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"Deadline -- U.S.A.," an Old Movie with a Still-Timely Message
August 4, 2010  | By Eric Mink
 

[Bianculli here: Today at 4 p.m. ET, TCM presents a rare showing of an old movie that still works -- especially, contributing critic Eric Mink suggests, for journalists. The film is 1952's Deadline -- U.S.A., with an eerily timely message...]

deadlineusa-top.jpg

Journalism wallows in one existential crisis after another. Take your pick: Internet technology is killing the news profession; the Great Recession is suffocating a business model already on life support; concentration of ownership is destroying media's vital competitive drive; the ethical vacuum around Fox News' success is sucking the lifeblood out of honorable news presentation. These days, you couldn't be blamed if you believed that the inherent short attention span of youth were a genetic mutation caused by cellphone radiation to the brain.

How startling, then, to discover not only a measure of reassurance about all this, but also some genuine wisdom, in a 58-year-old Hollywood movie.

deadline-usa-title.jpg

You can't hardly find 1952's Deadline -- U.S.A. It's not out on home video, DVD or VHS. Amazon, Netflix, Blockbuster, Red Box -- forget it.

Cable's Turner Classic Movies has a print in its archives, but the picture, written and directed by Richard Brooks, doesn't turn up much. A rare scheduled screening Wednesday at 4 p.m. (ET) is part of the channel's annual Summer Under the Stars focus on different actors each day in August. The movie appears on the day devoted to Ethel Barrymore.

Barrymore delivers a gleaming supporting performance in Deadline -- U.S.A. as Margaret Garrison, widow of the founder and owner of The Day, a great metropolitan newspaper in trouble. Garrison's distressed staff is led by managing editor Ed Hutcheson, played by an alternately sulking and furious Humphrey Bogart.

I managed to get hold of a reasonably decent copy last year and was stunned at how much I'd forgotten in the decades since I'd last seen it -- years before I'd ever worked for a newspaper.

deadline-usa-bigie-w-paper.jpgThe film is littered, of course, with newsroom markers that would have given it authenticity in 1952 but are long dead: clacking typewriters and wire service teletype machines, pneumatic tubes coughing pasted-up stories from copy desks to the composing room floor and back, headsets on re-write men taking phoned-in notes from reporters and instantly turning them into finished stories.

deadline-usa-bogie-drinking.jpg

There also is no shortage of familiar newsroom stereotypes -- a "tough-broad" woman reporter among them -- and fast talkers that put Aaron Sorkin's West Wing and Sports Night characters to shame. And, after hours, lots of alcohol at the local bar.

There's also a music score that's almost intolerably hokey in spots ("The Battle Hymn of the Republic"??!!) and enough dated wise-guy dialogue to set your eyes rolling for chunks of the film's 87 minutes.

But those glitches pale in comparison to the emotional pull of the movie's two interlocking stories:

deadline-usa-owners.jpg

First, Garrison's two daughters want to cash out their inheritance by selling The Day to a competitor who will shut it down. Their mother (Barrymore) doesn't want to sell, but she's outvoted.

At the same time, a well-connected hood is rigging elections, robbing the city blind and bumping off people with impunity. But he makes a big mistake when he has a snoopy reporter for The Day severely beaten up. That fires up Hutcheson, who also sees aggressive coverage as a way to generate enough public interest and pressure to kill the sale of the paper.

deadline-usa-bogie-in-doorw.jpg

Bogart's Hutcheson delivers most of the impassioned passages about the news profession and why it's important. Remarkably, they still resonate today, notwithstanding the industry obits we see and read almost daily:

"The Day is more than a building," Hutcheson says during a court hearing into the validity of the sales contract for the paper. "It's people. It's 1,500 men and women whose skill, heart, brains and experience make a great newspaper possible. We don't own one stick of furniture in this company, but we, along with the 290,000 people who read this paper, have a vital interest in whether it lives or dies."

