Writer: Richard Brooks
Stars: Humphrey Bogart, Ethel Barrymore and Kim Hunter
|This review is part of the Second Annual Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. This is my Ethel Barrymore review; watch out for John tomorrow and Lionel on Wednesday.|
I was pleased with that plan, but it almost came a cropper immediately. It turns out that Ethel Barrymore isn’t actually in Deadline - USA much, even though she’s prominently placed on the poster and on the screen, right after the title card, alongside Kim Hunter. It’s testament to her reputation that she be so highly billed, given that lead actor Humphrey Bogart came to this from The African Queen and Hunter to it from A Streetcar Named Desire. By comparison, Barrymore came to it from a trio of 1951 movies that I hadn’t even heard of, though I have every intention now of tracking down Kind Lady and The Secret of Convict Lake, if not perhaps It’s a Big Country: An American Anthology. She does get a few scenes of power, as the widow of a newspaperman. ‘Girls these days have stuff,’ she tells Bogart, ‘but they’re brittle, break more easily.’ That’s a telling line from a stage actress who could easily be described as a gentle battle-axe. Bogart’s character jokingly proposes to her. ‘You’re too old,’ she replies.
It’s clearly Bogie’s film quickly and effectively, even if we start with Martin Gabel as a local mafioso called Tomas Rienzi, dismissing whatever questions a senate subcommittee throws at him. When a Day journalist, George Burrows, asks Hutcheson if he can stay on Rienzi, he tells him that ‘we’re not detectives and we’re not in the crusading business.’ However, they soon become both, once Rienzi’s thugs send Burrows to the hospital and Hutcheson discovers the fate of the paper upstairs from the heirs and lawyers. He prowls that room, polite but demonstrative, quoting the front page of the first edition from memory. He dominates effortlessly and Ethel Barrymore lets him. Margaret clearly feels guilty at this point, knowing that he’s a good man and a good reporter who runs a good paper. Her spine will return later in the film, but his never left. As he goes back downstairs to sweep into his office, a colleague tells him that the mayor is on the phone. ‘I’m busy,’ is his response, because he has bigger things on his mind.
Technically, the crew back up the cast superbly, with only a few obvious rear projection shots detracting from the film’s power. It has a decent, if conventionally dramatic, fifties score from Cyril Mockridge, sharp editing from William B. Murphy and a suitably restless camera, courtesy of Milton Krasner, who had been Oscar-nominated the previous year for All About Eve, his second of six nominations; he would win in 1955 for Three Coins in the Fountain. The most obvious name to call out, though, perhaps after Bogart but perhaps not, is that of Richard Brooks, who wrote and directed; he’d go on to direct Bogie’s next picture too, Battle Circus. Of all his screenplays, which include Key Largo, Blackboard Jungle and Looking for Mr. Goodbar, along with adaptations of The Killers, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and In Cold Blood, this may be one of the closest to his heart, as he used to be a reporter in New York with Samuel Fuller and we know what that was like from the latter’s magnificent Park Row. They took the news business very seriously.
This may be Bogart’s most traditional scene because, frankly, was there anyone in Hollywood better equipped to stand up against a bully of a crime boss in the latter’s own vehicle? The only actor I could think of who could have played this scene better than the Bogart of the fifties is perhaps the Bogart of the forties; he’s as utterly at ease being threatened as Rick in Casablanca and his lines are just as snappy. ‘I think I like you,’ says Rienzi. Hutcheson simply fires back, ‘Why?’. ‘I’d like you to be my friend,’ offers Rienzi. ‘I’ve got a friend,’ he replies. Martin Gabel does a great job as the mafioso but, while he’s neither a Cagney nor a Robinson, Bogart is still Bogart. ‘Never beat up a reporter,’ he tells the crook. ‘It’s like killing a cop on duty.’ He blisters into him, with infuriatingly simple lines that bite, all while watching him like a hawk. When Rienzi finally realises that he can’t dominate this newspaperman and slaps him with a copy of his own paper, Hutcheson finally grins. He’s got him. This is quintessential Brooks and Bogart.
So this tells quite a lot of newspaper history, wrapped up in a fictionalised setting, and that discovery perhaps weakens the ending, which is left open, the future of The Day left to the minds of readers. History tells us precisely what happened and it wasn’t good. It also spins a good story itself, with Bogart magnetic as an editor who finds himself crusading against a bad man in order to keep his paper alive and the twists and turns of that crusade fascinating to watch. There’s also an odd romantic angle, which is woven into the wider story superbly. Hutcheson is a very capable juggler, able to keep many balls in the air at once; he frequently skips from one strand of dialogue to another like lightning. However, he’s dropped what Hollywood would usually see as the most important ball of them all, his marriage, and when he tries to pick it up, it’s too late. What’s telling is how little this really affects his drive, as he’s a newspaperman not a husband. As Margaret suggests, ‘You wouldn’t have had a wife if that newspaper had beautiful legs.’