Movies I Want
If you enjoy this, you may also enjoy my essay on Women in Journalism, my essay on the image of journalists in popular culture, Larry King's essay on British Journalists, Journalism Books and Journalism Quotes
My email address is at the top of the bar on the side
Thank you for visiting this page. My hobby is collecting old journalism movies. I don't mind anyone lifting material from this page, with credit, or better yet, creating a link to it from their page. All I ask for is credit.
Epic News Photo
The best picture ever in the Oregon Journal was taken by Herb Alden at the dedication of the Dalles Dam in 1959. It was posted in the newsroom when I was there two decades later. The fabulous pun headline was Best Wink By A Dam Site. Alden said Pat Nixon wasn't actually winking at Oregon Gov. Mark Hatfield, she just had something in her eye. The magical moment photographers live for.
A Quick Meme
Table of Contents
Getting Started In Journalism
Musing Philosophical on the Image of Journalists
My Feelings About Journalism Movies
More of My Feelings About Journalism Movies
The Best Journalism Movie Ever: The Paper
The Image of the Journalist in Popular Culture (IJPC)
My Favorite Journalism Movies (in the order I wrote about them)
The Front Page
His Girl Friday
Absence of Malice
The Big Clock
I Love Trouble
Up Close and Personal
All The President's Men
Ace In The Hole
Sweet Smell of Success
Live from Baghdad
Quid Pro Quo
State of Play
Nothing But The Truth
Safety Not Guaranteed
Other Old Journalism Films (briefs)
The Day The Earth Caught Fire
Collecting journalism movies is a hobby which merges two of my major interests: journalism (I was a journalist 1970-2001) and movies. You can find scores of college movie reviews in the index for 1971-74 under Paul Schindler and P.E. Schindler Jr. at MIT's The Tech in the historic archives. The character recognition leaves something to be desired, but if you're a very sophisticated Internet user, you can find the scanned in pages. Heavens, I don't know why you'd bother; that's too much work even for me.
I still see about 40 movies a year, compared to the average American who, according to the Motion Picture Producers Association, sees 4). I have tried to make this list as comprehensive as possible, but I have my own definition of journalism movies.
For example, the famous Clark Gable film, It Happened One Night, is NOT on my list. In that film, Gable plays a reporter. But he never acts like a reporter, and except to set up the comedy, his profession is meaningless in the context of the film.
To make my list, a film must be ABOUT a journalist and feature that journalist actually performing journalism. Some of the films on this page come from reference works or another Internet Page so I can't say for certain that all of them meet my criteria.
By the way, why are there newspaper films? According to Howard Good in his excellent (albeit expensive) book Girl Reporter, convention had it that newspapermen were fast and witty conversationalists (Alex Barris), because Hollywood was full of ex-newspapermen (Ezra Goodman), because "newspaper allowed a range of story possibilities much more vigorous and flexible than any other genre," (Deac Rossell), because "Page one and the Screen are bedmates... A headline has the impact of a head shot... a news lead is the opening of a film," (Sam Fuller), and because "moviegoers have always had a fascination with the hardened city reporter, the crusty editor, the visionary newspaper boss, the debonair foreign correspondent." (Chip Rowe) Whew!
The Best Journalism Movie Page Besides This One
A great journalism movie page on the web, and I'm not just saying that because it mentiones me. Check out the resource page, the book, the excerpts from the book and especially the IJPC Journal. In a close third place, and I'm not saying that just because it doesn't mention my page, is the Poynter Institute Journalism Movie Page. I only agree with some of their selections.
The Finnish journalism movie page that was once second best has disappeared, and even the Internet Archive can't find it. The Detroit Free Press took down their journalism movie page about 16 years ago, but thanks to the Internet Archive, you can still see its last incarnation.
The Image of the Journalist in Popular Culture (IJPC),
a Project of the Norman Lear Center
Director: Joe Saltzman, associate dean and professor of journalism
The Annenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California.
Mission: To investigate and analyze, through research and publication, the conflicting images of the journalist in film, television, radio, commercials, cartoons, and fiction, demonstrating their impact on the American public's perception of newsgatherers.
More on The Image of the Journalist in Popular Culture (IJPC)
Since this is essentially a database listing of my collection and the films I'd like to own, there are a few television shows thrown in. Someday, if time permits, I may start a collection of American Journalism television programs, but I suspect collecting journalism movies will be the work of a lifetime.
If you know a journalism movie you think I have missed, or spot an error on this list, please let me know and I will correct it/add it. I have annotated a few of my personal favorites; skip to the end of the file if you wish to see my notes.
You can browse my movie library two ways. You can use "find" to look up books in the HTML table version, or your can right click [if you are in Internet Explorer on a Windows computer] and download the Rich Text Format version (can be read in Word, Wordperfect, and most MAC word processors), then resort the table in whatever order interests you.
I used to think it was the height of pretentiousness to put your library on the Internet, until I sat down and though about how much useful information I've gotten from the many bibliographies on the Internet. Admittedly, it's just a list and not an annotated bibliography, but I hope it will help you. And, as I said before, feel free to write. This is what the Internet is all about, in my opinion. People sharing information across time and space.
A quick note: there is an excellent write-up of the very-good journalism movie Five Star Final at the New York Daily News web site.
The Best Movies
And other commentary
Getting Started In Journalism
A couple of years ago, I spotted this in a book of columns by Mayes, the Readers' Editor (in the U.S., we'd call him an Ombudsman) for The Guardian. It is one of the most sensible things I have ever read. If you want to be a journalist, or know someone who does, follow the link and read the whole column.
Scoop dreams : The Readers' Editor on starting out in journalism
Saturday October 23, 1999
...I recall the conversation between the young Bateson in Evelyn Waugh's Scoop (quoting from which I acknowledge as a weakness) when he went to meet William Boot at the station on his return to London: "But do you think it's a good way of training oneself - inventing imaginary news?" "None better," said William.
Personally, I find all this so exciting that I almost wish I were going round again, I mean in journalism, of course, although I would, I hope, do some things differently (who was it who said, "If life had a second edition, how I would correct the proofs"?). [according to the Internet, the line was uttered by John Clare (1793 - 1864), a "preasant poet" who spent the more than a third of his life in insane asylums]
One generation has always felt it detected a decline in standards in the succeeding one. One of the great Guardian writers, Neville Cardus, said in his Autobiography: "It was not possible to get into print in those days [c1908] if you could not write good English. 'Can you write?' was the first thing asked by editors of young men when they were being interviewed after applying for a job as a junior reporter. Today, editors as a rule do not raise this question." He wrote that in, or at least it was published in, 1947.
A final thought, from the Italian poet, Petrarch: "Many have not become what they might have because they believed they were what people mistakenly said they were." Thanks again, and good luck.
Musing Philosophical on the Image of Journalists
A University of Kentucky journalism student wrote to me and asked some questions about the image of journalists. Here's how I responded (her questions are in bold):
I would like to know your take on how you feel Journalism is portrayed in film, is it real and authentic to what a journalist can expect throughout his/her career?
Interestingly enough, the answer to your question is yes and no. Yes, some depictions of journalism on film are real and authentic (not, for example, Julia Roberts' wardrobe in I Love Trouble, or the big red button in The Paper), but no they are not what a journalist can expect throughout his/her career.
The key to understanding this conundrum is a bit of wisdom I learned from a script-writing class. A movie is always about the most important day in a person's life. A TV episode is always about just another day (because the show has to come back next week). This is why Lou Grant came closer to depicting real journalism than most journalism movies--although even Lou Grant showed all the exciting parts and virtually none of the long, boring city council meetings or short stupid drunk-driving arrest reports from the police station.
The relevance of this observation to your question? A good journalism movie does, indeed, depict much of what it is like to be a reporter, on the most exciting day of a reporter's life. Repunching the Boston-area weather report, taking dictation from a stringer at a college football game, rewriting newspaper stories into radio wire format--the staples of wire service life--are difficult to dramatize and not very interesting to watch, so you'll never see them (except perhaps fleetingly) in a movie. Ditto sitting in the rain waiting for a staged event you can put on your television news program, or waiting in vain for news to return to American commercial radio stations.
In 25 years as a journalist, I have averaged about one amazing working day a year and 249 pedestrian ones. In 18 months at the Oregon Journal, I had one plane crash and one venal corporate executive. In six months at AP, I had Nixon resigning and Boston school busing. In 18 months at UPI, I had one presidential visit to Boston. Of course, my worst day as a journalist was better than my best day as a PR man, or a television station engineer or a book author (although my best day as a talk show host was pretty good, and I like my performance on Win Ben Stein's Money). It is a great field and can be very rewarding.
To summarize, a movie can show you journalism at its best and most exciting, with important decisions being made on the spur of the moment and great issues being hashed out of the best days, but will never show you the mind-bending tediousness, the petty office politics, the repetition and the routine that characterize the average days.
I think you can find much wisdom on the subject of journalism at my quote site.
What movie portrays Journalism best in your opinion?
The Paper (1994), with Robert Duvall, Glenn Close and Michael Keaton working for The Sun, a fictional New York tabloid modeled on the NY Post. What's not to like about a film that makes the NY Times look like a bunch of pompous, arrogant, pampered... well, in any case, I think it hits the nail on the head.
Also brilliant is Deadline USA (1952), with Humphrey Bogart, a fictionalized version of the death of the NY World.
Paul E. Schindler Jr. AP, UPI, Oregon Journal, Computer Systems News, Information Systems News, InformationWeek, PC Week, WINDOWS Magazine. Contributor to: San Jose Mercury News, NY Daily News.
My Feelings About Journalism Movies
1. Do you have any favorite journalism movies?
Yes. My favorite movie is The Paper with Michael Keaton (Henry Hackett, the metro editor), which I think is the most realistic portrayal of modern journalism, except, of course, for the fantastic parts they had to add for Hollywood (the columnist with the gun, the button that stops the presses). The depiction of the pressures of competition, the scorn for competitors, the drudgery, cajolery and trickery involved in eliciting stories--these things all ring true. And the scene with the Managing Editor and the Publisher in the bathroom was priceless.
Second best is the favorite I share with Bob Greene of the Chicago Tribune, and that is Deadline USA (at least it used to be his favorite; he wrote it up years ago in the Sigma Delta Chi magazine). This 1952 film, starring Humphrey Bogart, is a classic, and a great depiction of journalism as it was practiced from the 20s through the 60s. Again, more details at the site.
Citizen Kane is nice enough, and it's an honor to have the late Pauline Kael pick a journalism movie as the best film of all time. That's as may be, but in my opinion it is not the best journalism film of all time.
I have a cute/funny idea; maybe Henry Hackett won his role on the New York Sun because he was the son of Charity Hackett, the publisher of the Star newspaper in 1952's Park Row.
2. Do you feel that any movies featuring journalists have had an impact on the field of journalism?
Almost without question, All The President's Men contributed to a groundswell of newcomers into the field of journalism during the 1970s, with its heroic portrayal of Woodward and Bernstein. It also contributed to a loss of trust between journalists and public officials, and led, in part, I believe, to the current state of "constant scandal" in the Washington press corps.
3. Do you feel that any movies featuring journalists have had an impact on the public's perception of journalists?
I think All The President's Men made us heroes, and Absence of Malice made us goats. Fortunately, many more people saw the former than the latter. Although I haven't seen it, I understand The Insider makes journalists look pretty good as well.
4. Have you been impacted or inspired by any movies that feature journalists?
Absence of Malice made me more careful about both facts and implications. The Paper made me more careful about not putting the job before the marriage. The Superman TV show and comic book actually contributed mightily to my decision to become a journalist; I loved Superman.
