The Front Page (1974)

PG | 105 mins | Comedy-drama | 18 December 1974

Director:

Billy Wilder

Producer:

Paul Monash

Cinematographer:

Jordan Cronenweth

Production Designer:

Henry Bumstead

Production Company:

Universal Pictures
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HISTORY

The Front Page was the third screen adaptation of Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s play, after 1931’s The Front Page and His Girl Friday (1940, see entries). Production notes stated that producer Paul Monash became interested in a film version of the play after seeing it performed in London by the British National Theatre. A 19 Jun 1973 HR news item reported that Monash secured film rights from actress Helen Hayes, “MacArthur’s widow,” and Hecht’s estate. Monash then took the project to Jennings Lang, vice president at Universal, who added The Front Page to Universal’s slate within “a matter of days,” according to production notes. A 25 Apr 1974 DV article stated that director Billy Wilder was in the process of writing an untitled script when Universal “paged him” to work on the film. Production notes stated that Wilder had once worked as a “newspaperman in Vienna and Berlin.”
       A 20 Aug 1973 HR news item announced that Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau would star in the film. The Front Page marked Jack Lemmon’s sixth time working with Wilder. Carol Burnett was later cast as “Mollie Malloy,” and, according to the 25 Apr 1974 DV news item, Burnett pledged to donate her salary to the Jonas Salk Institute.
       The film was shot at Universal Studios and on location in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Sets for the Chicago Examiner offices and interiors of the Chicago Criminal Courts Building were built on Universal sound stages, while Los Angeles’ Lincoln Heights City Jail and Orpheum Theatre served as other locations. ...

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The Front Page was the third screen adaptation of Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s play, after 1931’s The Front Page and His Girl Friday (1940, see entries). Production notes stated that producer Paul Monash became interested in a film version of the play after seeing it performed in London by the British National Theatre. A 19 Jun 1973 HR news item reported that Monash secured film rights from actress Helen Hayes, “MacArthur’s widow,” and Hecht’s estate. Monash then took the project to Jennings Lang, vice president at Universal, who added The Front Page to Universal’s slate within “a matter of days,” according to production notes. A 25 Apr 1974 DV article stated that director Billy Wilder was in the process of writing an untitled script when Universal “paged him” to work on the film. Production notes stated that Wilder had once worked as a “newspaperman in Vienna and Berlin.”
       A 20 Aug 1973 HR news item announced that Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau would star in the film. The Front Page marked Jack Lemmon’s sixth time working with Wilder. Carol Burnett was later cast as “Mollie Malloy,” and, according to the 25 Apr 1974 DV news item, Burnett pledged to donate her salary to the Jonas Salk Institute.
       The film was shot at Universal Studios and on location in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Sets for the Chicago Examiner offices and interiors of the Chicago Criminal Courts Building were built on Universal sound stages, while Los Angeles’ Lincoln Heights City Jail and Orpheum Theatre served as other locations. In San Francisco, a state building stood in for the exterior of the Criminal Courts Building, and another sequence was shot in the city “against the background of a Bay City railway station.”
       To ensure authenticity on set, filmmakers hired Sidney Boehm, a former newspaperman at the New York Journal and American, as a technical advisor, as noted in a 25 Apr 1974 DV article. On stage 31 at Universal, the Chicago Examiner set was “furnished…with old bleached, varnished desks, stand-up telephones, 1900-style typewriters, [and] photographs of the period’s personalities – among them President Woodrow Wilson, Red Grange and Babe Ruth.”
       Production notes stated that second unit director Carey Loftin “employed 25 top stuntmen on motorcycles, and 200 extras in 50 police automobiles” for a police chase scene. During a bank-robbery sequence shot on location in Los Angeles, a woman driving by believed she was witnessing a real robbery, as noted in a 15 May 1974 LAHExam news item. The driver ducked in her car, lost control of the vehicle, and caused injuries to eight pedestrians on the sidewalk who were observing the film shoot. The woman was not “cited by officers,” though one of the victims was critically injured.
       Critical reception for the film was mixed. Vincent Canby of NYT called the film “uneven” but acknowledged that it was quite funny at times, and singled out Matthau and Austin Pendleton, who played “Earl Williams,” for their exceptional performances. Pauline Kael of the New Yorker criticized the film for having no distinct style, and described Lemmon as “fifteen years too paunchy for the role of Hildy.” The 9 Dec 1974 HR review stated that Henry Bumstead’s “clean…and carefully arranged” production design called attention to the sets’ “artificiality,” and noticed “historical inaccuracies” in the film, set in 1929, “including a too early Cagney imitation, a poster from Universal’s 1930 release All Quiet on the Western Front [see entry], and an improbable screening of Universal’s 1925 release Phantom of the Opera.” However, the HR reviewer seemed to be unaware that Universal reissued its 1925 The Phantom of the Opera on 15 Dec 1929 with newly-shot talking sequences featuring stars Mary Philbin and Norman Kerry, as well as newly-shot sound opera scenes (see entry for The Phantom of the Opera, 1925).
       Actress Doro Merande, who played "Jennie," made her final onscreen appearance in the film.

