Ben Hecht was a journalist, novelist, and playwright, but is probably best known for his screenplays. He is possibly the best screenwriter who ever worked in Hollywood. I won’t list his credits, there are just too many of them, and an amazing percentage of them are bona fide classics, things you must see if you are a movie fan.
This Norman Jewison movie is “based on” his memoirs. I don’t know just how seriously to take that. I can believe he came to Chicago as an innocent bumpkin, and ended up living in the city’s fanciest whorehouse (managed here by Melina Mercouri). I’m dubious that it took him as long as we see here to realize he was in a whorehouse. I can believe he got a job in one of the fiercely competitive and sensationalist newspapers of 1910. But then it gets into highly improbable situations, and one event that is entirely impossible.
I don’t really mind. It wasn’t meant to be history or even biography, it was just an entertaining story. Some of it was filmed in Chicago, but a lot of it was on a huge “Chicago” set on the Fox lot, a set you have probably seen in Pennies From Heaven and The Sting, to name a few. There are trolley tracks in the cobblestones, and steel girders supporting an El train. The production was elaborate and impressive, with thousands of extras on the crowded streets in some scenes. It was nominated for several Oscars in the costuming and production design categories, the Oscars no one outside the business remembers.