Power of the Press (1943)

powerofthepress_1Starring Guy Kibbee, Gloria Dickson, Lee Tracy, Otto Kruger, Victor Jory, Larry Parks, Minor Watson

Directed by Lew Landers

Expectations: Moderate.

twohalfstar


Power of the Press doesn’t bother with subtlety. It’s a film that focuses like a laser on the power that the press can wield and how constructive/destructive it can be in the right/wrong hands. It’s a story and a setting that makes the Sam Fuller connection seem like a given, but unfortunately little of Fuller’s biting social commentary or affecting dramatics make it to the screen here. Power of the Press is an enjoyable little movie, but it’s one so straightforward and obvious that it’s almost pointless to watch.

The film opens as John Carter (Minor Watson), the publisher of the New York Gazette, is about to give a speech about the freedom of the press. What stops him from heading out and delivering the speech is an editorial in a small Nebraska newspaper that was recently sent to him. The editorial was written by an old friend, Ulysses Bradford (Guy Kibbee), and it takes Carter to task for being at the head of a completely corrupt newspaper that cares little for the truth. Bradford writes that freedom of the press means freedom to tell the truth, not the freedom to twist the truth.

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The Rum Diary (2011)

Starring Johnny Depp, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Rispoli, Amber Heard, Richard Jenkins, Giovanni Ribisi, Amaury Nolasco, Marshall Bell, Bill Smitrovich, Julian Holloway, Karen Austin

Directed by Bruce Robinson

Expectations: Low. Heard bad things, but my love for Hunter S. Thompson is enough to get me to watch this.


I can now fully understand the negative backlash to The Rum Diary. When it released into theaters I decided against heading out to see it, despite a high interest. I did that because I’ve read Hunter S. Thompson’s The Rum Diary, and I enjoyed it, but when I finally saw the trailer for this adaptation it looked as if they had taken the rather different source material and gave it a heavy dose of Fear and Loathing’s manic energy. I called bullshit and said I’d catch it on DVD. Well here I am a few months later, DVD in hand, and damn if the movie isn’t pretty close to the book. What we have here is a case of poor marketing. The film was marketed as a non-stop rush of waggling devil tongues and slurred words, so obviously people who bought into that in the trailer were disappointed when they saw the subtly chaotic piece on the discovery of a journalist’s craft. And conversely, I am pleasantly surprised by the shift in tone and focus from the marketing. So in effect the marketing is specifically targeting non-fans by drawing them in with empty promises, but turning off fans who know the book in the same stroke. The film is quite reverent of Thompson and his ideals, so I can only imagine the shitstorm that went down between the marketing department and the filmmakers. Or perhaps I’d just like to imagine something similar to the events of The Rum Diary surrounding the production of The Rum Diary.

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Park Row (1952)

Starring Gene Evans, Mary Welch, Bela Kovacs, Herbert Heyes, Tina Pine, George O’Hanlon, J.M. Kerrigan, Forrest Taylor, Don Orlando, Neyle Morrow, Dick Elliott, Stuart Randall, Dee Pollock, Hal K. Dawson

Directed by Samuel Fuller

Expectations: Extremely high. I’ve built this one up in my mind to be one of the greatest and most anticipated films I haven’t seen yet.


In Sam Fuller’s awesome auto-biography, A Third Face: My Tale of Writing, Fighting and Filmmaking, he relates the story of how he tried to sell Daryl Zanuck on the idea of making Park Row (Fuller was contracted with Zanuck at the time with a multi-picture deal). Zanuck always shot it down, and in the final plea, Zanuck suggested that it would be a better movie as a big CinemaScope musical. Sam Fuller wanted the film to reflect the reality of the newspaper industry and singing newsman doesn’t really fit that bill. Fuller then states, “I decided that the only way to make Park Row was to put up my own dough and produce it myself. Two hundred grand, to be exact. To hell with Zanuck and Fox! Fuck the entire studio system! My film was going to be a gift to American journalism.” This shows just how personal and important the film was to him, and boy does it ever show in the finished product.

Park Row is set in the 1880s on the titular street that the newspapers of New York call home. Our lead is the hard-nosed newsman Phineas Mitchell played by Gene Evans, truly one of the greatest unsung actors of his generation. At the outset of the film he is employed by The Star, the oldest paper in New York and run by Charity Hackett (Mary Welch). She inherited the job and therefore doesn’t know or care to know about true journalistic integrity. Fueled by the recent hanging of a man, Evans uses the power of words to start a shitstorm with Hackett. This gets him fired but it leads to the greatest opportunity of his career, starting up his own paper, The Globe.

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