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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
16 Dec 1974
p. 4744
Daily Variety
25 Apr 1974
---
Hollywood Reporter
19 Jun 1973
---
Hollywood Reporter
20 Aug 1973
---
Hollywood Reporter
9 Dec 1974
p. 3
LAHExam
15 May 1974
---
LAHExam
20 Dec 1974
---
Los Angeles Times
15 Dec 1974
Calendar, p. 1
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
11 Dec 1974
p. 54
New Republic
1 Feb 1975
p. 20, 34
New York
23 Dec 1974
pp. 70-71
New York Times
19 Dec 1974
p. 59
New Yorker
27 Jan 1975
p. 94
Newsweek
23 Jan 1974
p. 79
Time
23 Dec 1974
p. 4
Variety
11 Dec 1974
p. 18
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Billy Wilder Film
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
2d unit dir
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
WRITERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
Jordan S. Cronenweth
Dir of photog
Cam op
Asst cam
Asst cam
Gaffer
Best boy
Key grip
Stills
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Leadman
Prop master
Asst prop
COSTUMES
Ward man
Forrest Butler
Ward man
Ward woman
MUSIC
Mus adpt
SOUND
Boom op
VISUAL EFFECTS
Title des
Titles & opt eff
Spec eff
MAKEUP
Cosmetics by
Makeup man
Makeup man
Hairdresser
PRODUCTION MISC
Loc mgr
Bob Forrest
Scr supv
Alan De Witt
Dial coach
Transportation capt
Bill Batliner
Casting
Casting secy
Prod secy
AFI student
AFI student
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the play The Front Page by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur (New York, 14 Aug 1928).
LITERARY SOURCE AUTHORS
SONGS
"Button Up Your Overcoat," by B. G. DeSylva, Lew Brown and Ray Henderson, © 1928 by B. G. De Sylva, Brown & Henderson, Inc., © renewed assigned to Chappel & Co., Inc., published in U.S.A. by Chappel & Co. Inc. and Anne-Rachel Music Corp.; "Wedding Bells Are Breaking Up That Old Gang of Mine," lyrics by Irving Kahal, Willie Raskin, music by Sammy Fain; "Congratulate Me," lyrics by Bob Rothberg, music by Lou Handman.
SONGWRITERS/COMPOSERS
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
18 December 1974
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 18 Dec 1974; Los Angeles opening: 20 Dec 1974
Production Date:
8 Apr--late Jun 1974
Copyright Info
Claimant
Date
Copyright Number
Universal Pictures
18 December 1974
LP44239
Physical Properties:
Sound
Westrex Recording System
Color
Technicolor®
Widescreen/ratio
Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
105
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
24056
SYNOPSIS

