Sunday, September 29, 2013

1974 - THE FRONT PAGE, Billy Wilder's version


For whatever reason Billy Wilder lost his ability to connect with an audience in the 1970's.  Avanti, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes and Fedora have their moments, but Wilder clearly wasn't the same guy who could toss off masterpieces like The Apartment, Sunset Boulevard and Witness for the Prosecution.

The Front Page is a particularly depressing film.  Wilder was clearly looking for a commercial property that would have audience appeal, The Sting had been popular with audiences with it's nostalgia and charismatic stars.  Wilder was probably hoping to hit pay dirt with that formula and his favorite actors, Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon.  Howard Hawks had good luck remaking The Front Page as His Girl Friday and Lewis Milestone had filmed a visually flamboyant version of the The Front Page in 1931, so Wilder probably figured he couldn't miss with another remake. 

Wilder sets up a shot with Matthau and Lemmon

Almost immediately everything is off in this version.  The pace is slow with absolutely no urgency in the performances or situations.  Wilder had always been a master craftsman setting up comedic situations but here he plods along from one scene to another unable to modulate the performances of a fairly decent cast.  Wilder along with his partner writer I.A.L. Diamond also resorted to lots of dialog with swearing and shouting instead of genuinely clever writing. 

Wilder had been the director who had teamed up Matthau and Lemmon the first time, but these guys couldn't deliver for him.  For a couple of veteran comedians they were not very funny. Matthau shouts and blusters his way as legendary editor Walter Burns.  In the play, Burns was a clever Machiavellian puppet master,  in this film his shenanigans wouldn't fool a 10 year old.  As ace reporter Hildy Johnson the simple fact is that Jack Lemmon is just too old to be playing the go getter reporter.  Lemmon looks like he should be sitting in front of a television drinking Geritol.

The Front Page is another example of an old school director (Hitchcock, Robert Wise, Ford, George Stevens) struggling to connect with a modern audience.

105 minutes

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