5. Of the movies you have seen, do you feel that any have portrayed journalists accurately, and if so, which ones?
The Paper , Absence of Malice , possibly The Insider, which I haven't seen. Deadline USA was good for its day, a period also depicted, somewhat mechanically, by -30- . To a certain extent, Ace In The Hole, although its picture of journalism isn't very pretty. Certainly not I Love Trouble or Switching Channels" which are just silly.
6. Do feel that some movies stereotype journalists of various types? If so, what stereotypes have you noticed?
There are good journalists and bad journalists, and most publishers are shown as venal and stupid, although a few are brave and courageous. For every example, there seems to be a counter-example, in every era. Since former print reporters write more movies than former broadcasters, most print reporters are portrayed well, most broadcast reporters come off as idiots. Obviously, "Broadcast News" and "Up Close And Personal" were extreme exceptions to this general rule.
More Of My Feelings About Journalism Movies (Dec. 2011)
1. How do you think the perception of investigative journalism changed among the general public after Watergate? And the perception of the political power of the time?
I believe an entire generation of young people chose journalism as a career after watching Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford portray Woodward and Bernstein. The image of journalists has been slipping for years, perhaps decades; when two of them "brought down" President Nixon, it made the field look glamorous and powerful. It was another nail in the coffin of American public opinion about politics and politicians. The percentage of people who believe "they are all crooks," which had been rising steadily since the 1950s, skyrocketed after Watergate.
2. Do you think journalism movies of the seventies (Network, The China syndrome...) were a result of the events that happened during Watergate? Would they have been the same if the incident hadn’t taken place?
Not only would they have not been the same, they would not have been made. They did tap into a strong historic journalism movie tradition (principled journalist stands up to nefarious forces to save the world), but it was a last gasp for that meme.
3. Did the portrayal of journalism in movies become closer to reality in the seventies? What remained the same and what changed?
What remained the same is that the boring parts are edited out. Journalists, like many other professionals (airline pilots, for example) spend 99% of their time bored and 1% panicked. What changed is that journalists were the heroes again, for a while. Now they are primarily depicted as a ravening pack. (check out http://ijpc.org/)
4. How relevant do you think is the investigative journalist today, almost 40 years after Watergate? Why?
They are irrelevant because they scarcely exist. They are gone from local television, disappearing from network television and rapidly disappearing from our rapidly disappearing newspapers. The age of Woodward and Bernstein has been replaced with the age of Ashton and Demi. And there is no one on the Internet poised to pick up the investigative mantel. It is too hard and too expensive.
5. Name the movie that you think best reflects the reality of the profession of the journalist.
The Paper, with Michael Keaton.
The Best Journalism Movie Of All Time
The Paper (1994)
Robert Duvall, Glenn Close and Michael Keaton in the editorial meeting at the New York Sun, the tabloid featured in The Paper.
Wanna start an argument among professional journalists or serious movie buffs? Ask them to name the greatest journalism movie of all times. I don't know if Bob Greene still thinks it is Deadline USA, but I am certain that most critics continue to follow Pauline Kael's loudly thumped tub, granting Citizen Kane that honor. I respectfully disagree. Citizen Kane was brilliant for its time, but that's not what journalism is like any more. My nominee is The Paper. It is funny, clever, amusing, entertaining and makes fun of the pomposity of the NY Times. What more can you ask from a motion picture? It moves rapidly and offers what is, in my experience, about as accurate a portrayal of modern newspaper life as we are likely to see in a movie. We can all pick nits until the cows come home, and no one, myself included, is going to claim that Ron Howard is Orson Welles' match as a director, or that Michael Keaton is his match as an actor. But they, together with their cast and crew have set a new standard against which future newspaper movies will be measured. I mean, except for that scene in the press room at the end with the big red switch. OK. That was silly, overdone, stupid and unrealistic. But hey, Citizen Kane wasn't perfect either.
In February 2002, I exchanged email on the subject of this movie with financial journalist Larry King, an American now based in London.
Larry began the exchange:
By the way, your latest column mentions that you think The Paper is the all-time best journalism movie. I'd agree, although it necessarily omits the bone-crushing boredom of much newspaper work and truly awe-inspiring stupidity and cowardice of a lot of newspaper editors.
From time to time, I've idly wondered who wrote the screenplay -- too idly to look it up. Have you any idea? I assume it was somebody who once worked at the New York Post.
My favorite scene comes in that exchange when Spaulding Gray, playing an editor at what's clearly meant to be the New York Times, tells Michael Keating he's just blown his chance to cover the world. Keating screams back that he doesn't care, because he doesn't live in the world, he lives in New York City.
According to the Internet Movie Database, your favorite line (and one of mine) goes like this:
"Oh yeah? Well guess fuckin' what? I don't really fuckin' care. You wanna know fuckin' why? Because I don't live in the fuckin' world, I live in New York City! So go fuck yourself."
Writers are David Koepp and Stephen Koepp. The Paper is the only thing Stephen has ever written; David has written 15 films, most notably Toy Soldiers, Jurrasic Park 1 and 2, and the forthcoming Spiderman. Stephen must have gotten the feel of The Post from hanging around with reporters, or else newspapering in Waukesha is a lot more exciting than I imagined, because here's his bio:
Koepp, 42, a Wisconsin native, received a B.A. degree (journalism major, German minor) from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 1978. After graduation he joined the Waukesha Freeman, a daily newspaper in Wisconsin, where he worked as a news reporter and city editor. At the Freeman, he won a statewide wire-service award for investigative reporting.
Koepp joined TIME magazine in 1981. He started in letters to the editor, spent the 80s writing business, and is now Deputy Managing Editor.
I would guess the non-screen-writing Koepp learned all he needed about newspapers from the Waukesha Freeman. One of the depressing things about newspapering is how little changes going from a fifth-rate rag in a one-horse town to the New York Times. You get some smarter people in the newsroom, and a lot more of them, at a big-city daily. Generally, management is a bit less miserly about things like travel. So the product improves. But the day-to-day grind of being a reporter or working editor looks and feels much the same, I think.
Come to think of it, you're right about newspapering. While I only worked one daily (the Oregon Journal), and you worked several, I have seen enough newsrooms to know that you are speaking the truth. The workload, the physical surroundings, the average IQ--these things can all change. But the basics of the business do not. Well, except for one other thing: in large cities, novel and interesting things happen. In smaller towns, even a city the size of Portland, Oregon (500k), the traditional definition of news leaves you covering the same events over and over, especially if you're a beat reporter (I worked in the business department).
Deadline USA (1952)
Bob Greene, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune wrote an article years ago in The Quill, the magazine of the Society of Professional Journalists, in which he selected this film as the best journalism movie of all times. Certainly one of the most memorable scenes in any journalism film (on a par with "He stole my watch" at the end of The Front Page) is the final scene of this film.
Bogart and ex-wife
Nora (Kim Hunter) More Deadline USA stills
For a long time, I had that scene wrong. I was corrected on July 3, 1997 by Stephen Stuart of the New Orleans CityBusiness newspaper. He sent me back to the videotape, from which I transcribed the scene carefully.
The scene has Bogart [managing editor Ed Hutcheson] on the phone in the pressroom talking to mobster Tomas Rienzi.
HUTCHESON: Hello, Baby.
RIENZI: (pause) How'm I feeling? I hear Mrs. Schmidt came in to see you.
HUTCHESON: (pause) That's right. That's right. There's some loose cash here belongs to you. $200,000 worth. There's something else too.
RIENZI: What diary? Who's gonna believe what a little tramp writes to herself? Wait a minute. Don't hang up. Here's some advice for you friend. Don't press your luck. Lay off me. Don't print that story.
HUTCHESON: What's that supposed to be, an order?
RIENZI: If not tonight, then tomorrow. [Rienzi's attorney grabs his arm; Rienzi shakes him off] Maybe next week, maybe next year. But sooner or later you'll catch it. Listen to me. Print that story and you're a dead man.
HUTCHESON: It's not just me anymore. You'd have to stop every newspaper in the country and you're not big enough for that job. People like you have tried it before. With bullets, prison, censorship. But as long as even one newspaper will print the truth, you're finished.
RIENZI: Don't give me that fancy double-talk. Yes or no. [Pressroom clock hits 10:30 PM. Press foreman looks at Bogart/Hutcheson, who nods. The foreman pushes the button that rings the bell and brings the press to full speed. The noise in the press room increases]
RIENZI: Yes or no?
HUTCHESON: [holds phone out to presses]
RIENZI: Hey Hutcheson? That noise? What's that racket?
HUTCHESON: That's the press, baby, the press, and there's nothing you can do about it. Nothing. [hangs up] [Montage of press rolling, close-up of newspaper with large picture of Rienzi and headline "Tomas Rienzi accused of Sally's Murder." Outside shot of The Day building, as the light is turned out behind the big logo for the last time. Music in the background switches to Battle Hymn of the Republic]
After I read the book The End of The World (listed in my Journalism Book database), I realized that Deadline USA is a thinly (and I mean THINLY) disguised roman a clef describing the final days of the New York World. Pulitzer's sons acted a lot like the daughters in the film and the New York Telegram, which bought the World, looks a lot like the paper that takes over The Day in the movie. [In 2008, I learned from Journalism Ethics Goes To The Movies by Howard Good that Richard Brooks, the writer/director, worked for the World]
(This movie is also known as Deadline Midnight).
From the Movies Unlimited Catalog: "Gritty newspaper drama. Stars Jack Webb as the managing editor of a big city daily (pretty clearly Los Angeles) who experiences personal and professional obstacles during the course of a day. While grappling with his wife about adopting a child, Webb covers stories about a missing girl and disappearing pilots. Webb also directs. For another take, check this review.
Absent from every major movie reference work this film (available from Amazon) can be seen periodically on late night TV. It stars Jack Webb, at the height of his success in the television series Dragnet, "stretching" in a new dramatic direction. His character might as well be called Joe Friday; the performance is vintage Jack Webb. William Conrad is terrific--gruff and funny--as the city editor, and David Nelson (son of Ozzie and Harriet) does a turn as dazed, confused and abused copy boy. The staff cartoonist is played by Richard Deacon, who went on a few years later to significant fame as the supervisor of the writers (foil to Morry Amsterdam and son-in-law of the seldom-seen Alan Brady) on the Dick Van Dyke show.
In my opinion, this film has one of the best speeches ever delivered in a journalism film. I am reprinting the speech here because:
1) This is a review of the film
2) This speech is a very small percentage of the entire content
3) I am not reproducing this speech for commercial gain
Final Shooting Script, -30-, a Mark VII Production for Warner Bros., June 12, 1959. Scene added August 5, 1959. Written by William Bowers.
Copy Aide Ron Danton (John Nolan) and City Editor Jim Bathgate (William Conrad) discuss newspapers in front of Collins (David Nelson) who has just quit. It is raining.
Ron: (referring to a newspaper) Have you ever seen one of these things on a newsstand in a rainstorm like this? They look like a lot of old bags whose faces have fallen.
Jim: That's right, Aristotle--that's because nobody's come up with a waterproof paper yet. But even if they did, we wouldn't use it and the Examiner wouldn't use it and neither would any other paper in the country.
Because we have to print on the cheapest paper they can make. Otherwise, we couldn't sell for a dime. You know what people use these for? They roll them up and swat their puppies for wetting on the rug--
--they spread them on the floor when they're painting the walls--
-- they wrap fish in them--
-- shred them up and pack their two-bit china in them when they move--
--or else they pile up in the garage until an inspector declares them a fire hazard!
But this also happens to be a couple of more things! It's got print on it that tells stories that hundreds of good men all over the world have broken their backs to get. It gives a lot of information to a lot of people who wouldn't have known about it if we hadn't taken the trouble to tell them. It's the sum total of the work of a lot of guys who don't quit. It's a newspaper, that's all. Well, you're right for once, stupid.
And it only costs 10 cents, that's all. But if you only read the comic section or the want ads--it's still the best buy for your money in the world. I'm sorry to see you go Collins --here-- you'll probably want something to read on your way home.