Outside a Chicago criminal courts building in 1929, police build a scaffold and bleachers for the public hanging of Earl Williams, who has been convicted of killing a policeman. Upstairs, reporters play poker in the press room. Newspaper editor Walter Burns calls from the Chicago Examiner , looking for reporter Hildy Johnson, but he’s not there. Walter leaves word that Hildy should immediately come to his office. Later, Hildy wanders into Walter’s office at a leisurely pace and informs the editor that he’s in love. Walter tells Hildy he wants him to cover the hanging the next morning and snap an illegal picture of the hanged man with a hidden camera. Minutes after the execution, an ambulance will be waiting for Hildy outside so that he can type his story in the back and beat the other newspapers to press with a morning extra. Hildy tells Walter he’s quitting to get married and move to Philadelphia. He plans to take an advertising job so that he can spend time with his future wife instead of continuing as a workaholic reporter. Walter resents Hildy for betraying him, insisting that he taught Hildy everything he knows. Walter tracks down Hildy’s fiancée, Peggy Grant, an organist who works at a movie theater. Posing as Otto Fishbein, a probation officer, he tells Peggy that Hildy is on probation and cannot legally move to another city. Hildy then calls his fiancée, and, over the phone, realizes that Walter is playing a trick. Hildy explains to Peggy that Fishbein is actually Walter, and she sends him away. At the criminal courts press room, Hildy’s replacement, ...