It hardly matters how the work of skilled, sensitive, smart, experienced news people gets to the public. People still hunger for it, and society still needs it. The real threat to the news profession, then, lies with frightened corporate executives who lack a commitment to what they're supposed to manage, and who lack the skill, sensitivity, intelligence and experience of the people who work for them.

deadline-usa-bogie-w-owners.jpg

Early in Deadline -- U.S.A., Hutcheson tries to shame Mrs. Garrison into defying her daughters. In the company's board room, Hutcheson invokes the newspaper's founding principles and points to a framed copy of its first edition hanging on the wall. Then he begins to recite, from memory, the statement published on the front page of that paper:

"This paper will fight for progress and reform, will never be satisfied merely with printing the news, will never be afraid to attack wrong, whether by predatory wealth or predatory poverty."

When I heard Bogart deliver those lines, an electrical jolt coursed through my spine. I had seen them before. I had read them before -- at least, words very close to them. They have appeared on the editorial page of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where I worked for 21 years, since they were uttered in 1907 by owner Joseph Pulitzer when he retired as editor and publisher. They are affixed in hammered metal letters to the marble walls in the lobby of the Post-Dispatch building. The exact passage reads as follows:

"I know that my retirement will make no difference in its cardinal principles, that it will always fight for progress and reform, never tolerate injustice or corruption, always fight demagogues of all parties, never belong to any party, always oppose privileged classes and public plunderers, never lack sympathy with the poor, always remain devoted to the public welfare, never be satisfied with merely printing news, always be drastically independent, never be afraid to attack wrong, whether by predatory plutocracy or predatory poverty."

From 1907 to 1952 to 2010, the tools and techniques of news gathering and distribution have changed multiple times, and they'll change again. The way to gain the trust, loyalty and patronage of news consumers hasn't changed at all.

--

Eric-Mink-Headshot.jpg

Eric Mink most recently was the Op-Ed editor and columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He previously covered television and media for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the New York Daily News. He now teaches film as an adjunct assistant professor at Webster University in St. Louis.


 

 

 

25 Comments

R. Orr said:

Wish I could have known yesterday...so I could have set my dvr this morning to record. Sigh...sounds like a treat.

Comment posted on August 4, 2010 4:13 PM


Jim Mayer said:

Excellent review, with lots of valuable insight.
Also enjoyed the web page format with pictures.
Thanks for sharing in advance of the screening!

Comment posted on August 4, 2010 4:31 PM


Diane Werts said:

Love it, Eric!

So glad you're on board with us.

(Got the DVR running as I type.)

Comment posted on August 4, 2010 4:40 PM


Allan R. Shickman said:

A great article, wholly unexpected.

Comment posted on August 4, 2010 4:51 PM


John Mier said:

Bravo! I've always been a fan of "His Girl Friday." Also dated in regard to technology, it still reminds me of my days with the Fourth Estate when, as Eugene Field penned it, "When I helped 'em run the local on the 'St. Jo Gazette.'"
Good piece, as usual.

Comment posted on August 4, 2010 5:00 PM


Linda Gurney said:

Deadline - U.S.A. is one of my favorite Bogart movies...my late husband was a newspaper editor and reporter taken too soon by brain cancer. Sure, I know the movie is "dated", but that never seemed to matter in all the times I've viewed it. I was thrilled to see it would be on TCM today and watched it once again. Then I went to my computer and...voila...there was your column! Thanks, Eric, for tying the timeless elements of this movie to today's world of print journalism.

Comment posted on August 4, 2010 5:47 PM


Eric Mink said:

I wish I'd been aware further in advance of the telecast, so I could have written earlier. It was only thanks to Diane's highlight, by the way, that I learned the picture was scheduled at all. So, sorry for the ridiculously short notice. Entirely my fault, and kudos to Dave for getting the piece posted within minutes of me getting it to him.
LINDA, I'm very sorry about your late husband, but I'm glad you've always appreciated the movie and today's column.

