The Journalists

Bogart Classic The Harder They Fall

*Welcome back to the second installment of Character Reference, a new segment on the blog where we discuss the genres and character types that Bogart played over his career. How many times did he play a jailbird? An escaped jailbird? A detective? A cop? A soldier? A cowboy? Those and many more will hopefully be covered in the posts to come!*

The Character – Journalist

When you think about it, Bogart playing a reporter, editor, or journalist of any sort makes perfect sense. In a way, journalists are like private detectives without the guns. They have a story, but not all the details. They need to find witnesses. They need to follow clues to track down the real facts behind some sort of mystery. And if they’re not careful, they end becoming part of the story they’re trying to crack.

While journalist isn’t the first character type that some people think of when it comes to Bogart, he’s had some great roles in the category.

The Journalists

Two Against the World / The Case of Mrs. Pembroke / One Fatal Hour – 1936


When a radio station decides to dramatize a twenty year old murder in a grab for ratings, a debate breaks out between the station manager, Bertram Reynolds (Robert Middlemass), and his news director, Sherry Schott (Humphrey Bogart), about the irresponsibility of sensationalizing a real life tragedy.

While Bogart is given the lead billing, it doesn’t mean that he dominates the screen time.  Bogart’s presence is heavy towards the beginning of the film and especially again at the end, but most of the middle is taken up with the drama surrounding the family involved in the murder. That being said, when Bogart is on screen, he dominates.

Sherry Schott could be seen as an early prototype for Bogart’s Deadline U.S.A. editor, Ed Hutcheson – an ethical businessman who tries to keep his company on the moral high ground amidst less disciplined men. I always think it’s a real credit to Bogart’s talent that he could play killers and business professionals with equal believability and apparent ease.

His final rant against his station managers shows a passion and fervor that make it easy to see how this was a standout role for a young Bogart. Sherry Schott is a news man of deep, ethical convictions – the type of character that Bogart would go on to play in his more iconic roles over the next two decades.

You can read my original post on the film here.

Passage to Marseille – 1944


Journalism plays a back seat here to being an escaped con and a resistance fighter, but Bogart plays a French reporter named Jean Matrac. We find out through a series of flashbacks that Matrac ended up a prisoner on Devil’s Island after being framed for murder. Matrac saw the corruption of the French government growing long before the rest of the world did during the war, and is shipped off to the prison after printing a series of tell-all articles in his paper. His goal after the escape? Make it home to his wife, played by Michèle Morgan, who worked side by side with him in the newspaper office until it was shut down. Matrac also has a son he’s never met, who we meet before the flashback, anxiously waiting for a letter from his father to be dropped from a bomber after a raid.

Again, the reporter side of Bogart’s character only appears mid-film for his back story, but it’s enough to make you want to see an entire film about Jean Matrac. Bogart’s the-truth-at-any-cost newspaper man scenes add a heartbreaking backstory to a husband and a father that just wants to get home and see his family.

You can read my original post on the film here.

Report from the Front – 1944


This one’s a real-life journalism role for Bogie. At 3 minutes and 18 seconds, Report from the Front is more of a brief time capsule of Hollywood’s WWII support than it is a Bogart film. Shot to support the Red Cross for The Office of War Information, Bogart is only visible for a few moments at the beginning, and then again at the end, as he makes a plea for movie-goers to donate to the Red Cross. The rest of the video is footage of U.S. servicemen fighting, relaxing, and being cared for by the Red Cross while Bogart narrates.

According to the Sperber/Lax bio Bogart, Bogart arrived on the Warner set with his four page monologue memorized and insisted on his then wife, Mayo Methot, being included in a shot where they disembark from a fake plane as he is approached by reporters. Bogart had even made a few rewrites to the script to make the final plea for donations a little stronger.

The short film is powerful, as just before the footage of soldiers and aid workers begins, Bogart looks straight into the camera and talks about what he’s witnessed overseas. His voice is steady and authoritative, and I’m sure his request was effective as movie theater ushers passed donation plates through the aisles. Who wouldn’t listen to a fedora and trench-coat clad Bogart as he looks you in the eye and tells you to help ailing servicemen?

You read my original post on the short here.

Deadline U.S.A. – 1952

deadline usa

In what I would consider his best journalistic role, Bogart plays Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper editor Ed Hutcheson as he fights for one last big story before his paper is sold out from underneath him and scheduled to be shut down.

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! 

That doesn’t sound like modern journalism at all, does it?

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 threats and strong armed retaliations.

This is a fantastic film that should be a must see for any Bogie fan! You can read my original post on the film here.

The Harder They Fall – 1956

The Harder They Fall Poster

Bogart plays an out of work sportswriter who grows desperate enough for a paycheck that he takes a job from an underhanded boxing promoter (Rod Steiger) at the expense of his own integrity. Bogart is the cynical, older, almost-defeated writer that’s just as close to giving up as he is to trying again when Steiger puts him on the payroll to help promote his new fighter, even if the fighter and the fans might get swindled in the process.

Bogart let’s himself revel a little bit in the gray areas of life, almost as if it’s not completely un-enjoyable to take advantage of the big naive boxer in order to make a little extra dough. Does he come around at the end? Of course, but it’s worth the ride.

Being Bogart’s last film before his death, there are numerous reports that he had a hard time filming this one with lots of breaks for coughing fits. None of that is evident here, and Bogart is able to end his career on the best possible note.

I’d be remiss not to mention that this one’s a great example of old school “say the lines, kid” acting (Bogart) squaring off with the new school “method” style (Steiger) that was about to break loose in Hollywood.

You can read my original post on the film here.

*Character Reference is an ongoing segment where we look at the different genres and character types that Bogart played over his career. You can find the rest of the entries here.*



2 thoughts on “The Journalists

  1. I have already spammed your comment sections with my love for DEADLINE USA and THE HARDER THEY FALL, so isn’t it nice to see two of my top four in the same article?

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