' ' Cinema Romantico: Friday's Old Fashioned: Deadline – U.S.A. (1952)

Friday, November 17, 2017

Friday's Old Fashioned: Deadline – U.S.A. (1952)

“Deadline – U.S.A.” is, first and foremost, a Humphrey Bogart picture, what when considering that his immortal caustic yet cool countenance so firmly inhabits its spotlight. And yet, writer/director Richard Brooks spends several opening scenes keeping his peerless leading man waiting in the wings. After all, throughout the film Bogart’s Ed Hutcheson, editor of fictional New York newspaper The Day, keeps referencing the “fifteen-hundred people” that work for him, and so it’s only right to show them and what they do before bringing their leading man onscreen. That’s why in these introductory minutes we hear the tuneful thwack of the printing press and see editors putting out fires and cleaning up messes. These scenes are Brooks laying out the stakes – which are, this, the paper itself, the news, that it gets told, and that all this is what stands to be lost in the wake of what is to come in “Deadline U.S.A.”

To those of us lamenting the newspaper’s gradual decline and seemingly imminent demise, “Deadline U.S.A.” comes across quaint and urgent all at once. Newspapers were always under threat, if just for different reasons, in the case of Brooks’s film being that there were too many of them. A rival paper wants to buy up The Day and bury it, and has the chance when the paper’s storied owner dies and his heirs want nothing to do with holding aloft the beacon of journalism. Bogart’s Ed finds this out at the same time that a young reporter (Warren Stevens), trying to ferret out a scoop on a gangland murder, gets beaten to within an inch of his life, causing Ed to take out a front page editorial, call the mob out and then go all in on some hardcore reporting to get to the bottom. This puts him straight in the crosshairs of losing his job and maybe his life, enough for any man, except he’s also dealing with his ex-wife (Kim Hunter), whom he still loves, and who is about to get married to some joker we know is a joker all because he isn’t Bogart.

See, that’s why it’s a Bogart movie, allowing him to deftly navigate this myriad of minefields, and even if you know each mine will be diffused, even the one involving his ex-wife, where her you sort of wish her understanding that he is truly married to the newspaper business (which he understands too) would allow her to exit the picture stage left, that Bogey ability to hold a scene, hold a room, hold a frame, makes it extraordinarily exciting anyway. Indeed, he does not merely get to sit in the back of a gangster’s limousine and coolly handle thinly veiled threats, he is allowed to stand up in a courtroom and give a big speech. If the latter seems patently absurd, how his character essentially gets into a shouting match with lawyers while the judge’s gavel remains silent, the outcome nevertheless subscribes to the letter of the law even if the Judge confesses to subscribing to The Day. Yet even in the face of this, Ed pulls off a coup, able to both save the paper and get the goods on the mob man he’s after, a storyline that, frankly, connects with dots with little narrative verve, just a means to hang the point of the print paper on, though damn, man, what a point.

That point comes through much better earlier on when a key witness, turning up at The Day to go on the record, is escorted to safety by a few cops summoned by Ed, though one of these cops is revealed as a hitman in disguise, leading to a showdown in the printing room where the notion of stop the presses get all twisted up. The witness falls to his death, jamming up the printing press itself, a fairly obvious symbol that is no less effective, crime trying to deter the reporting that is trying to take it down. If you never see how this ghastly mess gets cleaned up, well, you don’t need to, because emblematically this mess gets cleaned up by keeping the journalistic light trained squarely on those who would snuff it out. Stop the presses? Please. Not on Humphrey Bogart’s watch.

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