Saturday, November 22, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Stop the Presses?

"State of Play," the enthralling thriller my Daily News colleague Gary Thompson calls "this week's dying newspaper movie" (as opposed to "The Soloist," next week's dying newspaper movie), stars rumpled Russell Crowe as the shaggy face of mainstream media, smooth Rachel McAdams as the young face of the blogosphere and commanding Helen Mirren as their editor, who hopes by teaming the vet and the apprentice on an investigative story, she can infuse blogger blood into her ailing broadsheet.

Stop the Presses?

Commanding editor Helen Mirren giving investigative reporter Russell Crowe his marching orders in the enthralling "State of Play."
Commanding editor Helen Mirren giving investigative reporter Russell Crowe his marching orders in the enthralling "State of Play."

"State of Play," the enthralling thriller my Daily News colleague Gary Thompson calls "this week's dying newspaper movie" (as opposed to "The Soloist," next week's dying newspaper movie), stars rumpled Russell Crowe as the shaggy face of mainstream media, smooth Rachel McAdams as the young face of the blogosphere and commanding Helen Mirren as their editor, who hopes by teaming the vet and the apprentice on an investigative story, she can infuse blogger blood into her ailing broadsheet.

Kevin Macdonald's adaptation of the 2003 BBC miniseries is a lot of fun, and for newshounds and newshens, also a lot sad. Alluding to the dismal prognosis of  daily journalism, another colleague, Todd McCarthy of Variety, begins his review wondering whether it will be the last movie to feature the physical printing and shipping of a big-city newspaper.

Newspapers occupy a beloved place in the heart of moviemakers, possibly because so many journalists went on to become screenwriters and directors. John Huston dabbled in newspapering; his mother, crime reporter Rhea Gore, inspired the 1933 journo-thriller "I Cover the Waterfront," starring Claudette Colbert as the fearless reporter. The most celebrated reporters-turned-directors were Richard Brooks -- the Philadelphia-born scribe whose "Deadline USA" (1952) with Humphrey Bogart is seasoned with his personal experiences as a reporter at the Philadelphia Record -- and Sam Fuller. Fuller's "Park Row" (1952) chronicles the New York newspapers wars of the 1880s and his "Shock Corridor" (1963) is about a newsman who commits himself to a psychiatric institution so he can write about the famous figures there.

Newspaper people love newspaper movies. I can't limit myself to five favorites, but if I did, one of them would be Lois Weber's "How Men Propose," a 1912 comedy about a woman who collects wedding proposals -- and then writes an article about how to get men to pop the question.  I'm extremely fond of "The Front Page" (1931) with Adolphe Menjou and Pat O'Brien as the bickering reporter and editor and its gender-switching remake, "His Girl Friday" (1940) with the fast-talking Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. Love "Woman of the Year" (1942), the one with Katharine Hepburn as the political columnist who falls for sportswriter Spencer Tracy, which inspired "Designing Woman" (1957), with Lauren Bacall as a fashion designer who falls for sportswriter Gregory Peck. (Peck likewise plays the reporter who protects the identity of runaway princess Audrey Hepburn in  1953's "Roman Holiday.")

In many ways, "Citizen Kane" (1940) is the ultimate newspaper movie, but it's really about a publisher who rides roughshod on his reporters and the facts. Great movie, but not a great journalism movie. The newspaper movie that makes me proudest to be a newshen is "Call Northside 777" (1948), a terrific fact-based story starring James Stewart as a tenacious scribe convinced by the mother of a convicted murderer that her son is innocent -- and who uncovers the evidence that frees the innocent man.

Fritz Lang's lively newsroom melodrama "While the City Sleeps" (1956) is in part about how broadsheets survived the challenge of television (report the news, don't just read it), with nice performances by Dana Andrews and Ida Lupino. 

Alan J. Pakula made the two iconic newspaper movies of the 1970s, "Parallax View" (1974), with Warren Beatty as the reporter trying to untangle the story behind a political assassination but getting tangled up in it, and "All the President's Men" (1976), with Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the reporters who broke the Watergate story and saved the republic. For the 24-hour story of how a newspaper works, I'm fond of Ron Howard's "The Paper" (1994), with Michael Keaton, Glenn Close and Marisa Tomei.

My favorite newspaper movie, "Sweet Smell of Succss"  (1957) shows the profession in a less favorable light, focusing on the poisoned relationship of a self-important Broadway columnist (Burt Lancaster, playing a Walter Winchell type gossipiste) and the public-relations guy (Tony Curtis) who will do anything to get into that column.

Tell me your favorites. And why. Show all work. 

Carrie Rickey Film Critic
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Carrie Rickey Film Critic
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