Humphrey Bogart made ten movies after this, and this one is not to be missed if you’re a Bogart fan. He’s a newspaperman, the editor of a family owned paper that just may be sold to a Rupert Murdoch type of conglomerate. While this drama is playing out, there are two newspaper stories being investigated. One pertains to a murdered woman found in a river, clad in nothing but a fur coat. The other story revolves around a notorious gangster who has so far avoided any criminal convictions (think Al Capone or Tony Soprano). All three plot lines eventually coalesce as the movie winds toward its dramatic, although somewhat abrupt, conclusion.
It’s a fascinating representation of how a newspaper was run and is also a strong commentary on the importance of freedom of the press. Bogart shines as the world-weary editor who retains his journalistic integrity with moral fervor.
Ethel Barrymore plays the widowed matriarch of the family who owns the paper and is also the mother of two daughters (“Stupidity isn’t hereditary; you acquire it by yourself.”). As would be expected, Barrymore plays her like the grand lady she is. Bogart and Barrymore have good rapport, and watch in particular for the sweet scene when they discuss life, love, and the newspaper business.
Kim Hunter (of Stella Streetcar fame) plays Bogart’s ex-wife and she doesn’t have much of a part. She has an inexplicable little role in the conclusion as well. The gangster is very well played by Martin Gabel. He practically seethes with evil and has the overwhelming confidence of a mobster who knows he’s in control.
The newspaper room is filled with hard-working, fast-living reporters, and you will find Ed Begley and Jim Backus among them. Backus has a great part in the newspaper “wake” and the entire wake is a wonderful, black-humor scene.
Faces you will recognize in the newsroom, even if you don’t know their names, include Warren Stevens, Paul Stewart, Willis Bouchey, and John Doucette. Henchmen of note include Robert Foulk and Joe Sawyer. All of these people have hundreds of movie roles to their credits. James Dean purportedly has a small role in the movie but I didn’t see him.
The director, Richard Brooks, also wrote the film. His previous experience as a reporter in New York City certainly helped the realistic tone of the newsroom. And his love of the newspaper business comes through in the film. It’s an early directorial attempt for film-writer Brooks who went on to direct “Blackboard Jungle,” “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” “Elmer Gantry,” and “In Cold Blood.” The production feels like a gritty Warner Brothers film but this was put out by 20th Century Fox.
Sometimes the idealism gets a little heavy-handed (e.g., a corpse falls on the printing press at one point; will it, and all it represents, stop the presses?). But overall, it’s a well-paced drama and an interesting depiction of journalistic integrity and the newspaper business.
“It may not be the oldest profession but it’s the best.”