During a high profile Mafia testimony case in California's Riverside County, a hired killer checks-in a hotel room near the courthouse while his next door depressed neighbor wants to commit suicide due to marital problems.
When Hildy Johnson, the top reporter of a Chicago newspaper announces that he is quitting to get married, his editor, Walter Burns desperately tries to change his mind. When denial, cursing, and luring don't work, Walter resorts to tricks. It's the day before a supposed communist is to be hanged, and all Chicago waits with baited breath. Meanwhile, each of the papers has a man on the story trying to get a scoop or angle for themselves. With a train to catch at midnight to join his fiancé, Hildy is at first not interested, but events and his own habits work against him as the day unfolds, and he can't help but get roped in, especially when the man to be executed escapes and then almost literally falls into his lap. Written by
Walter Burns' idea for Hildy Johnson to surreptitiously snap a death photo of Earl Williams' execution by strapping a camera to his ankle with the shutter release in his pocket actually happened. On January 12, 1928 (over 18 months before the Ben Hecht - Charles MacArthur play "The Front Page" opened), murderers Ruth Brown Snyder and her lover, Henry Judd Gray, were executed in New York's Sing Sing prison's electric chair for the murder of Ruth's husband, Albert Snyder, the previous year. At the moment of her electrocution Tom Howard, a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, used a one-time-use camera strapped to his leg to snap a picture of her at the moment of her death. The picture later became notorious as an example of the lengths to which some reporters would to go get an exclusive. The camera used is now part of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. In another film irony, the Snyder and Gray case was also used as the basis for a James M. Cain novel later made into a classic film, Double Indemnity (1944), also directed by Billy Wilder. See more »
Walter Burns visits a Balaban-Katz theater while it is showing a Universal Newsreel. Universal distributed this film but the Balaban-Katz chain was controlled by Paramount and would have shown the Paramount Newsreel. In addition, at the time this film was set, Universal distributed Hearst's International Newsreel. The Universal Newsreel was first seen in August, 1929. See more »
On 06 June 1929, in Chicago, the press is covering from the tribunal press room, the hanging of the anarchist Earl Williams (Austin Pendleton) that accidentally killed a cop and will happen on the next day. Hildy Johnson (Jack Lemmon), who is the best newspaperman of the Chicago Examiner, tells his boss Walter Burns (Walter Matthau) that he will marry the widow concert pianist Peggy Grant (Susan Sarandon) on the next day and quits his job, telling that he will move to Philadelphia and work in advertisement business. Walter unsuccessfully tries to use a scheme to force Hildy to stay in the Examiner and cover the execution on the gallows. Meanwhile, the corrupt Sheriff "Honest" Pete Hartman (Vincent Gardenia) interrogates Earl with the psychologist Dr. Eggelhofer (Martin Gabel) for the last check whether the prisoner is sane or not and the doctor proposes a simulation of the murder, but Earl shots Dr. Eggelhofer with the sheriff's revolver on the groin and escapes. Meanwhile, the governor's representative Plunkett (Paul Benedict) comes with a retreat on Earl, but the dirty Mayor (Harold Gould) and the Sheriff do not acknowledge the receipt of the document and send Plunkett to a brothel. When Hildy finds Earl hidden in the press room, his sense of journalist prevails and he calls Walter to protect Earl together with the unseen power of the press.
"The Front Page" is a witty comedy by Billy Wilder in one of his last works. I have never had the chance to see the original 1931 film, but this cynical remake is great, with top-notch performances of Walter Matthau in the role of a Machiavellian editor that has no ethics and presses his top journalist to stay in his newspaper. Jack Lemmon and Vincent Gardenia have also excellent performances. The ironic conclusion with the fate of each character is hilarious. My vote is eight.
Title (Brazil): "A Primeira Página" ("The Front Page")
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