johnlink ranks DEADLINE U.S.A. (1952)

There aren’t too many Bogart films left which I had never even heard of. Well, this was one of them. Usually I discover these things on Turner Classic Movies, but this was one that happened across HBO. Go figure. I’m not sure I’ve really seen anything pre 1980s on HBO before.

I watched DEADLINE U.S.A. (1952) on 1.16.12. It was my first viewing of the film.

The plot of this film involves a soon-to-be-closed newspaper taking on a criminal mob boss despite a combination of threats and the looming layoffs. But this really is not a movie about its plot, its really a movie about the importance of newspapers, free enterprise, and reporting.

It is pretty amazing how well this sixty year old film mirrors themes of today’s media. In DEADLINE U.S.A. the paper is being purchased by a competitor who plans to close it. That competitor prefers sensationalism to sell copies, whereas Humprey Bogart’s Ed Hutchinson, editor of the ‘Day’, prefers news. Mentioned are the readers’ refusal to seek out news. In lamenting this, he delivers one of the best lines of the film, “It’s not enough any more to give ’em just news. They want comics, contests, puzzles. They want to know how to bake a cake, win friends, and influence the future. Ergo, horoscopes, tips on the horses, interpretation of dreams so they can win on the numbers lottery. And, if they accidentally stumble on the first page… news!”

Certainly heavy-handed at times, it does manage still to show that things may not have changed all that much in the struggle of journalism in the past six decades. What would Hutchinson think of bloggers, E! News, The Daily Show, etc.? In DEADLINE U.S.A. journalism is regarded as a noble yet masochistic profession. Without coming out and calling themselves heroes, these characters can’t help but mourn the loss of the golden era of media while noting that they could have made more money doing something else, or had successful personal lives doing something else. Bogart is trying to rekindle a failed marriage while a female reporter regrets two dead husbands and the several children she always wanted to have, but never did.

I liked this movie alot. The plot was run-of-the-mill, but the message was well packaged. Not too many films which roll in at under 90 minutes detour as much as this one does, introducing a character fresh out of school looking for a job. He gets advice from Bogie, providing an opportunity to hear about the pitfalls of being a newsman. Following that scene, he then has no impact on the remainder of the plot. 

The character of Margaret Garrison, a widow being forced to sell the Day by her children, is the key to this film working. As played by Ethel Barrymore, she works as a stronger foil to Bogie than his love interest, played by Kim Hunter. Not that the love interest story is weak, but the editor to owner’s-widow relationship shared by Bogie and Barrymore is something special. Bogart does some fine work in this film. He’s a tough guy with his mind, not with his physical abilities. It’s a different sort of role. Perhaps it is telling that he is most at home in the character when he is drunk (Bogart himself was an incurable alcoholic at this point in his life), but the scenes of Hutchinson drunkenly groping after his ex-wife work very well.

I’m not sure this is an all time favorite. I have a great appreciation for the filmmaking, and a slightly less preachy script might have elevated this a little further (though I give it credit for the non-Hollywood bittersweet ending). As it is, DEADLINE U.S.A. is a reminder that some current events are always current, and that we as a society need some good reporters to ensure tough questions are always being asked.






~ by johnlink00 on January 17, 2012.

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