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July 21, 2016

Deadline - U.S.A.

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Richard Brook - 1952
KL Studio Classics BD Region A

I absolutely recommend seeing Deadline - U.S.A. with Eddie Muller's commentary track for younger viewers unfamiliar with a time before USA Today, the series of mergers and buyouts that have decimated the number of major city newspapers, before journalism devolved into corporate mouthpieces. Richard Brooks' film is his love letter to the profession that gave him his start as a writer. It shares something of the same spirit as that of another journalist turned filmmaker, Samuel Fuller and Park Row. Muller's commentary is entertaining, of course, but it speaks of a time when newspapers were the main source of information, and had a much greater influence of public opinion.

Humphrey Bogart is still in crime fighting mode, this time as the big city newspaper editor trying to nail an organized crime boss. The clock is ticking with the newspaper, The Day, just a couple days away from being sold to its tabloid competition. Inspiration for the story would come from the sale of the paper, the New York World, edited by Benjamin Day, in 1931, as well as the then contemporary investigation of organized crime. The newspaper is being sold by the family led by dowager Ethel Barrymore, at the urging of her two daughters, recasting the Pulitzer family heirs. Brooks makes fleeting acknowledgment of television network news, then still relatively new, broadcasting the hearings between congress and accused organized crime figures.

Even though Brooks could have chosen to make the film more documentary style, this is a classic narrative film. There is some location shooting done at the printing press of the New York Daily News. Much of the film takes place within an overly crowded newsroom, a replica of the newsroom of the Daily News. As Muller points out, it's not quite an accurate representation as there are different reporters from different departments within that one space, but it's dramatic license to get most of the main characters within the same space as needed. Brooks follows his characters with a series of tracking shots within that newsroom, and the viewer will be focused on Bogart and company. A second viewing indicates just how much movement is taking place in the background with characters moving in and out of frame, or simply carrying on very lively conversations. One doesn't discuss Richard Brooks very much in terms of being a visual artist, but that first newsroom scene is a marvel for detail.

Brooks' humor, when it appears, is usually wry. There are some genuine chuckles when Bogart, too drunk to realize what he's doing, appears at the apartment of ex-wife Kim Hunter out of habit. Without giving the joke away, Brooks finds a way of making the situation humorous while getting around the production code.

A trio of hit men, dressed as cops, escort of mob informer from the newsroom to the adjacent printing press room. The informer is shot in an attempt to escape. The dead informer falls on the printing press. The overhead image of the dead informer on top of the printing press later appears as part of the front page story. There's no subtlety here, and it's one of those moments where the sensibilities of Brooks and Sam Fuller would be similar, along with their admiration of journalism as social activism. The studio imposed music including "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" adds unnecessary underlining. Brooks knew well enough to not need any emphasis in the film's warmest scene, with Bogart flirting with Ethel Barrymore. The scene allows for two actors to express the mutual admiration that also existed off-screen.

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Posted by peter at July 21, 2016 03:37 PM