The Front Page
His Girl Friday (1940)
Switching Channels (1988)
With the exception of Switching Channels, a lame remake which featured Burt Reynolds, Kathleen Turner and Christopher Reeve that set the story in a television station, each of these versions of the classic Hecht and Macarthur play from 1928 has its aficionados.
Pat O'Brien (Hildebrand 'Hildy' Johnson) and Adolphe Menjou (Walter Burns) in the 1st movie version of The Front Page. Still courtesy of the Detroit Free Press web site. More Front Page Stills
The first movie version, a black and white classic made just three years after the play premiered featured Adolph Menjou as Walter Burns, the fierce managing editor, and Pat O'Brien as the put upon Hildy Johnson.
Ralph Bellamy (Bruce Baldwin), Cary Grant (Walter Burns) and Rosalind Russell ('Hildy' Johnson) in His Girl Friday, the second version of The Front Page.
The clever gender switched remake His Girl Friday is probably the most popular of the films. Not only were Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell an inspired pair of comedic actors (as opposed to Menjou and O'Brien, who could handle comedy but were better known for and better suited for drama), but there were directed to deliver their dialog at such a frenetic pace that the movie is in the Guiness Book of World Records for most words spoken per minute of screen time!
Jack Lemmon and Walter Mathau in the same situation as Menjou and O'Brien. Interestingly, both directors composed an almost identical shot, including the placement: reporter, policeman, managing editor. Still courtesy of the Detroit Free Press web site.
In the third remake Walter Mathau and Jack Lemmon who tackled the material under the direction of veteran Bill Wilder did an acceptable job; their version featured Carol Burnett in a role (the girlfriend of the escaped convict) that previous versions basically threw away.
Burt Reynolds and Kathleen Turner from the lamest of the Front Page Remakes, Switching Channels. Still courtesy of the Detroit Free Press web site.
The fourth time was not the charm. Reynolds and Turner in Switching Channels were just wrong for the material, and the work is so deeply rooted in newspaper lore that the conversion to TV seemed forced, and the gender switch (Turner played Hildy) was derivative. Christopher Reeve was excellent as the boyfriend, however.
All the versions (except Switching Channels) end with one of the play's best lines, as Burns gives Johnson his watch, then telegraphs the police to have him/her arrested for stealing the watch. My favorite new line in His Girl Friday comes when Cary Grant sends his goon, Diamond Louie, after Hildy's fiancé. "He looks just like Ralph Bellamy," Grant says, which was pretty rich, as Ralph Bellamy was the actor playing the fiancé.
Here's something you'll never learn anywhere else: Diamond Louie was named after Lou Diamond (but not modeled after him), a Chicago newspaperman during Hecht and MacArthur's time as reporters there. Lou Diamond was the father of NYU (and formerly MIT) journalism professor, the late Edwin Diamond.
Absence of Malice (1981)
I can't summarize This film better than the Detroit Free Press Journalism Movie Page:
"This is a sentimental Free Press favorite, written by former Freep executive editor Kurt Luedtke. Forever fretful Miami reporter Sally Field ties an innocent Paul Newman to the disappearance and possible murder of a union leader. A suspenseful examination of newspaper ethics. 1982, 116 minutes."
The tagline, as noted at the Internet Movie Database, is an absolute classic:
Suppose you picked up this morning's newspaper and your life was a front page headline... And everything they said was accurate... But none of it was true
The summary at IMDB is also great:
Paul Newman plays the son of a long dead Mafia boss who is a simple liquor warehouse owner. Frustrated in his attempt to solve a murder of a union head, a prosecutor leaks a false story that Newman is a target of the investigation, hoping that he will tell them something for protection. As his life begins to unravel, others are hurt by the story. Sally Field, the reporter, is in the clear under the Absence of Malice rule in slander and libel cases. Knowing nothing to trade to the prosecutors, Newman must regain control of his life on different ground.
There are three things that struck me about this film:
- the utter implausibility of Wilford Brimley's Deus Ex Machina appearance at the end of the film,
- the slight implausibility of Paul Newman's character being able to dig himself out of a hole so well (it was true in the 19th century, it is true in the 21st century: never argue with someone who buys ink by the barrel), and
- the total lack of implausibility of the Sally Fields character desperately trying to rationalize her way out of an ethical dilemma. Of all the behavior I saw in this film, hers rang the most true. It is a variation of that old journalistic saw, "Don't let the facts get in the way of a good story." Sad, but true.
Blessed Event (1932)
This is a roman a clef about Walter Winchell (the subject of several biographies you can look up over in my books database).
The Big Clock (1948)
Anyone familiar with Time/Life will recognize elements in this film that parody that organization, although the characterization of the publisher, Earl Janoth, is of course way over-drawn as a picture of Henry Luce. Kenneth Fearing, the author of the book of the same name upon which the movie was based, was a former Time Inc. Employee
I Love Trouble (1994)
Nick Nolte and Julia Roberts in I Love Trouble. Still courtesy of the Detroit Free Press web site.
Nick Nolte and Julia Roberts. Sex. Adventure. A big, fat, successful newspaper and a skinny scrappy one (the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun Times perhaps?). How could this film go wrong? Not very many people bothered to find out, as it died at the box office. A lot of journalists hated this film. It is silly and unrealistic most of the time (no journalist I know, have met or have heard of has fallen through a skylight... while sober... while on duty...), but has some nice touches. It has the look and feel of real journalism now and then, and accurately portrays competitive journalist psychology most of the time. Mitchell Leisen, the director, had to throw in the murder and the chase scenes in an effort to make the film commercial. It didn't work, as it turns out, but this film is an example of Hollywood trying its best, and I think it deserves an A for effort. Any serious student of journalism movies ought to have a look. If only they hadn't sent Julia out on assignment in a train yard in high heels and a tight skirt. I know a lot of female journalists, and none of them dress like that when they're on duty... or if they do, they carry a change of shoes.
Up Close and Personal (1996)
It started out as a Jessica Savitch Biopic, ended up as a vehicle for Redford and Pfeiffer.
Well, I can say for sure this is a journalism movie. Almost the entire running time is taken up with an inside look at the television news business. But it is really more a star vehicle for Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert Redford, whose love affair provides the non-journalistic content. The movie is loosely based on messed-up life of NBC newscaster Jessica Savitch. Screenwriters John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion wrote Monster, Living Off The Big Screen about their experiences writing the movie. As Dunne said to Esquire (as quoted in an online review), "Disney wasn't going to make a movie about a lesbian who drank and took drugs," which is why they movie took so long and so many rewrites to become what it became--a star-studded love story. Sally Atwater, who later becomes Tally Atwater, is fresh, innocent Michelle Pfeiffer. Warren Justice, deposed network correspondent looking for another shot at the big time, is Robert Redford. Sparks were supposed to ensue. They didn't. Still, it is an enjoyable movie, slightly better than the two- and three-star reviews it got in most places. And as a journalism movie, it is first rate--lots of inside looks at how TV news REALLY works.
Broadcast News (1987)
Holly Hunter and William Hurt pow-wow in a scene from the first-rate TV news drama/comedy/ parody Broadcast News.
It is possible that William Hurt and Holly Hunter gave their best-ever performances in this excellent, cynical look at the inner workings of TV news, written and directed by James L. Brooks. Bismarck said people who like government and wieners should never watch laws or sausage being made. The same can be said for TV news. This film is often lumped in, unfairly, with Paddy Chayefsky's brilliant fantasy Network, but that was fantasy and this is based, at least partly, on reality.
My favorite speech is delivered by Aaron Altman (the brilliant and frequently under-rated Albert Brooks), who is telling Jane Craig (Holly Hunter) that the empty-headed correspondent Tom (William Hurt) is the devil:
Aaron: I know you care about him. I've never seen you like this with anybody, so don't get me wrong when I tell you that Tom, while being a very nice guy, is the devil.
Jane: This is friendly? You're crazy, you know it? [walks away]
Aaron: What do you think the Devil's going to look like?
Jane: Oh, God.
Aaron: Come on. No one's going to be taken in by a guy with a long, red, pointy tail. Come on, what's he gonna sound like [animal growl]. No! I'm semi-serious here.
Jane: You're serious...
Aaron: No, he'll be attractive, he'll be nice and helpful. He'll get a job where we'll influence a great and god-fearing nation. He'll never do an evil thing. He'll never deliberately hurt a living thing. He'll just, bit by little bit, lower our standards where they're important. Just a tiny little bit. Just coax along flash over substance. Just a tiny little bit. He'll talk about all of us really being salesmen [Jane starts to leave]. And he'll get all the great women.
Jane: [Halts at door and yells back, then walks back as she talks] Hey, Aaron, I think you're the devil.
Aaron: You know I'm not.
Aaron: Because we have the kind of friendship that if I was, you'd be the only person I'd tell...Give me this. He personifies everything that you've been fighting against and I'm in love with you. How do you like that. I buried the lede.
All The President's Men (1976)
Dustin Hoffman (Carl Bernstein) and Robert Redford (Bob Woodward) played the world's most famous journalists in the gripping journalism drama All The President's Men.
This film was The Paper of its era, well-written and meticulously researched and loving in its depiction of its journalist heroes, due, it seems certain, to the fact that Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward wrote the film. Veteran Alan J .Pakula then realized their vision with care and aplomb.
For those too young to recall, Woodward and Bernstein were a pair of Washington Post reporters who covered Watergate when it appeared to be just what President Richard Nixon said it was, "a second-rate burglary." Their tenacity, combined with some effective prodding by Judge John Sirica (revisionists will tell you his role is overplayed--don't you believe them) broke the case open and brought down a president.
This movie is one of the few journalism films in history that had a perceptible effect, both on the field of journalism and the public perception of journalists. In combination with the book of the same name, it made heroes of journalists--and goats and liars of most public figures depicted, and so by implication, most public figures. It affected the field of journalism in two ways. First, it brought an entire generation of fresh, eager recruits into the field. Alas, it also taught them that there was scandal everywhere. As a result, journalists have uncovered 13 of the last 10 scandals in Washington. That is to say, they see scandal everywhere, even in innocent mistakes. Napoleon said, "Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence." I agree. We have criminalized trivial error in government, and thrown the baby out with the bath water. Scoundrels have, indeed, been driven from the public weal. So have good, honest public servants whose only mistakes were small and/or personal.
As for the film itself, it was masterpiece of recreation. Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford spent time at The Post and with Woodward and Bernstein, and it shows in their lifelike portrayals, which capture the nuance of journalism. Amazingly, for a Hollywood film, it manages to capture some of the slogging and monotony, the combination of luck and persistence often required for good journalism. The Post newsroom in the film was a precise copy of the original--so precise that it included "desk litter" imported from Washington (including, reporters say, press releases for the film).
Reporters have never looked better, smarter, more noble--or handsomer (well, at least in the case of Redford). Whether All The President's Men has been a net positive for American journalism remains to be seen.
The Insider (1999)
Al Pacino (Lowell Bergman) and Russell Crowe (Jeffrey Wigand) are the 60 Minutes producer and the whistleblower in The Insider.
This is a first-class piece of work, although it is way too long, at 158 minutes. It is one of those "ripped from the headlines" stories, based on a magazine article by Marie Brenner (a neophyte who co-wrote the screenplay with veteran scribe Eric Roth) entitled "The Man Who Knew Too Much." It is the story of fired Brown and Williamson research chief Jeffery Wigand, and his relationship with Lowell Bergman, a producer for the CBS Television newsmagazine, "60 Minutes." The story has many threads, one of which is the CBS corporate decision to force the news division not to air its interview with Wigand. As Joe Salztman of USC puts it, "watch out for those terribly mean and vicious publishers. They men who owned the media were always out to get you." True in the 1930s, true in the fin-de-siècle.
