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Great Newspaper Movies

By admin Published: March 5, 2007

Over the weekend I caught a little bit of ''Teacher's Pet,'' the 1958 comedy starring Clark Gable as a hard-bitten newspaper editor and Doris Day as a journalism teacher. I've always been kind of fond of it and even as a kid I learned a journalism lesson that can still hold -- the one about the virtue of brevity in storytelling.

That -- along with working the night shift at the office -- got me thinking again about the great newspaper movies -- there's a little too much fluff in that one to qualify -- but, when you get down to it, I didn't have much to add to lists that are already circulating like this one. and this one.

I don't know if that's a function of the relative lack of interesting newspaper movies, or that certain movies are more likely to appeal to those of us who wear our ink stains like merit badges. Well, at least those of us who still find a use for ink.

That said, some movies have aged better than others. ''All the President's Men'' now feels more like an old-fashioned romance than a modern view of news media.

On the other hand, ''Deadline USA'' just keeps improving with age -- some 55 years after it was made. Sure, there's some romance to it. But the pivotal event involves the demise of a great newspaper because its owners want to cash out. You think that doesn't echo with the staffs of current newspapers?

Even before it became all too plausible, "Deadline USA" was one of my favorite newspaper movies. But not the only one. Some other faves:

"-30-." It combines my fascination with the business with my fascination with Jack Webb. And, like so much of Webb's work, it combines stylized acting with a love of the nuts and bolts of a business.

"The Paper." Ron Howard's movie is a little too slick in spots, but still. Jason Robards. Glenn Close fretting over money. Swaggering, snotty Michael Keaton. And it was stronger than a lot of newspaper movies in its feel for competitiveness. Bad journalism movies often act as if there's only one news organization in a town, and one reporter on a hot story. The people of "The Paper" are constantly aware that others are chasing a story, and they have to beat them.

"His Girl Friday." The best big-screen rendition of "The Front Page," the dialogue rapid-fire, the performances wonderful from Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell -- and Russell was a representation of all the tough, smart women in journalism then and now.

"Between the Lines." I know, it's not about a daily newspaper, but an alternative publication in the style of the Village Voice, Rolling Stone and other counterculture publications. In the manner of "Deadline USA," it is about commerce overtaking journalistic ideals -- with the great Lane Smith as the bringer of doom. That notion is even more pointed in the casting of Jeff Goldblum as one of the reporters -- since about six years later Goldblum would play a jaded writer for People magazine in "The Big Chill." But it's also about the joy that comes with doing important work. And the cast includes Stephen Collins, Joe Morton, John Heard, Lindsay Crouse, Jill Eikenberry and Bruno Kirby.

"Come Fill the Cup." If for no other reason, I'm including this because, if we have newspaper man Bogart in "Deadline USA," we need newspaperman James Cagney in something. But he's also very good in this movie as an alcoholic newsman -- and you can't write the history of journalism without admitting that a lot of cups were filled along the way.

"Meet John Doe." Not entirely a newspaper movie -- politics suffuses it as well -- but watch the reporting in it and tell me you don't get a sense of the contemporary tabloid culture. Barbara Stanwyck flat out makes up someone -- and soon enough her newspaper is playing along with the fraud and building on it, because it sells newspapers. This would make an interesting double bill with "Shattered Glass.''

I've been vacillating over whether to include "All the President's Men." It's certainly a key newspapering touchstone -- Redford and Hoffman dig for news! -- and the story is well told. But it, like the book on which it was based, suggested a glamour and glory about newspapering that attracted people that you can spend long, hard years in this business and never take down a president.

I may think of more later, but that's a place to start. Anyone want to add, subtract and otherwise argue?

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