The Front Page

Here’s another newspaper story from Billy Wilder. Wilder’s 1974 film adapts Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s play, and focuses on Chicago Examiner reporter Hildebrand “Hildy” Johnson, played by Jack Lemmon.

Lemmon’s character has just quit his job to get married, but gets drawn back to his old beat when a convict escapes death row. The convict is innocent, but a case of yellow journalism from a pack of manipulative tabloid journalists has swayed sentiment against him. Also involved: Lemmon’s unsympathetic editor, played by Walter Matthau, who will do whatever it takes to keep Lemmon on the job.

The bulk of the reporters on display in The Front Page are ruthless and have no trouble bending the truth to make a story sound better, but Lemmon’s Hildy is out to do the right thing. The Front Page is so popular it’s been adapted several times, including an earlier film in 1931, and another movie which will pop up on this list very soon. Next, in fact.

His Girl Friday

His Girl Friday covers almost the same plotline as The Front Page, because it’s yet another adaptation of Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s play. But director Howard Hawks and writer Charles Lederer put an interesting new spin on the material: the character of Hildy is a woman here, played by Rosalind Russell, and her editor (Cary Grant) is her ex-husband.

The Wilder/Lemmon/Matthau take on the material is good, but His Girl Friday is great. The film crackles, bustling with life as characters spit out rapid-fire dialogue faster than typewriter keys can keep up.

Hawks changed the game by trying something other films of the era avoided: overlapping dialogue. Most movies of the time, and before, have actors patiently waiting to deliver their lines, but in His Girl Friday, they banter and try to out-talk each other, which makes everything seem a lot more energetic and lot more realistic.

The Hudsucker Proxy 

The Coen Brothers found themselves working on a big studio picture with 1994’s The Hudsucker Proxy, and things didn’t turn out so well. I don’t mean quality-wise – The Hudsucker Proxy is great. The the film had trouble finding an audience, and was a box office bomb. No matter – it’s an absolutely delight. The film finds Tim Robbins playing a sweet-natured but not exactly bright mail room clerk who finds himself named head of Hudsucker Industries in a scheme by the board of directors to buy controlling interest of the company.

Enter Amy Archer, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. Amy assumes a fake identity to gain access to Robbins’ character and figure out what’s going on a Hudsucker Industries. Through it all, a romance blossoms. Hudsucker isn’t really interested in journalism, but I felt like I’d be remiss if I left it off the list. Amy Archer is played to perfection by Jennifer Jason Leigh, who is channeling Rosalind Russell’s His Girl Friday performance but also bringing her own manic spin to it all. Leigh’s rapid-fire dialogue delivery is an absolutely delight, and the scenes where she putters around the newsroom with fellow reporter Bruce Campbell are among the film’s best.

The Paper

People like to call Ron Howard a workman director, but Howard has made a handful of legitimately wonderful movies. One such film is 1994’s The Paper, which has a killer cast that includes Michael Keaton, Glenn Close, Marisa Tomei, Randy Quaid and Robert Duvall.

Keaton plays the editor of a New York City rag who can’t get enough of his job. Unfortunately, budget cutbacks and marital problems are getting in the way. Things get even more complicated when reporters at Keaton’s paper uncover a police cover-up which could either turn into a career-making story or end their careers forever.

The Paper is a bit over-stuffed, and it happily dabbles in cliches. Yet it’s a whiplash inducing journey through the world of high-stakes, low-pay journalism, and it’s one of the few movies on this list that actually features a scene where a character gets to yell “Stop the presses!”

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