Abduction (Sony, DVD) I Am Big Bird: The Carroll Spinney Story (Cinedigm, DVD) Police Story: Lockdown (Well Go, Blu-ray, DVD) May Allah Bless France (Strand, DVD) Hunting Elephants (XLrator, DVD) Northmen: A Viking Saga (Anchor Bay, Blu-ray, DVD) i-Lived (XLrator, DVD) Homicycle (AltCinema, DVD, Digital)