Montclair Film Festival 2016: 'The Front Page,' a digitally restored classic

Ricardo Kaulessar 04/30/2016

Back in February, when The Montclair Times did its top ten list of favorite journalism movies, one movie did not make the cut.

Now, "The Front Page" gets to be on a page, if not the front page, so to speak, in this newspaper.

The 1931 classic, which would be remade nine years later as another classic, "His Girl Friday," as well as a 1974 version with the same name, is being shown during the Montclair Film Festival.

And it will be on the big screen in a new digitally restored print courtesy of the Film Foundation, the nonprofit organization founded by Martin Scorsese and other filmmakers in 1990 for the purposes of film preservation and the exhibition of restored and classic cinema.

The screwball comedy directed by Lewis Milestone ("All Quiet on The Western Front") is based on a 1928 play by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, and stars Adolphe Menjou and Pat O'Brien as the editor and reporter of a Chicago newspaper who conspire to hide an accused murderer who escapes from jail in order to get their exclusive story with him.

The film was nominated for three Academy Awards including Best Picture.

Tom Hall, executive director of the festival, said the screening came about after conversations with Montclair resident Margaret Bodde, executive director of the Film Foundation.

"I love the Film Foundation and their mission, and one of the things that gets lost in the shuffle of film festivals is restorations and film preservations," Hall said. He hopes the public will check out the restored print, which he called "beautiful and pristine." If there's enough of an audience, he plans to show other restored films at the MFF space on Bloomfield Avenue in the future.

Hall said he is also a big fan of "The Front Page," which he called the "the grandfather of newspaper movies." He said he thought it would be perfect to show in Montclair, which is home to many journalists.

As for the movie, Hall said what he appreciates about it is that it serves as a kind of time capsule.

"Movies are a great way to travel the world without having to leave your house, and with 'The Front Page,' it's really fun to go back and time travel to see the history of cinematic storytelling," Hall observed.

Despite its age, Hall observed, the movie still holds up with a "lot of freshness and the jokes even land pretty well."

Bodde said she also is looking forward to "The Front Page" showing.

"The Montclair Film Festival is becoming a world-class film festival, and in my opinion, one of the reasons why is that it includes restorations of classic films," she said.

The restoration of the 1931 movie came about when the Film Foundation and the Academy Film Archive worked together, starting about three years ago. She said the challenge was that the original negative of the film no longer existed, which would enable the making of a new print.

"The film had gone into the public domain and there was no studio that was responsible for maintaining the film," Bodde said. "The sources to use for the restoration were different copies."

She said months of research that included studying the production files of the movie as well as finding original audio elements helped in the restoration of the film.

Bodde hopes that her fellow Montclairites will come out and see the movie to gain an appreciation of some of the things that have made her a fan.

"The writing is one of the stars of the show, which made the film one of the earliest examples of screwball comedies," Bodde said. "This is the ultimate newspaper movie, it shows the scrappy journalist who will do anything for a story."

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