One of the first things I always wonder about a film is "how true is it." Most of the major events in the film are true. There was a Jeffrey Wigand, he did work for Brown and Williamson, he was fired. He was interviewed, the interview was suppressed, Brown and Williamson did smear him with a 500-page dossier the Wall Street Journal debunked. Bergman did leak the story to the New York Times. Bergman quit 60 Minutes and now teaches journalism at Cal. The devil is in the details of course, and Mike Wallace was spitting mad about this film, which, frankly, isn't a very flattering portrayal of the journalistic lion. Bergman comes off much better, but since he was a consultant on the film, is that any surprise? It tends to support Saltzman's observation that journalists as portrayed sympathetically when it's a journalist writing the script, less sympathetically when its a pure screenwriter putting the words in the actors' mouths.
There are so many wonderful things about this film it is hard to know where to start. Of course, like all journalism films, it concentrates on the most exciting, important days in a journalist's life, because tedium isn't very entertaining. You could be a journalist for 50 years and never be driven through the streeets of Beruit with a sack over your head, as Bergman is in the opening scene.
I have never been a producer on a television magazine show, but I've read plenty about the process, and this is an illuminating and eye opening portrayal of the way that particular kind of journalistic sausage gets stuffed in its case. In particular, if you didn't already know it, you learn that producers do most of the work on a story so that the talent can parachute in and ask the questions on camera. Each of the correspondents works with four producers for one week a month; the producers each have three weeks to get ready for their "on" week. Knowledge of this system makes Pacino/Bergman's speech to Wallace about "you've never landed and found a source has changed his mind" particularly poignant.
One aspect of this film is unique in my experience: you get a snootful of what it's like to be the subject/source of a major investigative story. This is an extreme case, of course, but it raises the ethical question of whether a journalist must consider the consequences of a story for the people who supply the raw facts.
In fact, this movie raises a number of ethical questions, including, but not limited to, issues surrounding keeping your word to a source, protecting a source, when corporate can overrule the news division, when you quit on principle and when you continue to work from the inside for change. Not to mention the dilemma faced by Wigand (and many other sources) of violating a confidentiality agreement when you know you are being asked to keep secret information the public needs to know.
This entry is not proportional to the importance of this film among journalism films, or even where it stands on my list of great movies in this genre--its location near the bottom of the file says more about that. But Michael Mann is a great director, this was a major Hollywood film, and it treated broadcast journalism accurately, lovingly, dramatically and with a great deal of respect. Plus, I may start analyzing journalism movies for a living, so I'd better find a few more intelligent things to say about them.
Failing movie producer Al Pacino (Viktor Taransky) and Simone or S1m0ne (Rachel Roberts) his virtual actress or simthespian, share a quiet moment. OK, he's talking to himself, as he does throughout S1M0NE.
Hey, Al Pacino again. Only this time, he isn't a journalist, he's a "victim." And that's my gripe with this film. Its depiction of journalists.
Here's the plot summary from IMDB:
A producer's film is endangered when his star walks off, so he decides to digitally create an actress to substitute for the star, becoming an overnight sensation that everyone thinks is a real person.
When Al Yankovic does one of his marathons on VH1, they call it Al TV. Well, this is Al Movie. I like Al Pacino. I don't even mind that he is in virtually every scene of this movie, many of them by himself in a room talking to himself via his creation, Simone. That's because he's a very good, very entertaining actor, even (or especially) when he is doing comedy. This is a funny film with a message. Not surprising, perhaps, given that director/writer Andrew Niccol previously did the rather similar Truman Show. Both films invite us to examine the nature of reality.
This one was widely touted and long-awaited, although the close-in publicity blitz was rather lighter than I might have expected. Probably the low budget and the low expectations. It was dumped into the dog days of August. Not as ignominiously as Pluto Nash which was withheld from reviewers--the kiss of death; Simone just got no promotion, the kiss of a bad hacking cough.
But enough inside baseball. As the computer graphically aware among you must know (Craig Reynolds--go see this and check me if I'm wrong), most of the simthespian's work was done by Canadian model Rachel Roberts, on whom Simone is clearly based. So, it's as everyone says; you still can't build a plausible computer actor from scratch. Yet. But Pacino's line, "with the cost of actors going up and the cost of computer going down... the scales tipped," is spot on.
It's worth going to this film just to see Catherine Keener play a relatively normal human being. And I am a big Jay Mohr fan, so I enjoyed his 30 seconds of screen time. Evan Rachel Wood, who plays Pacino and Keener's daughter, is fresh and refreshing and will now be seen regularly, I predict. The sensuality is of a PG-13 sort.
While most professional reviews were mixed, I give this film an undiluted rave. I found myself, literally, laughing out on a half-dozen occasions. Go see it.
As a semi-professional observer of journalist depictions in movies, however, I must register a protest. Credit where credit is due; I owe this insight to Joe Saltzman of the IJPC. I have read the syllabus of his USC course on the media image of journalists, and it isn't a pretty picture. We (OK, they, since I am no longer a practicing journalist) were depicted for decades as basically noble people doing the Lord's work--afflicting the comfortable, comforting the afflicted, that sort of thing. But starting in the 70s, the image turned, and by the 80s and 90s, journalists were depicted as ravening pack animals. This coincided when the disappearance of the ex-journalist as screenwriter and his replacement by the screenwriter who has never done anything else but write screenplays, and whose best friends--movie people all--thing of journalists as, to use the British term, "reptiles." Check out the pack of journalists in The Right Stuff, actually played by a comedy troupe!
The trend continues with a vengeance in this film. Two scenes of the Hollywood press on a movie lot literally chasing the Al Pacino character. A horde trespassing on his property at the beach house. Hordes outside the hotel. Hordes outside the courtroom. The only differentiated journalists are Pruitt Taylor Vince, the editor of Echo (a cross between People and the National Enquirer), and his comic relief lackey, Jason Schwartzman. Vince is depicted as an underwear-sniffing weirdo and a blackmailer (well, OK, that's a sensitive portrayal of an editor). Schwartzman, by the way, has a bright future as a comic character actor.
The portrayal of reports in this film is not a pretty picture, and it is a long way from Woodward and Bernstein. In fact, the journalists in this film are a lot closer to the model of Richard "Dick" Thornburg, Reporter for WWTW-TV in Die Hard. Can't place him? He's the one who gets cold-cocked by Willis' wife, Bonnie Bedelia, to the sound of overwhelming cheers in the movie theater.
The journalists in this film as depicted as stupid, vicious or both. Not one of them acts out of noble motives, and in this film they don't even advance the plot--they just annoy and harass the main characters. Goodness, the Hollywood elite must really resent their dependence on publicity to depict reporters like this.
Ace In The Hole (1951)
AKA The Big Carnival
Kirk Douglas gets rough with Jan Sterling in Billy Wilder's Ace In The Hole.
Kirk Douglas looks for his "ace in the hole," a trapped miner. More Ace In The Hole stills
I have never seen anyone call this movie The Big Carnival except movie reference books and, now, the Internet Movie Database, but apparently somewhere, at some time, in some forum, it also went by that name, as well as The Human Interest Story.
By whatever name you know it, it is an important film in the development of the image of the journalist in popular culture. It was the first robin of spring, the first crack in the dike, the first faint echo of the future. As was so often the case, Billy Wilder was ahead of his time. Ace In The Hole was not the first movie to feature a journalist as protagonist as villian, but it was the first good one that did, and it laid the groundwork for the gradual deterioration of the journalist from generally good, or at least well-meaning, seeker after the truth to the cynical, semi-evil, story-at-any-price journalist whose portrayal dominates journalism fiction in Hollywood, in movies and on television, as of this writing (2002).
(Novels continue to be an exception in the popular depiction of journalists, but that's probably because journalism novels continue to be written by journalists, for the most part. Back when journalists wrote journalism movies, the portrayal was, perhaps not surprisingly, substantially more positive).
In this film, Kirk Douglas has drunk his way out of a position as a crack New York newspaper reporter, and been forced to take a series of increasingly more humiliating jobs until he ends up editing a dump of a newspaper in New Mexico. Then his luck changes; a miner is trapped, and it becomes a national story. His ticket back to the big time!
Because I like it so much, I'd like to quote the capsule description of this movie developed by Joe Saltzman for The Image of the Journalist in Popular Culture (IJPC) at USC:
You never heard of Floyd Collins? 1925 Kentucky. A guy pinned way down in that cave. One of the biggest stories that ever broke. Front page in every paper in the country for weeks. Say what did you take in that School of Journalism? Advertising? Maybe I did hear about it. Maybe you heard that reporter on the Louisville paper crawled in for the story and came out with a Pulitzer Prize..... See you in New York when you pick up that Pulitzer.
This is a tour de force role for Kirk Douglas, and one of Billy Wilder's rare commercial failures. Even he did not consistently dump on journalists after this noir look at Journalism's underbelly; he directed the 1974 remake of The Front Page, the most celebratory piece of fiction about journalism in the entire canon, the ur-journalism story of hard-drinking, but ultimately good hearted journalists. Still, he blazed a path with this film. See it. Don't miss the final scene, when Douglas keeps over directly into the camera in a drunken stupor.
Like many masterpieces, it was not recognized in its own time as a great film. We have the opportunity to make up for that now.
I'm not the only one who likes the film; James Fallows saw Ace in the Hole as antidote to the Olympics. Jack Shafer also praised the film.
Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
Burt Lancaster (J.J. Hunsecker) grabs Tony Curtis (Sidney Falco) by the tie to get his attention in the most famous publicity still from the movie. "Sidney, this syrup you're giving out with, you pour over waffles, not J.J. Hunsacker," he says. .
The most vicious of all the Walter Winchell romans a clef, this one was written by a Sidney Falco-like PR man, Ernest Lehman, who had to prostrate himself before the real Winchell in much the same way that Falco does for Hunsecker. If it seems over the top, you haven't read enough Winchell biographies. I recommend you take the time, as I did, to find the original Lehman short stories in Cosmopolitan, on which the novel and then the movie were based. A lot of good background on Sweet Smell of Success was posted on the website for the abortive Broadway musical version starring John Lithgow that opened in May 2002 and closed in June 2002. The site is gone, and with it all that great data. Dig up the Vanity Fair article from April 2000 promoting the musical, if you can find it, and find out a lot about Lehman, Winchell and the making of the movie. The stories upon which the movie is based were in Colliers on April 17, 1948 and Cosmopolitan in April 1950 ("Tell Me About It Tomorrow"). The Buffalo Film Seminar Series offers excellent notes on the film:
Alexander Mackendrick, SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS 1957 (fall 2001)
Once again, because I like it so much, I'd like to quote the capsule description of this movie developed by Joe Saltzman for The Image of the Journalist in Popular Culture (IJPC) at USC:
J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster), a ruthless gossip columnist, explaining the facts of life to public relations man Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis): You think this is a personal thing with me. Are you telling me that I think of this in terms of personal pique? Don't you see that today that boy wiped his feet on the choice, on the predilections of 60 million men and women in the greatest country in the world. If you had any morals yourself, I thought you'd understand the immorality of that boy's stand. It wasn't me he criticized, it was my readers.
From everything I have ever read about Winchell, this perfectly sums up his feelings about criticism, and was his excuse for being so thin-skinned. I hope, someday, to write the comprehensive overview of Winchell depictions in popular culture--but that's a project for someday in the future. Contributions are welcome.
Live from Baghdad (2002)
Michael Keaton (Robert Wiener) and Helena Bonham Carter (Ingrid Formanek) put a human face on the gritty journalistic reality: it's not a story if you can't get it back to headquarters.
