Two Old-School Newspaper Movies: One Good, One...Starrring Jack Webb!

Thursday, 27 February 2014 06:55 AM Written by 

A recent discussion about theTV show House of Cards on Pittsblogh dealt with those who accurately portrayed what went on and those who did not,  with All The President's Men getting many of the plaudits. It also linked to a 2007 article by PG Movie Editor Barb Vancheri on the subject of unrealistic newspaper-themed films.  

The question posed on the blog was what were readers' favorite newspaper-themed films and reporters?

Well, personally, I have to confess to great affection for the TV show Lou Grant (1978-1981) starring Ed Asner and future Livia Soprano Nancy Marchand as the regal publisher Margaret Pynchon, based on the Washington Post's Katherine Graham.  The TV show, an extension of Grant's Mary Tyler Moore Show character in a serious setting (the fictional "Los Angeles Tribune") came out in the wake of All The President's Men.

As for movies, I'm going to go back about 62 years or so and cite one great one and one so awful it's an unintentional comedy.

Deadline U.S.A. (1952) 

In an oddly prescient film about a failing city daily on the verge of being sold, Humphrey Bogart plays Managing Editor Ed Hutcheson.  Ethel Barrymore is the publisher, forced into the role after her husband's death (shades of Lou Grant's Mrs. Pynchon). The plot revolves around the paper's woes and a murder story involving a local racketeer.  Some journalists consider it one of the best newspaper film dramas. 

Bogie is Bogie.  Barrymore is appropriately regal and tough. Sadly, she's in none of these scenes. 

Yes, in the opening part, that's Jim Backus ("Thurston Howell III") standing at the left, at the bar.

And, from the credible to the incredibly bad, there's--

-30- (1959) 

This dreadfully preachy Jack Webb movie, which followed the equally terrible 1957 Marine Corps basic training fiim "The D.I.." features Webb as managing editor of a "big city paper," dealing with one day's worth of news, taking the Dragnet concept to absurd lengths.  His co-stars include William Conrad, later the star of Cannon and Jake and the Fatman, as City Editor Jim Bathgate, David Nelson, Ricky's older brother and a co-star of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, as a "copy boy" and Nancy Valentine as a newswriter named Jan.  The bathos-laden subplot of Gatlin's wife and the child she wants to adopt only adds to the absurdity.  Also in the cast : Joe Flynn (Captain Binghamton of McHale's Navy) and Richard Deacon (The Dick Van Dyke Show's Mel Cooley).

Am I being too rough?  Well, these clips don't substitute for the whole movie, but they give you an idea.  TCM runs it on occasion.

Take a look at this appalling bit of sexist dialogue between Webb as Managing Editor Sam Gatlin, and a newswriter named Jan, played by Nancy Valentine, regarding "the woman's angle."  It's totally in the context of the times and in keeping with Webb's personal world view.

An equally stupid scene between Nelson and Cannon.   It's too bad this clip didn't include the awful "musical" interlude that followed: a bunch of copy boys jiving around to a Latin beat,  and chanting some irrelevant, proto-rap ditty about being a "copy boy." 

A personal note: I watched this movie once sober and could barely get through it. I picked it up again sometime later, after quite a few bottles of Pilsner Urquell. the fine Czech Republic brew considered the original Pilsner. I found the refreshment greatly enhanced the film's inherent comedic properties. 


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