VCI Entertainment presents Screwball Comedy Classics Double Feature Volume 2: His Girl Friday & The Front Page, two films based on the Broadway play The Front Page written by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur.
Directed by Lewis Milestone, The Front Page (1931) stars Adolphe Menjou as Chicago newspaper editor Walter Burns and Pat O'Brien as his put-upon reporter Hildebrand "Hildy" Johnson. Hildy plans to quit his job, get married, and head to New York while Walter wants Hildy to cover an upcoming hanging of Earl Williams, a man and possible Communist convicted of murdering an African-American cop, and all the political ramifications tied to it.
Much of the film is set in the press room near the prison where the hanging is going to take place, even after Williams escapes after shooting a psychiatrist during his re-enactment of the crime. The cast of characters are predominantly a cynical bunch of newspapermen. The story offers an intriguing look at government corruption.
Directed by Howard Hawks, His Girl Friday (1940) demonstrates that not only can remakes work well, if not better than the original, but so can gender-flipping roles, information that will disappoint many an uninformed, angry commenter on the Internet. Legend has it that after hearing his secretary read Hildy's lines during auditions, Hawks had the script re-written, which not only led to Hildy becoming a woman (Rosalind Russell) but also the ex-wife to Burns (Cary Grant), who has reasons beyond the paper for why he doesn't want to lose his best reporter to wedded bliss with insurance man Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy).
His Girl Friday tells the same basic story about an editor getting a reporter to cover a hanging. More settings are used, making the film feel bigger and less like a stage play like Milestone's does. Not only does it retain its screwball sensibilities, it's even screwier. The change in Hildy not only allows for a romantic element to be added, which adds more depth to the story but also allows it for the character. As a woman, Hildy is able to offer a sympathetic ear to Mollie, a friend of Earl's, who the newspapermen have treated shabbily in their stories and to her face.
The DVD states it “has been digitally restored to its present condition.” For The Front Page, the picture has black and white specks and other markings. Focus is not consistently sharp. The audio track has a bit of a hiss and the entire mix is low. The picture for His Girl Friday is even worse. Not only does aliasing occur, as seen in the lines on Hildy's first dress and hat, and even worse on the rolltop part of the desk. Focus is not just soft but the lines on some objects appear as jagged steps. The audio while also at a low volume is improved because there's not as much hiss.
Screwball Comedy Classics Double Feature Volume 2: His Girl Friday & The Front Page offers two great movies at a great value, but if the audio-visual aspects are important, I can't recommend this release with Criterion having their own double feature with both titles having been given high-definition digital restorations.