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Outside a Chicago criminal courts building in 1929, police build a scaffold and bleachers for the public hanging of Earl Williams, who has been convicted of killing a policeman. Upstairs, reporters play poker in the press room. Newspaper editor Walter Burns calls from the Chicago Examiner , looking for reporter Hildy Johnson, but he’s not there. Walter leaves word that Hildy should immediately come to his office. Later, Hildy wanders into Walter’s office at a leisurely pace and informs the editor that he’s in love. Walter tells Hildy he wants him to cover the hanging the next morning and snap an illegal picture of the hanged man with a hidden camera. Minutes after the execution, an ambulance will be waiting for Hildy outside so that he can type his story in the back and beat the other newspapers to press with a morning extra. Hildy tells Walter he’s quitting to get married and move to Philadelphia. He plans to take an advertising job so that he can spend time with his future wife instead of continuing as a workaholic reporter. Walter resents Hildy for betraying him, insisting that he taught Hildy everything he knows. Walter tracks down Hildy’s fiancée, Peggy Grant, an organist who works at a movie theater. Posing as Otto Fishbein, a probation officer, he tells Peggy that Hildy is on probation and cannot legally move to another city. Hildy then calls his fiancée, and, over the phone, realizes that Walter is playing a trick. Hildy explains to Peggy that Fishbein is actually Walter, and she sends him away. At the criminal courts press room, Hildy’s replacement, Rudy Keppler, arrives and informs the others that Hildy has left the business. Mollie Malloy arrives moments later, and yells at the reporters for writing lies about her, claiming she is Williams’ girlfriend. Mollie confesses that she had befriended Williams but was not his girlfriend. Unlike the reporters, Mollie believes that Williams didn’t intentionally kill anyone. As Mollie leaves, Hildy shows up with drinks to celebrate his new advertising job. The sheriff visits the press room to hand out tickets to the hanging. Hildy accuses the sheriff and mayor of reprieving Williams twice so that the hanging would take place just before an election. The sheriff insists that Williams is a communist who is very sane and shot the policeman to make a political statement. Hildy disagrees, claiming that Williams is “just a screwball.” At the jailhouse, Williams, a diminutive, soft-spoken man, is escorted to the sheriff’s office for his final psychological examination. Williams calmly explains to Dr. Eggelhofer that he once sent a bomb to J. P. Morgan’s office on Wall Street, then contradicts himself by saying he loves people and would never abuse anyone. Eggelhofer borrows the sheriff’s gun to demonstrate his theory about why Williams shot at the police officer. Upstairs, Hildy’s celebration is interrupted by gunshots. Sirens blare, more shots are heard, and the reporters realize Williams has escaped. Hildy gets on the phone to tell Walter the news. The editor laments that Hildy is no longer reporting, but Hildy promises he’s “right on top of it.” Downstairs, the sheriff tells reporters about Williams’ escape, but insists he doesn’t know where the prisoner got a gun. Hildy runs into Jennie, the building’s janitor, who overheard the incident. She tells Hildy she had better not reveal what she overheard, as the sheriff would fire her. Meanwhile, the injured Eggelhofer’s stretcher falls out of an ambulance. As the stretcher speeds down the street, Eggelhofer yells repeatedly that Williams is a “fruitcake.” Hildy calls Walter to tell him what he’s learned from Jennie, that Eggelhofer used the sheriff’s gun to reenact the crime, and Williams stole it, shot Eggelhofer, and made his escape. Hildy then informs Walter that Peggy is picking him up in fifteen minutes and he can no longer follow the story. The Mayor addresses reporters in his office and tells them he has utter faith in the sheriff. After the reporters leave, the Mayor reprimands the sheriff for letting Williams get away. A man named Plunkett arrives and delivers a reprieve for Williams, sent by the Governor. The sheriff receives a phone call that police have trapped Williams. The Mayor tells Plunkett that the reprieve is not applicable because Williams has escaped custody, but he may try to serve the reprieve again tomorrow. The Mayor then sends orders, via the sheriff, for the police to “shoot to kill,” now that Williams is in their sights. Headed for a night train to Philadelphia, Hildy joins Peggy in a taxi outside the courthouse. However, when he realizes he left the wedding rings, he runs back inside. There, Hildy finds the rings moments before Williams falls through a window and points a gun at him. Hildy reminds Williams that he conducted an interview with the convict at his jail cell. Williams then passes out, and Hildy drags him to the bathroom, draws the curtains, and calls Walter to tell him that he has Williams in his custody. Mollie shows up, and Williams emerges at the sound of her voice. Hildy sends Peggy to pick up their luggage while he finishes up some last-minute business. Hildy hides Williams inside a desk when the other reporters demand entry to the press room. The men suspect Hildy is hiding something. To cover for Hildy, Mollie claims to know where Williams is, then jumps out the window. The reporters run outside to see if she’s still alive. As the room clears, Walter appears at the door. He orders a delivery truck and six large men to move the desk, with Williams inside, to the Chicago Examiner office. Hildy types up a story while Walter takes Williams’ picture and sends Keppler to develop the negative. Peggy returns to find Hildy typing away with Walter at his side. Distracted, Hildy suggests Peggy go to the train station ahead of him, and she leaves, dejected. When he finishes the story, Hildy becomes frustrated with Walter’s persistence and heads off to the train station. Before he can leave, however, the sheriff shows up with the other reporters, all of whom accuse Hildy of hiding something. A policeman holds Hildy, while the sheriff demands Williams’ whereabouts. The sheriff finally realizes Williams is inside the desk. Police escort Williams away, and the sheriff arrests Hildy and Walter for hiding the convict. In a jail cell, Hildy blames Walter for keeping him from Peggy. In a neighboring cell, Plunkett, who has been arrested for drunkenness, overhears Walter and informs him that he has Williams’ reprieve. The Mayor arrives at the jail, and Walter presents him with the reprieve, accusing him of ignoring it so that he could hang Williams before the election. The Mayor lets Walter and Hildy out, and Walter arranges for Hildy to be rushed to the train station to meet Peggy. Just before the train pulls away, Walter gives Hildy his pocket watch. After the train pulls out of the station, Walter arranges for Hildy to be arrested at the next stop for stealing the watch! Some time later, Hildy returns to the Chicago Examiner to become Managing Editor; Walter retires, lecturing from time to time at the University of Chicago on the ethics of journalism; and, Williams, now freed, marries Mollie, and the two run a health-food store together.

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Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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