Not since Evelyn Waugh's novel of foreign correspondence, Scoop, or Tom Stoppard's telex-obsessed play Night and Day has anyone done a better job of showing and explaining the fact that the best reporting in the world is useless if the journalist can't get the story back the headquarters for dissemination. This critical element of journalism is frequently and vividly demonstrated in this pretty good HBO production. It is, as other critics have noted, pretty much a non-stop commercial for CNN, but that's what you'd expect from a movie co-written by the CNN producer who was there. It certainly meets my criterion for a true "journalism movie," in the sense that it is all about the process and the journalism. There is a pointless love story tacked on, but unlike, say, It Happened One Night, this movie isn't about the love story or the growth of the reporter into a better human being. It is first, last and completely about the story: getting it and getting it out. I assume it will be available on videotape someday, and HBO scheduling being what it is, you may be able to catch a re-run sometime. But if you're interested in the nature of television news at the network level on an international story, you won't find a much better primer.
Shattered Glass (2003)
Hayden Christensen (Stephen Glass) is confronted by his editor Peter Sarsgaard (Charles Lane) as his web of lies unravels.
This film should be mandatory viewing for all journalism students in high school and college.
You may have heard of "police procedurals." That's the name for the television shows which show detective work step by step, in a simulation of the way it is actually done in real life by real police. Well, Shattered Glass is a "journalism procedural," and one of the best examples of this genre since All The President's Men. We see, step by step, how Stephen Glass was exposed as a serial faker in the pages of the New Republic magazine. Not only did he make up quotes, he made up supporting material and deliberately structure his deceptions to sneak them past the magazine's fact-checking procedure. As Nixon learned, it is one thing to lie, another to cover up your lie.
It has always been tempting to make up a quote to make a story "sing," the support the conclusion, to give an article a great "snapper." That, and plagiarism, are, in fact, the two mighty temptations of journalists everywhere. I am proud to say I never "piped" (made up) a quote in 30 years of professional journalism, and I advise against it, unless you want to suffer the fate of Stephen Glass.
Of course, when I say the "fate" of Stephen Glass, I don't mean writing a best seller and passing the bar exam. I'd love to be a fly on the all when he attempts to prove to the New York State Bar (or any other bar) that he's fit to be a lawyer. If he'd admitted to practice anywhere, that would be a whole new definition of "fit to practice" with which I wasn't previously familiar.
Rated PG-13 for language, sexual references and brief drug use
Citizen Kane (1941)
Orson Welles (Charles Foster Kane/W.R. Hearst) jots down his philosophy of journalism in Citizen Kane.
The newsreel team gawks at Kane's plunder in Citizen Kane.
For many years, along with a lot of other people, when I was asked what my favorite film is, I always said Citizen Kane. It seemed like a safe thing to say. Pauline Kael, among many others, had vouchsafed that it was the single best movie ever made. Has there ever been a 50 best movies of all time list that didn't include this Orson Welles masterpiece? Then I realized that the answer to the question "What's your favorite movie" actually says a lot about a person. I decided I wanted to say something different. So I sat down and thought carefully about the movie that has brought me the most pleasure, the most consistently over the years, that stands the test of time and represents my own sensibility.
I was surprised that it turned out to be, not a journalism movie (although this remains my favorite genre), but rather Groundhog Day. Click the link for a fuller explanation.
It doesn't mean I think less of Welles' effort, just that I think more of some others. Citizen Kane was and is a fantastic effort, technically and in terms of the story. This thinly disguised roman a clef of the life of newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst (Rosebud, in case you haven't heard, was his nickname for a portion of the anatomy of his mistress, Marion Davies) is head and shoulders above any other "A" journalism movie made until All The President's Men in 1974.
Most good journalism movies, as I define the term (see the top of this page) deal mainly with reporters. Editors are bit players. This film not only focuses on an editor and publisher, but dissects his life, his motivations and his inner life in an illuminating and thought-provoking way never equaled before or since. There are better journalism movies for our time that represent today's reporters and today's issues in a more current, realistic and entertaining way than Kane, but I don't mean to suggest that any of them are better movies qua movies.
As is so often the case, Welles made this movie at a time when he didn't know what couldn't be done in Hollywood. Hearst swiftly taught him, by destroying Welles' career. Welles spent the last three decades of his life walking around, refusing to fall over, after Hearst and his minions had shot and killed him professionally.
Yet a third time, because I like it so much, I'd like to quote the capsule description of this movie developed by Joe Saltzman for The Image of the Journalist in Popular Culture (IJPC) at USC:
Orson Welles as Citizen Kane:
Look, Mr. Carter, here is a three-column headline in the Chronicle. Why hasn't the Inquirer got a three-column headline?
Herbert Carter (Inquirer Editor-in-Chief): The news wasn't big enough.
Mr. Carter, if the headline is big enough, it makes the news big enough.
KIT KITTREDGE: AN AMERICAN GIRL (2008)
(released on DVD October 2008)
3.5 stars out of 5
Hello Sweetheart! Get me a ticket to the 1934 depicted in Kit Kittredge: An American Girl. You know, the one where the fictional Cincinnati Register newsroom is neat as a pin and cute as a button and where the copy boy is good looking and smart. The city editor of this most wonderful of never-existent newspapers is a screamer with a heart of gold, who delivers a freelancer's first published article to her house personally, on Thanksgiving Day no less. His paper looks like one swell, prosperous place from the outside--I'm sure the building we see is houses prosperous commercial businesses in Ontario, where the film was shot (hello runaway production!) No doubt, in the land where such an editor runs such a paper, there is no Internet and Sunday papers will weigh five pounds.
This is an all-female production, and as such, may have been aimed to just one side of my demographic. All seven executive producers (including Julia Roberts) are women, as was the writer Ann (Chronicles of Narnia, Nights in Rodanthe) Peacock and the director, Patricia (Mansfield Park) Rozema. Not to mention the precociously talented Abigal Breslin as the eponymous Margaret Mildred 'Kit' Kittredge.
The film is set in the Depression. Kit wants nothing more than to be published in the local paper. She visits the newsroom and is rejected out of hand, twice, but with the pluck that can often only be mustered by a character based on a popular line of dolls, she keeps at it, writing on a typewriter and taking pictures until she gets the story that's big enough to break into the business.
By the way, Abigail Breslin says she was a little baffled by the lack of a screen on the typewriter. When my daughters say that, they're joking, but they're 24 and 27; I suppose it is likely pre-teen children in non-journalist homes have never seen a typewriter in person and possible they've never seen one in a movie or TV show. She does something you rarely see depicted; she often gets two keys stuck together.
Kit's obsession with journalism is a framing device for the film; her narration comes in the form of stories, letters to her father (who loses his business and has to go to Chicago to try to find work) and journal entries. The newspaper scenes are concentrated at the beginning and end of the film; in the middle is good, simple melodrama. The movie offers a deft mix of the serious and humorous. Homes are foreclosed, eggs are sold, dresses are crafted from feed bags, and hobos turn out to be people just like you and me. The police seem to be bigoted dolts at first, but turn out, like the city editor, to have hearts of gold.
The cast is breathtaking, and everyone turns in a realistic performance--although I think the villain, Stanley Tucci, would have enjoyed twirling his moustache if it had been long enough. Chris O'Donnell appears briefly, but the bread and butter work is done by an ensemble cast which included Jane Krakowski, Wallace Shawn (as the city editor), Max Thieriot, Willow Smith, Glenne Headly, Zach Mills, Madison Davenport and Joan Cusack (is there nothing that woman can't do?)
A lovely family film with a conscience and one eye on being educational and informative, Kit Kittredge is an entertaining piece of fluff that doesn't explore journalism issue in any serious way, but doesn't do the image of the journalist any harm--except possibly making people think it can be practiced credibly by 10-year-olds. Of course, I'm sure there are a few potential journalists who will be scared off by the quoted rate of a penny a word for freelance, just as I'm sure there are still places that pay that rate...
This review is a week later than it might have been, because I recently obtained a Blu-Ray High Definition DVD player, and was determined to watch the film in that format. Not for me the dubious pleasures of watching a rented copy of a movie on an iPod or PC. Alas, while the two local Blockbuster stores had floor to ceiling displays of Kit DVDs (guaranteed in stock), they had exactly one copy each of the Blu-Ray version, which was instantly rented by the kind of person for doesn't know the meaning of due dates or common courtesy. So, I waited as their leisurely perusal of the film stretched out. It was worth the wait. If you haven't seen a Blu-Ray DVD of a movie, check it out in the store and then go buy one--assuming you already have a high-def TV.
A JOURNALISM PERSPECTIVE
3.5 stars out of 5
You can find a more traditional review of Clint Eastwood's film, The Changeling at my blog. This brief note is about the aspects of the film that touch on journalism, along with questions of historical accuracy.
The film makes an interesting (and, I am sure, inadvertent) comment on the vast changes in the image of the journalist between the 1920s and the present. In the silent films of the 20s, most journalists were depicted as noble fighters for the underdog. A few stole pictures of dead loved ones (just as Hearst employees and other yellow journalists did in real life), but for the most part, at least when they were massed in packs, they were reasonably polite. "Press packs" in modern films are scary, ravenous, shouting, pushy hordes, especially the photographers. I wondered as I went into this film, whether the media scenes would be period-appropriate or projections of the modern image back in time. Apparently, Eastwood's reputation as a stickler for period detail extends to his portrayal of the media. For the most part, the questions came one at a time, and bore a reasonable relationship to the issues at hand. The press packs were large, which was appropriate because LA, like most major cities, had a lot more newspaper at that time.
Without, I hope, offering too many spoilers, let me say I had hoped that the traditional crusading journalist would play a role in revealing the corruption and venality of the LA Police Department. Alas, because the story was true to life, the hero was John Malkovich's character, Rev. Gustav Briegleb. [In real life, he did not have a radio pulpit, but was friends with another minister who did. The radio station on which he is shown broadcasting was licensed in Pomona but never went on the air.] According to the LA Times, many of the headlines in the movie are actual headlines from newspapers of the era, part of the meticulous research of screenwriter J. Michael Straczynski (a former LA Times and LA Herald-Examiner reporter). If you are in tune to such nuances (or, perhaps, over-sensitive to them), you can be saddened by the apparent fact that, then as now, newspaper reporters for the most part are simply stenographers. That is, they preserve for posterity the version of reality presented to them by official sources (Judith Miller anyone?) rather than probing for the truth. The first draft of history is usually dictated.
A final note: researching the historical accuracy of the film was a time-consuming task. Why isn't there a website devoted to the systematic fact-checking of "fact based" movies and novels? I don't have time to do it, but surely someone has the time and skills to create such a useful site.
How may people come home from a movie like Changeling wondering what parts are true? It could be as big as IMDB or Snopes. If only I didn't have a real job...
QUID PRO QUO (2008)
(released on DVD August 2008)
2 stars out of 5
First, let me begin by noting that IJPC Director Joe Saltzman and I disagree on the definition of a journalism movie. For Joe and the IJPC, if there is a journalist in the film, it is a journalism movie. For me, the journalist must be a central character and must spend a reasonable portion of the film actually practicing journalism. In short, I prefer journalism movies that are about journalism. I will try to bring up this dispute only once a year, although I may link to it from other reviews.
The protagonist of Quid Pro Quo is about a person with disabilities (PWD) who is a reporter for New York Public Radio (NYPR), a stand-in for National Public Radio. He tells stories on the radio. As a regular NPR listener, I would characterize him as a cross between John Hockenberry (a PWD) and Ira Glass (who tells stories on This American Life), or perhaps, to reach farther back in radio history, to Jean Shepherd on WOR in New York in the 60s and 70s.
This film seems as if it is a two-person play opened up. The vast majority of the scenes feature only Isaac Knott, played by Nick Stahl and Fiona, played by Vera Farmiga (aka Ancient Chinese Lady). Most of the time, they are talking, with occasional interludes of soft-core sex. That's OK for an art film, when the conversation is thought-provoking. I like art films and watch them regularly. But this was not, for me, a thought-provoking film, it was a stomach-churning film. And as far from a mainstream film as it is possible to get.