Comment posted on August 4, 2010 6:36 PM


Jim said:

I'm sorry I didn't check TVWW today until after Deadline USA had run. It is a great journalism movie and too rarely shown. Do you have any idea why it has remained unavailable on VHS or DVD? You'd think there would be enough Bogart completists to make it a profitable edition.

Comment posted on August 4, 2010 8:07 PM


Sally W. said:

Your post is most eloquent about the state of journalism (and how movies - and sometimes even television as our vehicle of choice - get to reflect our concerns on our society and what we should aspire or condemn). Now I feel sorry to have missed seeing this movie; it sounds terrific - Barrymore and Bogart? Wow.

Comment posted on August 4, 2010 9:50 PM


Bryant McNiece said:

Are there any journalists out there who are offended by the double-negative, "Can't hardly"? Bogie would be "fired up" over this proof-reading error!
[Bianculli here: I interpreted that, I presume correctly, as Eric adopting a double negative for the sake of colloquial emphasis. I worked with the guy for years, and stupid he ain't. So to speak. -- David B.]

Comment posted on August 4, 2010 10:13 PM


K. Hettiger said:

Yes, I don't believe we'll find existential angst on Fox anytime soon. Real news people are suffering a penitence for an industry that devolved into perception management targeting people with five second attention spans. There is no bright future for expository writing when the folk use Twitter and Twitter limits itself to 144 characters. May fortune bless real newspapers and movies about them.

Comment posted on August 4, 2010 10:18 PM


Eric Mink said:

JIM: I'm mystified as to why "Deadline" is not available on video. My guess is that the rights must be tied up in long-running estate disputes, as we sometimes learn, but that's just a slightly informed guess.
SALLY: Thanks very much for your kind words. TCM has an informative website post about the filming of the movie that describes some problems Bogart was having and how Barrymore whipped him into shape. Imagine being on the set for that!
BRYANT: My transgression is even more interesting in light of the precision of Brooks' dialogue for Bogart and Bogart's correspondingly precise diction. If you got a chance to see the picture, you may have noticed it. One of the freedoms of being a columnist is the freedom to deliberately break the rules on occasion. I've done so in the past -- for sound, for rhythm, for tone, for effect, sometimes even for the way certain words look together -- and I expect to do so again in the future. As a columnist himself, Dave knows this and, as he said above, he knows me. I'm sorry if this practice irritates or annoys you. Surely you exaggerate for rhetorical effect by using the word "offended"!
KURT: Fox is riding a wave. You are correct in concluding that angst of any kind is not in Roger Ailes' playbook.

Comment posted on August 4, 2010 11:21 PM


Ron Unterreiner said:

Eric

great reminder to us all of the power and the importance of the printed word.

Thanks for writing this.


ron

Comment posted on August 4, 2010 11:30 PM


darrell said:

Eric, another home run. I missed the movie too. I've seen it numerous times though. I admired your take on Bogart's character. In years past, reading Jerry Berger, I believed that newspapers were just like the movie. Way to go my friend.

Comment posted on August 4, 2010 11:46 PM


Eileen said:

Eric & All,
This movie is available at: LovingTheClassics.com for $14.99 DVD and $19.99 VHS.

I couldn't agree more with your column having worked at a small, local paper for a few years. To paraphrase Col. Kilgore: "I love the feel of newsprint in the morning -- it feels like victory!"

Comment posted on August 5, 2010 10:08 AM


Ray W said:

Eric, Eric, Eric. That Quote is why many newspapers are failing. they are fighting for progress and reform. OF THE PROGRESSIVES. The job of a newspaper is to print the news. As another famous detective from the 50's Sgt. Joe Friday said. "Just give me the facts ma'am, just the facts." Your job is not to promote the administration's agenda, no matter how much you think it will promote his reform.

