The Front Page
Here we have the third (out of four) film version of the classic play by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, and the second-best of the bunch. It’s a good movie, but there is just no way anyone is ever going to touch the Cary Grant, Roz Russell, Howard Hawks second version, re-titled His Girl Friday. In that one Hildy Johnson, the love-struck reporter trying to disentangle himself from a big story about an upcoming hanging and the underhanded efforts of Walter Burns the editor to break up his engagement and keep him reporting, was changed to a woman. That adds some crackling sexual energy to the story.
Here Hildy is a man again, Jack Lemmon, and the crusty old editor is Walter Matthau. Billy Wilder directed and co-wrote the adaptation. He admitted that it’s not a film he is proud of. There’s certainly no reason for him to be ashamed of it, but I know where he is coming from. It was probably a mistake to re-make a perfect movie, but not as big a mistake as the fourth and (one hopes) last version, Switching Channels (1988), where Hildy was a woman again (Kathleen Turner) and the venue was disastrously changed to television news.
(Boastful aside: I was looking for facts at Wiki and came across this under the entry for the stage play: “John Varley’s 1991 science fiction novel Steel Beach takes the story — and the change of sex — to another level; the plot includes a sex-change by a male reporter named Hildy Johnson.” They don’t miss much at Wiki.)