Isaac receives an e-mail tip that a doctor was offered a quarter-million dollars to cut off someone's perfectly healthy leg. At first, it appears to be a hoax, then it appears it really happened. Ancient Chinese Lady sends him another tip, which leads him to a meeting of wannabees, able-bodied (AB) people who want to be wheelchair bound. You think that is what the film is going to be about. It's a McGuffin. The film is really about Isaac and Fiona. The writer/director, Carlos Brooks, says wannabees really exist. It seems unlikely, but he certainly does not offer any sustained or interesting insight into their psychology. He depicts them, and that's about it.
Isaac actually makes use of the tools of the trade of a radio reporter, for about five minutes. Interestingly, they are not the tools of a radio story teller, which are a studio microphone and a computer on which to write. The script does not suggest he is a radio news reporter, but he uses the tools of such a reporter, a directional microphone with a windscreen and a digital mini recorder. (Real professional digital minirecorders do not have built-in speakers, but I quibble). We also see him sitting in studio wearing headphones (in the trade, we call them cans). The NYPR office is small, spartan office and contains relatively few people crowded together. Based on my experience, this is the reality of most public radio.
The other 77 minutes of the film is two people talking, interspersed with wannabees who want to be paralyzed and in wheelchairs, and about 30 seconds of actual radio work. This is not enough for me to characterize it as a journalism movie, but it does have a journalist protagonist. One whom, I might add, gets involved with a source in a highly unethical way. Real professional journalists should not sleep with their sources and seldom do.
I will give this movie credit for thinking outside the box. As I have noted from time to time at my blog, The vast majority of American movies in the last 20 years have depicted life at the top. If you think back to the films of the 30s through the 50s, they frequently featured "real" people, and made some effort to depict actual working-class and middle-class life. Those classes have disappeared into a haze of architects, doctors, lawyers, bankers and college-educated upper-middle class journalists, not to mention the legions of movie protagonists with no visible means of support who, apparently, never go to work. So, it was refreshing to see working class life depicted. And I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of films I have seen that show a person on a chair, a PWD. The indignities of such a life are limned with precision. So, at least Quid Pro Quo is a breath of fresh air.
This is an art-film character study, in which the profession of the protagonist is an afterthought, a ruse that allows him to roll around and ask questions.
State of Play
4 stars out of 5
Cards on the table; the closest I ever came to blowing the lid off something was when I revealed the sneaky rehiring of a disgraced former power company executive, who was re-fired after my article appeared--and all I had to do was read the footnotes in the proxy statement.
I'm going to divide this review into two parts: about the movie qua journalism movie, then a few words about the movie as an entertainment.
By my ranking, it falls short of five stars on both fronts. As a journalism movie, it offers a few howlers, and a basic plot hole. As entertainment, it's fast-paced and entertaining, but not exactly thought-provoking or artistic.
There are two scenes in this film which guarantee it a place in the pantheon of journalism movies, both of which could be said to be paying homage to the past. The montage of the newspaper being printed which plays out under the end credits recalls the similar black and white montage which opened Frank Capra's 1928 classic black and white film The Power Of The Press, but of course this time the scene is in color and features modern equipment, including a newsprint delivery robot.
The other scene which guarantees the film immortality is a pale echo of Humphrey Bogart's, "That's the sound of a free press, baby," from Deadline USA, and William Conrad's, "and it only costs a nickel" speech from -30-. Universal has cleverly removed all trace of the script from the Internet, so I'll have to wait for the DVD to transcribe the speech, but Russell Crowe, as Washington Globe reporter Cal McAffrey lectures Ben Affleck as Rep.Stephen Collins with a speech that begins, "Why, because people don't read newspapers any more?" and ends with "printing the truth." It's a pale echo because it's short, both in terms of length and soaring rhetoric.
Also pale is the echo of the slammed doors that faced Woodward and Bernstein (or Hoffman and Redford, if you will) in All The President's Men. In this case, Rachel McAdams, playing Internet columnist Della Frye, conducts "real" reporting, in the face of slammed door after slammed door, hang up after hangup. While not as relentless as the cinematic original, it marks the first time in years a journalism movie has spent much quality time showing reporters doing actual reporting. Which is kind of amazing, since there is no sign of journalism in the résumés of screenwriters Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy and Billy Ray--except that Billy Ray did write another excellent recent journalism film, Shattered Glass, about the downfall of the New Republic's Stephen Glass (reviewed here).
Many of the old familiar journalism movie memes are on display here. One is the messy newsroom, with the messiest desk belonging to the protagonist. In an era when most screen heroes are middle or upper middle class--as are most journalists-Crowe plays McAffrey as an affable Irish drunk. The kind of person who couldn't get a job at a daily newspaper in any market larger than Waco, Texas, and certainly not at the Washington Post clone which is the Washington Globe in this film. The recent corporate takeover may seem "ripped from the headlines," but it too is venerable, most visibly in Deadline USA, where the new owners are shutting the paper down, as opposed to merely emasculating it, as they are in this film. The crusty managing editor is a journalism movie trope older than sound pictures, with the twist that it can now sometimes be a woman. It was Glenn Close in The Paper, and now it is Helen Mirren as Cameron Lynne in State Of Play, turning in another first class performance, in which she ravages the reporters in private and defends them in public, just like a real ME. And, when the story is hot enough, she tells the accountant to buzz off when he reminds her that holding the presses costs $20,000 an hour. OK, it's true only an idealized managing editors would ever do that, and almost none today, more's the pity.
On the other hand, the movie introduces at least two features that I have not seen before in a Hollywood journalism film: an Internet desk (whose columnist Della Frye is an equal partner in the reporting of the big story), and frequent references to the imminent collapse of the newspaper--not from a sale or merger, but just from the end of newspapers in general.
The engine that runs the story, alas, is a conflict of interest that would not be tolerated at any newspaper larger than a weekly shopper: Crowe, the central reporter on the story is best friend of and former roommate of the central figure, Affleck, and the managing editor knows it. A reporter might get away with this if he kept his management in the dark, but that's not how it's played here. In fact, R.B. Brenner of the Washington Post, who served as a journalism consultant on State of Play, says he told the filmmakers this was unrealistic. They decided the story was, with reference to this element, more important than fidelity to real-world journalistic practice. (Check out an audio interview with Brenner at the Washington Post site)
Strictly from the entertainment point of view, State of Play is a bit pat, but with a few nice twists. A young man is shot to death in an alley. A young woman jumps in front of a train. Turns out the murder and the suicide are related. The police don't want to talk, but as always, the reporter runs rings around the detectives. The woman is an aide to the senator, who admits, early on, that he was having an affair with his intern. But it turns out the reporter (is having? Once had?) an affair with the senator's wife as well. There are mercenaries, and they are certainly all more noble than most mercenaries I've ever heard of, and more cooperative with reporters. The reporters work hard to find the truth (even though the police tell them to lay off), and have the story put to bed when there is a sudden last minute twist. I don't do spoilers, so aside from telling you that the film doesn't end when it seems to, I won't tell you exactly what happens.
NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH
(released in April 2009)
4 stars out of 5
Does this sound like the cast of a direct to video production to you? Kate Beckinsale, Matt Dillon, Angela Bassett, Alan Alda, Vera Farmiga, David Schwimmer, Courtney B. Vance and Noah Wyle. Heck, Floyd Abrams, the famed first amendment lawyer who frequently represents the New York Times, even has a cameo as the judge. No, my friends, this is Oscar-bait. Except that Yari Film Group, the production company, went under in the bad economy and took a lot of pretty classy looking films with it. At least this one (unlike, say, Accidental Husband) actually got a U.S. release as a DVD.
I won't spend a lot of time beating a dead horse, but it is difficult for me to characterize this as a journalism movie. Yes, the main character is a journalist. Yes, the film's central dilemma is one of the most important issues in serious investigative journalism: the need to protect your sources. But there is precious little journalism on display here. Lots of human drama, lots of angst, lots of moral ambiguity. But precious little journalism.
The film makes it clear with an announcement before the title that this film is not based on any story or character. That is, of course, because it is so obviously based on the story of Judith Miller of the New York Times, and her jail term for civil contempt for refusing to give up her source for a story she never published about Valerie Plame's identity as a covert CIA agent.
Yes, they change her name, and move the story to a Washington, D.C. newspaper (actually the Memphis Commercial-Appeal). They put her in jail for 18 months, rather than the 85 days Miller actually served. And although there was speculation that Patrick Fitzgerald would do to Miller what he does to Kate " Rachel Armstrong" Beckinsale in the film, Miller just walked away at the end of her term.
In fact, writer/director Rod Lurie changes just enough of the facts to make the case even more ambiguous than the fairly ambiguous real-life case it was based on. It's a weird feeling to watch the film if you followed the Miller/Plame case. If you're like me, you'll find youself saying to the person watching with you, "That really happened," "that almost happened," "something like that happened," and "that's the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen." Which is, of course, the difference between fiction and non-fiction.
But I'm not fact-checking the film (at least not in detail), I'm reviewing it.
To summarize the plot: an attempt is made to assassinate the President. The finger is pointed at Venezuela, which is bombed in retaliation. Armstrong gets word that a CIA agent went to Venezuela and could find no evidence of its involvement (shades of Plame's husband, Ambassador Wilson, finding no trace of the yellowcake Uranium that was never sent to Iraq). She obtains the name of the agent. We don't see this even at first, and I can't say anything about it without spoiling a major plot point. Suffice it to say you'll be surprised.
The use of the agent's name rings false to me; the newspaper story doesn't need the name of the agent. Which means the whole film hangs on an unnecessary revelation.
Matt " Patton Dubois" Dillon is appointed special prosecutor. He tells Armstrong she's going to jail--not prison, jail--until she talks. She doesn't talk and goes to jail (shades of Judith Miller). Frankly, she's a wee bit sanctimonious for my taste. The judge offers her a day or two to think about it, she says, "I'll never talk," which results in her being whisked instantly to jail without so much as a toothbrush. We see her miserable life in prison, her marriage dissolve, her relationship with her son deteriorate, and her face get messed up in a jailhouse fight.
Actually, I can't say a lot more about the plot without spoiling the film. It's complicated and interesting, however. At one point, the agent, Vera "Erica Van Doren" Farmiga, is told she wasn't the only CIA agent sent to Venezuela, just the only one who didn't find any evidence of involvement. The vice president's chief of staff is shown (shades of "Scooter" Libby in the Plame case). Alan "Alan Burnside" Alda, playing the paper's outside first amendment counsel (Floyd Abrams in the Judith Miller case) notes that, at some point, journalists "went from being the white knight to being the dragon."
Despite that pessimistic note, for the most part the characterization of print journalists in this film is as hard-working, noble and principled protectors of the republic. Celebrity TV journalism gets a dusting, as a somewhat Barbara Walters-like Angelica "Molly Meyers" Torn is depicted as shallow and crass.
And, in a refreshing change of pace (probably because of the film's long gestation period), there's not a single reference to the collapse of the newspaper industry. In today's world, that makes it look like a fairy tale.
If you are, or ever have been, a journalist, the film may well affect you as it did me: get you to ask yourself if there was any principle worth doing relatively hard time for. If you can get bast the fundamental implausible moment of the plot--naming the officer who wrote the report instead of simply describing the report--this film can be engrossing as entertainment. Or, if you are cursed with too much knowledge of the real events, as an ongoing effort to separate the fact from the fiction. Either way, it's worth renting.
SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED
(released in June 2012)
4 stars out of 5
I don't put much stock in the Rotten Tomatoes website, but I must note in passing that this film got a 91 percent rating from critics and a 93 percent rating from viewers, which strikes me as odd for what amounts to a little art-house film. IMDB's summary: "Three magazine employees head out on an assignment to interview a guy who placed a classified ad seeking a companion for time travel." Director Colin Trevorrow spun this delightful tale of weirdness from the script of Derek Connolly. Kenneth (Mark Duplass) places the ad which attracts intern Darius (Aubrey Plaza) and sleazy journalist Jeff (Jake M. Johnson) to Ocean Shores, Wash. (I've never been, but it apparently exists) in an effort to turn out a magazine story. I will not tell you how it ends, but it is sweet, clever, intriguing, and it is art in the sense that it is subject to multiple interpretations. The only thing that is crystal clear is that the journalist is a dirtbag. And this movie meets my definition of journalism, because the major protagonists are all journalists, and we see them committing journalism.
Once can only hope that Darius is not really learning much from this internship, because the lessons it is teaching are all wrong. We see the newsroom of a fictional city magazine; it is nice enough, and prosperous looking, showing that, in movies at least, there is not the overhang of imminent doom that appears in every modern journalism novel. Jeff’s boss is a rude, unpleasant jerk. The office seems nice enough, but the interns are mistreated and used as gofers most of the time. Jeff volunteers to cover the story, and demands that two interns go with him—as it turns out, so that they will do his work for him, while he tries to reconnect with a high school sweetheart who as friended him on Facebook. The fact that he is a shallow clod is not directly related to his journalism, so we can let that go.
Back in the 1970s, when I attended meetings of Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE), they drummed into us that, when investigating an important story, it is all right to misrepresent yourself, as long as you don’t claim to be someone who can compel cooperation (you can’t pretend to be a policeman, for example). The hardest part of that rule, really, was the “important story” part. Most journalists do not believe it is ethical to misrepresent yourself constantly, on every story. You wouldn’t know that from this film.
Jeff is quite possible the worst interviewer ever to appear on screen, and quickly alienates Kenneth, the man who placed to ad. So he sends in the intern to befriend the eccentric man who thinks he can travel in time. Here, a very clear ethical line is crossed, as Darius becomes Kenneth’s girlfriend, while pumping him for information. It definitely tarnishes whatever is left of journalism’s reputation. In short, yet another film where journalists are not depicted well.
Other Old Journalism Films
Northside 777 (1948)
This Jimmy Stewart vehicle is a perfect journalism movie by my definition: the whole thing is about how Stewart, a reporter, methodically finds the information to free a wrongly convicted murderer. I don't know why I've never bothered with publicity stills and a full-fledged review of it. Someday I may. Suffice it to say it is excellent. Gentlemen's Agreement is supposed to be similar, but Gregory Peck isn't really being a journalist; he is just pretending to be Jewish. The journalism scenes are a framing device and a plot device; they aren't really central to the story.
The Day The Earth Caught Fire (1961)
Featuring a young Leo McKern, this message film about a nuclear apocalypse is a perfectly preserved snapshot of the reporting, editing and printing of the Daily Express of London in the late 1950s. A poster in the newsroom with the single word "Impact," 50s newspaper jargon, four phones on the desk and a walk down Fleet Street when all the national newspapers were there, provide verisimilitude. Unlike American movie makers, who insist on inventing imaginary papers for their journalism films, the British use real newspaper names (many now defunct) throughout the film.
The message is about the need for nuclear disarmament, so the film features some staged and some archival footage of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament demonstrations that took place in London (where what we know as the peace symbol was first displayed). The film begins with a shot of Big Ben and London in ruins, then recounts, in flashback, the 90 days since Russia and America set off simultaneous H-bomb blasts accidentally in Siberia and Antarctica, tipping the Earth’s axis and shifting its orbit. The depiction of the process of journalism—up to and including the efforts good reporters make to go around the press office—is flawless and fascinating.
The framing device is two stories involving reporter Peter Stennings; his screwball romance with Jeannie Craig from the Weather Bureau and his post-divorce relationship with his son. A few beatniks are thrown in for good measure (there’s a credit for "beatnik music composition" at the start of the film.
Most Americans alive today do not realize that the United States once had the equivalent of London’s Fleet Street. Ours was Park Row in New York City, the home of most of the major newspapers in our largest city. Like Fleet street, the papers of Park Row closed and dispersed, and now only the New York Post is in the vicinity. This film starts with portentous narration and shots of the statues of Ben Franklin and Horace Greeley, patron saints of American journalism, each of them invoked numerous times by various characters. Park Row is the story of Phineas "Mitch" Mitchell, founder of the Globe. The story is framed in terms of his competition and love story with Charity Hackett, the female publishers of the Star, which, conveniently, is across the street. She fires him, he starts the Globe, he buys the first Linotype machine from Herr Mergenthaler, and the rest, as they say, is history. The romance threatens to hijack the story in the middle, but then a literal circulation war breaks out—say, did that little office boy ever walk again?—before coming to an abrupt and satisfying conclusion, as Miss Hackett exits the newspaper business in favor of her professionally superior competitor.
Scandal Sheet (1940)
Editor Jim "Steve" Stevenson edits the tabloid Herald-Star. He runs it without scruples, morals or conscience. "Our job is to sell papers" he says. "Meet deadlines or be on the breadline," says a sign on the wall of the absolutely classic 1930s newsroom—men in coats and ties at all times, wearing their hats indoors. The film begins with a trite journalism trope: Steve’s disrespect for the idea-filled journalism graduate Peter Haynes, whom he nonetheless hires. Turns out, Peter is really Steve’s son. Quickly disgusted by the nature of tabloid journalism (stealing pictures from widows, bullying the innocent), Peter quits. He tells Steve, "You’re a cheap scandal monger who strips people and sells them for three cents." Peter goes to work for the respectable Times-Express, where he becomes a star. Like all movie journalists, he never takes a note while reporting a story. In another nod to journalism stereotypes, a Herald-Star reporter gets Peter locked into a cellar to prevent him from filing by deadline. In the end, Steve grows a conscience, telling Peter’s mother, "Journalism will be better without people like me," words that no tabloid editor has spoken in all of recorded history.
Scandal Sheet (1952)
Columbia took some of the same elements and the same title as Scandal Sheet (1940) and made another journalism movie in 1952. This time it featured Broderick Crawford as Mark "stone-hearted, glory-seeking" Chapman, executive editor/managing editor (both titles were used in the film) of the tabloid New York Express. The publisher, Mr. Madison, tired of losing money, hired Chapman to raise circulation, promising a bonus if it hit 750,000. The board is appalled that its newspaper has become a "cheap and depraved" tabloid appealing to "base morons," but Chapman points out it just paid its first dividend in 12 years. The lead, John Derek (years before he married Bo), plays Steve McLeary, a stereotypical tabloid journalist (he’d run over his own grandmother for a story), whose photographer sidekick is a pre-Dragnet, pre Col. Potter Harry Morgan. The love interest, known variously as "The Duchess of Vassar," "princess" and "kittie" is Donna Reed, who plays Julie, the feature writer. As with the 1940 "Scandal Sheet," this film features an editor who murders someone trying to blackmail him (a trope also used in the film "The Big Clock"). At one point, a reporter having a beer for breakfast in a newspaper bar calls the city desk to check in. Washed-up Pulitzer Prize winner Charlie Barnes, now an alcoholic (or stew bum in 50s parlance) finds out about Chapman, who killsBarnes just before he can turn the story over to the Daily Leader (Hollywood, as always, using fake newspaper names). McLeary, acting as a detective, breaks the case, and Chapman commits "suicide by police." Newspaper color comes from a newsroom full of pneumatic tubes (the height of 50s newsroom technology) along with montages of roaring presses, dropping newspaper bundles and swirling headlines. It is interesting to note that, while coats, ties and hats were reporter garb in 1940, by 1952 the boys in the newsroom had shed the coats and the hats.
One of the biggest changes in journalism over the years has been in drinking and smoking. When I started my first newspaper job in 1973, there were alcohol-fueled lunches, cigarettes galore and a bottle of liquor in every third desk—just as there were in the 1920s. By the time I left journalism in 2001, there wasn’t a major newsroom in America that wasn’t non-smoking, and liquor in your desk was a firing offense at many newspapers.
This web site includes only movies that are more than 50% about the actual process of journalism, not melodramas (or, for that matter, comedies) that simply have some journalism grafted onto them. Scandal is a tough call. Oh sure, it shows a magazine publisher’s office, and a staff meeting, as well as several popular 1950s television formats, but mostly it is the story of Scott Mason, puppeteer, and the way in which a gossip magazine destroys his life and that of his family. It is worth including, I decided, because it preserves a glimpse of a genre of magazine that died out decades ago. During the 1950s, gossip magazines (the illegitimate grandparents of "People" and "The National Enquirer") had enormous power of the lives and reputations of the famous and near-famous in this country. "Dishing the dirt" on celebrities won millions of readers and ruined untold lives. It also marked the beginning of the end of Hollywood’s view of the journalism profession as noble. It just struck too close to home. If this movie were made by Western Union instead of MGM, the simple message (explicitly delivered by Van "Scott Mason" Johnson in a television appearance near the film’s end): "Every time you put down your quarter and buy one of these magazines you spread poison." The journalists at Real Truth magazine are all sleazebags and rundown has-beens; men and women without a conscience. The primary tactic shown—one which I know was frequently used—is to get the dirt on one star and offer to hold it in exchange for "dirt" on another star. There may be a sleazier journalistic tactic in this world, but I’m not familiar with it.
I love it when movies inadvertently serve as documentation of social changes. There are several women on the staff of Real Truth, violating the "one or zero dames per staff" quota recognized by most pre-60s journalism films. Also, when H.R. Manley arrives at the office, all the staff call him "Mr. Manley," while all the male reporters call him by his first name.
The Image of the Journalist in Popular Culture (IJPC), continued
As part of its commitment, IJPC will undertake the following:
*Publication of books, periodicals, monographs, and articles. First publication: Frank Capra and the Image of the Journalist in American Film by Joe Saltzman. Future publications will include specific categories summarizing the images of the journalist: anonymous reporters; columnists and critics; cub reporters; editors; flawed male journalists; investigative reporters; memorable newsroom families; photojournalists and newsreel shooters; publishers and media owners; real-life journalists; sob sisters; sports journalists; and war and foreign correspondents. Each will be the subject of a separate publication including a book-length essay and CD-ROM supplement.
*Maintain, enlarge, and archive IJPC's database of nearly 20,000 items of the journalist in films, television, radio, commercials, cartoons, and fiction.
*Maintain, enlarge, and archive IJPC's collection of 1,200 videotapes, audiotapes, and MP3 files (more than 5,000 hours of radio programs) and various scripts, books, novels, short stories, research materials, articles, and other artifacts.
*Surveys documenting the public perception of journalists and the journalists' perception of journalists in both fiction and nonfiction media.
*Creation of symposia, exhibits, conferences, classes, and video-audio festivals documenting the image of the journalist in popular culture. Two examples: curating an exhibit of the image of the journalist in film and television for the Newseum in Washington, DC, in 2002, and the creation of a USC Annenberg School of Journalism class featuring twenty-eight documentaries showing the image of the journalist in film and television in the twentieth century.
*Working with researchers and scholars in the field. Loren Ghiglione, dean, the Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University, and Richard Ness, author of From Headline Hunter to Superman: A Journalism Filmography, are two of the top researchers in the field who have agreed to work on the IJPC project.
*Creation of a Web site sharing research materials with the public and academic community.
*Creation of a journal featuring articles from experts in the field.
800-466-8437, fax: 215-725-3683. Amex, Visa and MC accepted. Email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many of the movies listed here are available from Movies Unlimited, even if there isn't a specific reference to their price and order number.
Movies I Want
Note Added April 27, 2019
I waited for years for someone to write me and say, "Here's this old movie that you're looking for." It never happened. Then, a few weeks ago, I was re-reading this page for the first time in years. The last time I really read this list was in 2001. Eighteen years later, it turns out almost all of these films are available as DVDs, virtually none of them for streaming. I don't know why the studios started releasing them in the face of a collapsing dvd market, but I'm glad they did. As I get to each of them, I will add a few notes.
All Over Town 1949
Carter Case (The) 1942
Confirm Or Deny 1941
Front Page Story 1953
I Live in Danger 1942
Inside Story 1939
It Happens Every Thursday 1953
Journalist (The) 1979
6.26.2019 This Australian film is a real walk down memory lane, taking place, as it does, 40 years ago. A reporter is paged in the lobby of a hotel: "Call For Mr. Morris." He files copy by telex (a once ubiquitous private dial-up teletype service) and he dictates changes to a stenographer. The only thing the reporter does not do is say, "Get me rewrite." He is a lady's man, and is sent to Hong Kong to get the dirt on a politician his paper opposes. By my definition, it starts out as a journalism movie: it spends time in the newsroom and we get to see field reporting. Halfway through, it descends into a sex farce with incidental journalism scenes, and earns Wikiedia's designation as perhaps "the worst Australian film ever made."
News Hounds 1947
News Is Made At Night 1939
Newsboy's Home 1939
Night Editor 1946
Not For Publication 1984
5/2/2019 This is a uniformly appalling film, and barely meets my definition of a journalism film. The whole gigantic, gratuitously complicated plot centers around the New York Informer which, while described a daily tabloid, is really based on the weekly National Enquirer, down to having an Italian publisher. In this film, the paper is owned 50-50 by the mayor and the mob. The central character, Lois Thorndike,the daughter of a Pulitzer-winning journalist, works for this appalling excuse of a newspaper. There are a few scenes in a ridiculous mobile darkroom, and one scene in the press room when the presses are not running. At no point do we see the newsroom, and at no point is Lois (or Louise Thorne, her nom de byline) shown practicing anything I recognize as journalism. Director Paul Bartel also did Eating Raoul which, unlike this film, is good. He must have lost a bet with someone.
Platinum Blonde 1931
4/27/2019 This one was on Netflix, probably because it stars Jean Harlow as a socialite who marries a newspaper reporter. The plot is absurd; the reporter essentially blackmails the socialite, who turns around and marries him a few days later. His old newspaper associates convince him he is a "bird in a gilded cage," so he forces his heiress wife to join him in the cheap apartment he can afford on his journalism salary. Journalism is mostly incidental to this film, in which, once again, no reporter ever takes a note. It appears they have copy paper in their pockets, but they never use it. One thing Hollywood really seems to work at getting right is what a newsroom looks like at any given point in history. Most of you reading this know the story that, for the film All the President's Men, the movie company imported a huge quantity of desk litter from the actual Washington Postnewsroom, including, according to the sharp-eyes, a press kit for All The President's Men. In any case, this film shows something I have heard and read about, but never seen depicted: in the 1930s, in lieu of wastepaper baskets, newspaper people threw all their discarded paper on the floor; a tradition long-gone by the time I got to my first newsroom in 1973.
Big Town 1947
6/15/2019 Hal Erikson, Allmovie.com: "Big Town was the first of a series of Pine-Thomas productions inspired by the radio series of the same name--which in turn was spun off into a long-running TV series." I thought I was buying the TV series; I didn't realize I was buying the movie version. Fearless reporter Steve Wilson is a real yellow journalism circulation builder, so he he is hired by the Big Town Illustrated Press as managing editor. Yes, they literally refer to the city in which the movie is set as "Big Town." Wilson start to closes the circulation gap with the Big Town Chronicle using kickers, guts and orgasms (once said to be the meaning of the TV call letters KGO). Big headlines and big pictures abound. This movie features real journalism being practiced in the too-quiet, too-clean simulation of a real news room. The paper is sold on the street by shouting newsboys. A shot of the printing press turning out papers is included. There is talk of an "8 a.m. deadline," which indicates the Illustrated Press is an afternoon paper. The publisher alternates between venal and noble, killing one article at the behest of an advertiser. As we used to say at the Oregon Journal, "never print a negative story about Fred Meyer," (the Portland chain of grocery stores that was the paper's No. 1 advertiser). With that exception, the publisher fully supports the popular, lowest-common denominator journalism that has made the paper profitable for the first time in decades. Reporters and editors are drinking, on duty and during the day, in the office; apparently a common practice, but outlawed by the late 1970s. The plot is too silly to detail, but a young man wrongly jailed as the result of stories ordered up by Wilson hangs himself in jail. Wilson writes an editorial in which he says he killed the boy, and that his "accomplice was yellow journalism," a form of newspapering he won't practice any more after tonight. The TV episodes illustrate the critical difference between movies and TV shows: a movie is about "the most important day" in the protagonist's life; a TV show is about "a day" in the protagonist's life. The announcer claims the TV stories are based on actual newspaper stories. The Delco commercials are delivered by the paper's "automotive editor." Now that's commercial integration the way it used to be.
Scandal Sheet 1931
Either they were trying to save money on electricity by not using lights on the set, or I got a bad copy. Literally film noir. There's some real journalism, as a freelance photographer gets a staff job by turning in a photo of the death scene at a mob hit--a picture modeled after a famous New York City crime photo. The photog gets tangled up with the mob, and after that the movie practically writes itself, apparently, since it doesn't seem obvious a screenwriter did.
Street of Missing Men 1939
That Wonderful Urge 1948
Journalism on TV
According to the book, "The Complete Directory To Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows, 1946-Present, Twentieth Anniversary Edition" by Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh, © 1999 by Ballantine Books, the following television shows about journalists have appeared in Prime Time. Let me note, by the way, that this otherwise excellent tome does NOT include a topical index, so I had to scan all 1,000 pages of listings to find the "newspaper dramas." I left a few journalist comedies (eg: The Mary Tyler Moore Show) off the list.
I would be interested in buying videotape copies of any of these. For those I have found, I have posted mini-reviews.
Barney Blake, Police Reporter, NBC, 1948
Big Town, CBS, DuMont, NBC, 1950-1956
6.15.2019 See description of the movie version above.
Byline , ABC, 1951
Capital News, ABC, April 1990 [I'd REALLY like any copy of this one]
Crime Photographer, CBS, 1951-1952
The Front Page, CBS, 1949-1950
Front Page Detective, DuMont, 1952
5/2/2019 At first I was excited. Some sources call it a live DuMont program, based on a pulp magazine of the same name. Wikipedia appears to be right for a change: "Unlike many other programs which aired on DuMont, the series was produced on film by an outside production company." Filmed, perhaps, but with a budget clearly lower than that of any TV show made after 1955. The Front Page Detective is gossip columnist David Chase,who verbally abuses his loyal secretary, as was par for the course in 1951. The plot of the episode "Black Book" revolves around a blind item about a mob boss, and the black book full of incriminating evidence his minion sends to Chase. The bad guys lose. What a surprise. Some journalism by a columnist working at home, but not a lot.The episode "Seven Seas to Danger" deals with smugglers and has Chase dispatching three sailors, one of them armed, in a brief fight. "Midnight rides the night train" is an inadvertent homage to luxury train travel in the 50s, and to the tailoring of the day, with foot-wide lapels on double-breasted wool suits. Chase struggles with an armed man--and does not subdue him!
I Cover Times Square, ABC, 1950-1951
Live Shot, UPN, 1995
Lou Grant, CBS, 1977-1982
The Name of the Game, NBC, 1968-1971
Murphy Brown, CBS, 1988-98
New York News, CBS, 1995
NewsRoom, CBC, 1996-1997
By my definition, not a journalism show but a comedy starring journalists. Still, it deals with journalism issues, as seen on CBC local news in Toronto. As many have noted, when Hollywood screenwriters were largely journalists, the journalist was a brave, noble and clever protector of society. Now that the Hollywood powers dislike journalism, journalists are depicted as craven and borderline unethical. The show is not as good as Lou Grant but reminiscent of it. There was a nod: "Is this my Lou Grant moment?" "No, this is reality." The first episode had a #metoo moment 20 years early, as the news director fails to hire a lesbian because she won't sleep with him and the anchor is accused of sexual harassment in the wardrobe department. Issues depicted include the pain of budget cuts, the hope that there was a Canadian involved in a train accident in Africa, whether to show a suicide tape. Serious issue, dealt with humorously. "That's great; it's a rating week," has to be taken as ironic. Also, "There's a big difference between 'sources are saying' and lying"--true, but the show comes down on the wrong side of the gap. In another episode, the anchor is entrapped by a fake businessman trying to bury a story. Strong stuff.
CAUTION CAUTION CAUTION It is very hard to find this series on the Internet because of all the noise about the American Series of the same name (the fact that HBO gave its show the same name offends Canadian reviewers who think Newsroom is the best Canadian sitcom ever, and that HBO disrespected Canadian TV when it chose the same name). You can find the CBC version by searching for CBC Newsroom or Finkleman Newsroom (Finkelman is the series creator). Be VERY careful when buying DVDs. The one that says on the box "Full series," covers only the first series. To get all the shows, you must search for CBC Newsroom Series 1, Series 2 and Series 3 in separate editions.
Not For Publication, Dumont, 1951
The Reporter, CBS, 1964 [I believe this was shot in the New York Mirror newsroom, shortly after that paper folded]
Sports Night, ABC, 1999
Deadline, NBC, 2000, 2002
Studio 5B, ABC, 1989
Target: The Corrupters, ABC, 1971
Wire Service [aka Deadline for Action], ABC, 1956-1959 [the adventures of three reporters for the Trans-Globe Wire Service]
2/9/2021 [added Best Wink, Journalism meme]
1/3/2021 [added link to Poynter List]
4/29/2019 [added note to "Movies I want" and notes on Platinum Blonde
7/4/12 [added Safety Not Guaranteed]
12/2/11 [Added More Feelings]
4/23/09 [Added Kit Kitteredge, Changeling, Quid Pro Quo, State of Play]
8/25/08 [move to Typepad]
1/12/07 [Correct formatting, add several older journalism films]
10/3/05 [Add quotes from Howard Good, correct location of college reviews]
08/11/04 [Added Deadline TV show]
11/30/03 [Added Shattered Glass]
12/29/02 [Added Live from Baghdad]
9/6/02 [Added pictures as well as Ace in the Hole, Sweet Smell of Success and Citizen Kane]
8/29/02 [Added "S1M0NE"]
3/17/02 Posted new movie tables
3/5/02 [Dropped WIOU (I have it), Added IJPC and "The Insider"]
2/19/02 [Added e-mail exchange with Larry King to description of "The Paper"]
2/14/02 [Added "My Feelings About Journalism Movies", new link to Journalists in Movies]
2/12/02 [Added "All The President's Men and Table of Contents]
12/02/01 [Added "Absence of Malice" and IMDB references for all films]
11/14/01 [Added "Musing Philosophical" and "Getting Started" sections]
04/28/01 [Totally revised format, added pictures to -30- and Deadline USA. Moved The Paper to the top]
04/25/01 [Revised Want List, changed Byte to TechWeb]
03/17/01 [Added Want List]
05/01/99 [Changed CMPNet reference to Byte.com]
08/31/98 [Modified Text, eliminating outdated material]
11/30/97 [Added Broadcast News]
11/26/97 [added Up Close and Personal]
11/22/97 [note about minor dispute, stills, some rewrite]
10/19/97 [note death of Finnish movie listing page, add Deadline USA scene]
07/05/97 [Stephen Stuart corrections, remove Baker page because of inactivity]
02/28/96 [add new link to Baker movie page]
07/26/99 [added link to Paul Schindler essay on Women in Journalism]
11/15/96 [add counter]
4/15/96 [New artwork at the top, dropped font changes]
2/1/96 [Added tables]
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