Comment posted on August 5, 2010 12:00 PM


Eric Mink said:

RON: Thanks very much. I think we'll have to modify your note to refer to the "written" word, given that print may prove too expensive to sustain from many perspectives. In the end, I'm convinced it's the content that will matter, not the method of reproduction/distribution.
DARRELL: Allowing for drama, newspapers WERE like that to some extent. I didn't have room to mention that many of the interior scenes of "Deadline" were filmed in the newsroom of the old New York Daily News in what is still often called the Daily Planet building at 220 E. 42nd St. in New York. Bianculli and I both worked there in the early 1990s until the paper moved to a soulless concrete blockhouse of a building on 33rd St west of Madison Square Garden and above some train yards.
EILEEN: I just checked LovingTheClassics.com and it does, indeed, list the movie as available! Thank you so much for finding and posting the information.

Comment posted on August 5, 2010 12:51 PM


Bob Heinritz said:

I very much enjoy the "higher purpose" stories of newspapers and other media outlets. Great story! I share Thomas Jefferson's admiration and disapprovial of freedom of the press.
For balance, however, dig up the less wholesome side; say, the tactics of Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst for big-money and market-dominance. A "big-story" example might be the news-shenanigans that got the U.S. into the Spanish-American war; effectively propelling Theodore Roosevelt into the White House. Small-examples could be the countless fictious and/or "enhanced" stories written solely to increase circulation. That side is much a part of news heritage as the higher purpose.

Comment posted on August 5, 2010 1:30 PM


rick veatch said:

Bogey was the greatest. Thanks for that trip down memory lane. It's a movie I've seen once but the scene you speak of at the time did not have as much impact as it does now.

Rick Veatch

Comment posted on August 5, 2010 1:34 PM


judyt said:

sorry i missed it this go 'round
but the review hits the spot.
and i actually remember
the pneumatic tubes at
'the old building'....geez!

Comment posted on August 5, 2010 3:09 PM


Calla said:

Thanks for including me as one of your readers. I loved this piece.

Comment posted on August 5, 2010 3:46 PM


Jim Irving said:

Perhaps the journalistic goals sought by Mr. Pulitzer will some day be realized by more of the newspapers. Thanks for the article, Eric.

Comment posted on August 5, 2010 6:15 PM


Eric Mink said:

A CAUTION: I've now received two cautionary advisories from two very savvy guys with a huge amount of experience searching for and acquiring video materials online: from the TV side, Rich Heldenfels; and from the movie side, Lewis Beale. Neither was aware of the specific site Eileen mentioned, but both urged people to proceed very carefully before buying anything that appears to be out of print from any site without a well-established track record.

 

Comment posted on August 5, 2010 7:46 PM


Eric Mink said:

Oh, and RayW:

A. As my piece noted, it was 1907 when Joe Pulitzer wrote what became known as the Pulitzer Platform. It has nothing to do with your notions of a "progressive," i.e. liberal, agenda, and it specifically declares the importance of avoiding any linkage with any party. Your comment about "the administration's agenda," by which I assume you mean the Obama administration, is nonsensical in this context.
B. Your opinion of what the job of a newspaper is differs from mine and from that of most readers in my professional experience; they not only expect but also desire to see points of view presented forcefully on a newspaper's editorial pages. Most U.S. newspapers, by the way, advocate conservative policies in their own editorials.
C. Though some conservatives love chanting the mantra that newspaper circulation declines are the result of papers' liberal editorial-page slant, there is not a shred of data to support the claim. It is, I grant you, oft-repeated, but most myths are.

Comment posted on August 5, 2010 11:02 PM


Cliff said:

It is regrettable and I fear almost inevitable that the printed newspaper will disappear in a decade or so. I love reading the paper over a cup of coffee, fighting to fold it properly and usually crimping it. Those things just seem so right to me. I cannot find satisfaction in reading it online. Most often when I come across a good article online I print it out in order to read it. I don't like killing extra trees but I can't overcome my natural bias in favor of the printed document. I guess I am one of those dinosaurs but I am a happy one.

Comment posted on August 7, 2010 2:53 PM
 
 
 
 
 
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