Deadline U.S.A. (1952) (2x)
Written and directed by Richard Brooks
Produced by Sol. C. Siegel
Cinematography by Milton R. Krasner
Edited by William B. Murphy
Music by Cyril Mockridge (Sol Kaplan, uncredited)
20th Century Fox
Kino Lorber Blu-ray (1:27)
To my great shame, I have never been much of a newspaper reader, but I’ve always loved stories about newspaper life. I first saw Deadline U.S.A. many years ago when I was a teenager and like many other kids of my era, thought it would be adventurous, daring and maybe even dangerous to work for a newspaper. Even back then, though, it seemed Humphrey Bogart wasn’t the type of guy you’d associate with being a newspaper editor. What would Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe be doing sitting behind a desk? I was about to find out.
But here Bogart is as Ed Hutcheson, editor of a major metropolitan newspaper called The Day. Margaret Garrison (Ethel Barrymore), the widow of the newspaper’s founder, is reluctantly selling the paper to a buyer who plans to shut down the paper and use the property for other purposes. (The story is based somewhat on the closing of the New York Sun in 1950, although the biography of writer/director Richard Brooks cites the 1931 closing of the New York World as the film’s inspiration.)
Hutcheson knows the paper’s going down soon. He also knows his ex-wife Nora (Kim Hunter, above right) is about ready to officially end any chance of reconciliation and find another man. One last story sparks Hutcheson’s interest: previously untouchable racketeer Tomas Rienzi (Martin Gabel) may be connected to the murder of a young woman. Rienzi has many dangerous underworld connections, but Hutcheson thinks, “Screw it, let’s take him down,” and he and his staff set about doing so. The story will either rescue the paper or bring it down in a blaze of glory.
Deadline U.S.A. makes the middle-aged person I am realize that the film has lost none of its power in 2016. It’s just as relevant today as it was then, perhaps more so. You don’t have to look very far to see that newspapers are closing, readers are dropping off (not just newspaper readers, either), and anyway, most “news” is just entertainment or the reporting of celebrity shenanigans. Hutcheson feels a responsibility to do something, to get the news out to readers. It was understood that the readers themselves might actually do something themselves after having read the news, even if that something consisted only of talking about the news stories with other people. There was a power in journalism. It had teeth, sharp teeth, and sometimes they bit down hard. And at other times, the ones who got bitten bit back.
The film reminds us of those times and shows us something we have for the most part lost. Sure, this is fiction, even though it’s based (however loosely based) on actual events, but the real truth is the total package: where we were and where we are. Yet even without all that, Deadline U.S.A. is simply great entertainment, a film you shouldn’t miss.
The new Kino Lorber Blu-ray includes a new commentary by Eddie Muller, which I have only sampled for a few brief minutes. (Other than a trailer, the commentary is the only supplement we get, but it’s Eddie Muller: you don’t need anything else.) Muller states early on that Deadline U.S.A. is not a film noir, and I have to agree with him: it’s more of a crime drama (sometimes bordering on melodrama), but the criminal element always carries the potential for noir. John Grant includes the film in his A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir: The Essential Reference Guide, so that’s good enough for me. The film also features one of my favorite noir supporting players, Paul Stewart, as well as Ed Begley, Warren Stevens, and Jim Backus. If you love classic films, buy this one with confidence.
Photos: Dr. Macro, MOMA, Paste, Toronto Film Society