There is a very funny picture playing at the Brattle Theatre this week. The longest of reading period assignments and most foul exam schedule imaginable should not keep any true lover of the constant guffaw away from His Gal Friday.
Double teaming an absurdly delightful script are Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, both with notorious records for hilarity. Every hundred laughs they let Ralph Bellamy and some other supporting actors edge in to crack a few chortles. But the intrusions are little but hollow bows to the conventions of comedy since the two leads hardly need each other to sustain the humor. This is no routinely funny picture with a comedian flipping clever lines at a straight man. Almost every speech is self contained with a built-in combination set-up and punch line. The effect is marvelous, if exhausting.
In adapting the Hecht-MacArthur riot The Front Page to the screen, Charles Lederer did a mediocre job of changing title and a superb job of not changing the dialogue or action. It's still a caricature of the men who write newspapers when not playing poker or cracking insoluble cases for policemen who are almost as corrupt as they are incompetent. Set mostly in the press room of a city jail, the picture dotes on hardboiled softies screaming "hold the presses, tear out the front page," and other spurious journalism's.
Mush bustle and improbable commotion completely fill the screen, and the ordered nonsense is a monument to the direction of Howard Hawks. He has filmed the hectic action without losing either reasonable pace or timing, and the result is a picture that does with clever dialogue what Olsen and Johnson do with pandemonium and underdone custard pies. The only possible improvement would be a more thoughtful spacing of laughs. One can easily miss several excellent boffs while recovering from ones coming just before. The answer is to sit through two shows.