A few years back, The Film Foundation and the Academy Film Archive, with support from the Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation, started working on a restoration of Lewis Milestone’s 1931 film version of Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s 1928 play The Front Page, produced by Howard Hughes. The restoration team was confronted with an all-too-familiar situation: the original negative was gone. In the case of this particular film, three original negatives were gone: Milestone’s preferred American version, the UK version and the international version. The invaluable Michael Sragow documents the history behind the restoration, which was based on a print of the American version struck from the original negative in the 1970s, in his excellent notes on the film for the Criterion edition of Howard Hawks’ His Girl Friday, which includes the Milestone film as an extra.

The Front Page has been a mainstay of American culture since Jed Harris’ original 1928 Broadway production (directed by George S. Kaufman), which starred Lee Tracy and Osgood Perkins (father of Anthony). It has been regularly revived on the stage, most recently by Jerry Zaks in 2017, with John Slattery and Nathan Lane. I remember taking my grandmother to see a 1986 Lincoln Center revival with Richard Thomas and John Lithgow (that cast also included Julie Hagerty and my pal Deirdre O’Connell). There are four film versions, the most famous of which is now the Hawks film (the 1988 Ted Kotcheff film Switching Channels, which changed the milieu from print to cable TV journalism, is actually more of a His Girl Friday remake). Why does The Front Page resonate?

Because it portrays journalism as a profit-driven exercise in sensation-seeking, for which reporting the truth is a secondary consideration; because the sensationalism is easily found in the world of power-mongering big city politics; because it’s hilarious when it’s done right and brilliantly plotted. At a moment when sensationalism is now common currency in the press, from the smallest smalltown gazette to the Old Gray Lady herself, when doom is ever-impending and “likely” cataclysms are lurking around every corner, when Tweets are treated as news and time frame stretches as far back as five minutes ago and ahead as far as tomorrow…yes, I’d say that The Front Page does indeed resonate, particularly in this glorious restoration. To quote Sragow, it’s “the zestiest and most influential movie you’ve never seen.”

- Kent Jones

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THE FRONT PAGE (1931, d. Lewis Milestone)
Restored by the Academy Film Archive and The Film Foundation. Restoration funding provided by the Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation. Elements for this restoration provided by The Howard Hughes Corporation and by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, College of Fine Arts' Department of Film and its Howard Hughes Collection at the Academy Film Archive. 

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