Monday 15 August 2022

Movie Review: Deadline - U.S.A. (1952)

A journalism drama, Deadline - U.S.A. underlines the fundamental importance of the press through the story of an esteemed newspaper fighting for existence.

In a thriving metropolis, Ed Hutcheson (Humphrey Bogart) is the managing editor of The Day, a long-established and respected family-owned newspaper. His staff are shocked to learn the founder's heirs, including the widow Margaret Garrison (Ethel Barrymore) and her daughters, are planning to sell the paper to a competitor, and The Day will be shut down. Undeterred, Ed pursues stories exposing crime boss Rienzi (Martin Gabel), who pretends to be a respectable businessman.

Ed assigns his reporters to cover different angles of the mobster's business, and soon makes a connection between Rienzi and murdered showgirl Bessie Schmidt. In his personal life, Ed is desperate to win back his ex-wife Nora (Kim Hunter), and doggedly lobbies Mrs. Garrison to stall the newspaper's sale. The Rienzi story reinvigorates the paper, and Ed's team track down the dead girl's brother and mother for more details. But Rienzi will not be easily intimidated, and Ed has to decide how far he will fight in the name of journalism.

Deadline - U.S.A. provides full-throated advocacy for journalism's essential role in a free society and the imperative to guard against press monopolies. Writer and director Richard Brooks is happy to demonstrate bias for fact-based reporting and disgust towards news as shock-value entertainment. Despite the clear agenda, the results are still excellent thanks to crisp pacing, an efficient running time, and a plot packed with converging storylines. 

The film thrives on a high energy, sleep-deprived ambience, the collision of multiple crises ensuring every interaction can offer a surprise. Ed Hutcheson's days are filled with urgent phone calls, barked orders, and on-the-fly decisions. But just as important, Humphrey Bogart also provides Ed with plenty of passionate humanity. He is as willing to fight for the paper as he is determined to win Nora back, and his dogmatic attitude is steeped in confidence, leaving only contempt for other (obviously wrong) viewpoints.

While Ed's definition and motivations are sharp and unerring, Nora's arc is less convincing. The speechifying does go on well after the point is made, and the mystery of showgirl Bessie's death is bogged down in too much talking and not enough showing. A minor subplot about a new college graduate seeking a career in journalism is forgotten in the waiting room.

Elsewhere in the cast, The Day's dedicated on-the-go reporters are brought to life by Ed Begley, Warren Stevens, Audrey Christie, and Paul Stewart, all with small but impactful roles. James Dean is uncredited in a bit appearance.

The final act ties the threads together in resolutions both satisfying and bittersweet, but intentionally never conclusive. Deadline - U.S.A. acknowledges the news never ends, and prints the known facts in clear type.

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