Here’s Pauline Kael:
In 1928 Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur wrote The Front Page, the greatest newspaper comedy of them all; Howard Hawks directed this version of it — a spastic explosion of dialogue, adapted by Charles Lederer, and starring Cary Grant as the domineering editor Walter Burns and Rosalind Russell as Hildy Johnson, the unscrupulous crime reporter with printer’s ink in her veins. (In the play Hildy Johnson is a man.) Overlapping dialogue carries the movie along at breakneck speed; word gags take the place of the sight gags of silent comedy, as this race of brittle, cynical, childish people rush around on corrupt errands. Russell is at her comedy peak here — she wears a striped suit, uses her long-legged body for ungainly, unladylike effects, and rasps out her lines. And, as Walter Burns, Grant raises mugging to a joyful art. Burns’ callousness and unscrupulousness are expressed in some of the best farce lines ever written in this country, and Grant hits those lines with a smack. He uses the same stiff-neck cocked-head stance that he did in Gunga Din: it’s his position for all-out, unstuble farce. He snorts and whoops. His Burns is a strong-arm performance, defiantly self-centered and funny. The reporters — a fine crew — are Ernest Truex, Cliff Edwards, Porter Hall, Roscoe Karns, Frank Jenks, Regis Toomey; also with Gene Lockhart as the sheriff, Billy Gilbert as the messenger, John Qualen, Helen Mack, and Ralph Bellamy as chief stooge — a respectable businessman — and Alma Kruger as his mother.
The Front Page was made into a movie in 1931 and then remade as His Girl Friday. It’s about as good as American movie comedy gets. It’ll leave you dizzy.
For one week starting today, Film Forum is screening a new 35 mm print of Howard Hawks’ great 1938 comedy Bringing Up Baby. Sheila O’Malley, who writes the terrific blog, The Sheila Variations, has a fun piece about the flick and it’s racy subtext at Capital New York.
Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn and Howard Hawks – what more can a movie lover ask for? This is one of the great screen comedies, folks, don’t miss it.
On a fishing trip in 1939, film director Howard Hawks told Ernest Hemingway:
“Ernest, you’re a damn fool. You need money, you know. You can’t do all the things you’d like to do. If I make three dollars in a picture, you get one of them. I can make a picture out of your worst story.”
“What’s my worst story?”
“That god damned bunch of junk called To Have and To Have Not [sic.].”
“You can’t make anything out of that.”
“Yes I can. You’ve got the character of Harry Morgan; I think I can give you the wife. All you have to do is make a story about how they met.”
It’s not a great movie but it is good entertainment (and the screenplay was co-written by William Faulkner of all people). Walter Brennan and Hoagy Carmichael are winning in supporting roles and Lauren Bacall practically burns a hole in the screen. Man, what poise, what a kitten: