Deadline U.S.A. – 1952

deadline usa

My Review

—A Very Solid Drama— 

Your Bogie Fix:

4 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  Richard Brooks

The Lowdown

Pulitzer prize winning newspaper editor Ed Hutcheson (Humphrey Bogart) fights for one last big story as his paper is sold out from under him and scheduled to be shut down.

What I Thought

There’s no rush here as director Richard Brooks takes us inside The Day, a fictional big city newspaper run by the last honest editor in town.  The story is laid out for us piece by piece, leaving no doubt as to where it will end up, and for a crime drama done skillfully, that’s a good thing.

The Day is being shut down . . .

The staff is staying on despite the fact that they only have two weeks of pay left . . .

Murderous gangster Tomas Rienzi (Martin Gabel) is about to escape prosecution if no one steps up to stop him . . .

Editor Ed Hutcheson decides that the story is still going to be written whether it makes a difference for the paper or not . . .

If you’re going to have a tough-as-nails crusader that decides to make a last stand for the public good, it might as well be Humphrey Bogart, because no one else is going to do it better.  This is a film that’s filled with one grandiose speech after another, all about the importance of honest journalism, freedom of the press, and the public good – almost all delivered by Bogart, and almost all hitting the exact right chords to drum up the maximum enthusiasm from the supporting cast (and movie goer).

Ed Hutcheson:  (LAMENTING THE SURGE OF TABLOID JOURNALISM) It’s not enough anymore to give’em just the news – they want comics, contests, puzzles!  They want to know how to bake a cake, win friends, and influence the future.  Ergo, horoscopes, tips on the horses, interpretation of dreams – so they can win on the numbers lottery, and, if they accidentally stumble on the first page – news! 

Hutcheson is a no-nonsense, old-school journalist who wants nothing more or less in his paper than the plain facts.  When a young reporter asks permission to chase down mob boss Tomas Rienzi, Hutcheson is quick to crack down on him:

Reporter:  I’d like to stay with the Rienzi story. 

Bogart:  You’re wasting your time, baby. 

Reporter:  Not if we can prove he’s guilty! 

Bogart:  It’s not our job to prove he’s guilty!  We’re not detectives and we’re not in the crusading business! 

But guess who’s quick to join the “crusading business” when his back’s to the wall and the paper’s about to be broken up?  We get a front row seat as Hutcheson breaks some of his own journalistic code and personally joins the fray as his paper goes after Rienzi, despite the threats and strong armed retaliations.

Are we ever truly afraid for Bogart’s safety?  Maybe for a few minutes towards the end, but that’s not the point.  Brooks is more concerned about presenting a story with a firm grip on journalistic realism than he is about making a tight and gripping melodrama.  Fortunately for us, his style works, and we get the best of both worlds.

The Bogart Factor

He’s great here.  I thought there were an enormous amount of similarities between this film and Bogart’s The Enforcer which came out the year before.  Both portray strong and aloof heroes who are pressed for time to complete a grueling job.

Again, no one plays stoic and world weary nearly as well as Bogart does.  This was a great role for him, as the character of Ed Hutcheson doesn’t seem that far removed from the aging Hollywood star that was portrayed in the A. Sperber biography Bogart.  Both the character and the actor had reached an age where they felt as if they were being forced out of their profession, despite the great work they had done, in lieu of a crop of younger, more flashy talent.

As he’s in nearly every scene, this is Bogart’s film to carry, and it’s obvious that he put the effort in to do the role justice.  I can’t imagine another actor being able to handle the repeated grandstanding that was necessary for the character as time and again Bogart stops to lecture, chide, or instruct a room of people on the moralistic duty of the press.

A definite must see for casual and hardcore fans alike.

The Cast

Ethel Barrymore is excellent as Margaret Garrison, the widow who’s selling the paper.  She and Bogart have possibly the best scene in the film towards the end as they talk about the changing landscape of journalism over drinks.  It ends with Bogart proposing.  We know it’s a joke, but both actors have enough chemistry that we want it to be real.

Kim Hunter plays Bogart’s estranged wife, Nora Hutcheson.  Of all the places this film could have fallen into cliché, it was with the wife of the tireless reporter.  That’s not what we get, though, as the script plays the role believably, and we don’t have to spend time wondering if there will be a reconciliation while Bogart burns the midnight oil at the paper.

Ed Begley plays Frank Allen, Hutcheson’s right hand man and confidant at The Day.  Based on my own experience in a newsroom, Begley is perhaps the most believable journalist out of the bunch and is solid in the role.

Martin Gabel is mobster Tomas Rienzi.  He doesn’t get a lot of time to shine in this film, as his main role is to play the villain for Bogart to rail against, but the two men do have a great scene towards the end in Rienzi’s car.  It’s the first moment in the film where I realized that there was a good chance Bogart might not make it out alive.  I appreciate the fact that Richard Brooks had enough self-control to hold off on this nail biting moment until it would be most effective for the story.

Don’t Forget to Notice

Regular Bogie Film Blog favorite, Joe Sawyer, as one of the henchmen that roughs up troublemakers for Rienzi!

Classic Bogie Moment

No one plays a better drunk than Bogie.  We’ve seen him dance, sing, slur, fight, stumble, and speechify, but here, we see him play the piano!

In another little nod to the film’s overall campaign towards life, liberty, and the pursuit of the free press, we get a scene where Bogart is tickling the ivories after a night of mourning over the soon-to-be-defunct newspaper.  He’s not particularly good, as he takes his time to hunt and peck his way across the keys, but it’s a great character moment, and an important transition in the film.  What does he play?  The Battle Hymn of the Republic.  The song would go on to punctuate almost every momentous scene for the rest of the movie.

Now stop for just a moment and think to yourself, how often has a piano played a key role in a Bogart film?  How many of his movies would be completely changed if the instrument was removed?  Was it a planned use of a Bogart-film trademark, or just a happenstance of scriptwriting at the time?  I’m not sure, but it’s a wonderful scene in this film, and one of the best quiet moments we get with Bogart’s character.

The Bottom Line

This is a very solid movie and a great role for Bogart.

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5 thoughts on “Deadline U.S.A. – 1952

  1. And let’s not forget Jim Backus, playing a Jim Backus character as only Jim Backus could.

    Such an enjoyable film. Great performances all around, tight scripting, not a dull moment. In lesser hands the speeches would have been slogs, but Bogart makes it work.

    • You know, there was so little subtext in the script that I can’t really think of many other actors who could have pulled off the role as well. One of Bogart’s biggest gifts was adding so much with physicalities and slight pauses, in effect adding subtext to lines that could have been pretty straight forward, that even the most grandiose rah-rah speeches seem real and in the moment.

      And how did I forget Jim Backus? I even remember putting him in my notes! I’ll have to see if I can find them to see what I wrote.

  2. Pingback: Joe Sawyer | The Bogie Film Blog

  3. Pingback: Richard Brooks | The Bogie Film Blog

  4. Pingback: The Journalists | The Bogie Film Blog

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