This is one of your lesser-known films noir, which I had the privilege of seeing on TCM’s Noir Alley with Eddie Muller. The subject is tabloid journalism—not a new one for film (witness Citizen Kane), but depicted here against the dark, lurid background of the New York City tenements.
Broderick Crawford plays editor Mark Chapman (kinda—it would spoil the movie for me to say more about that), a man trying to pump up the circulation of a failing New York City daily newspaper by splashing sensational stories with screaming headlines and graphic photos on the front page. This may be an old movie, but one is reminded of the current trend online toward click-bait headlines and eye grabbing images. Looks like what’s old is new again.
Our hero, Steve McCleary (played by John Derek) is a reporter brown-nosing his way to the top hungry to find the kind of stories that Chapman finds fit to print. Acting as perfect foil to the ambitious McCleary, Donna Reed puts in a great performance as feature writer Julie Allison. Allison does her job, but not without being slightly disgusted by it.
The real fun starts when Chapman accidentally kills someone who tries to blackmail him. Despite his attempts to make it look like suicide (a cause of death that the police, at first, buy), one thing after another comes to light. And as the evidence of murder is unearthed (since, like many noir heavies, Chapman fails to notify authorities and claim the victim’s death was accidental—always a bad decision), the story eventually hits the front page and McCleary is more determined than ever to find the truth and unmask the killer.
In sum, Derek and Reed make a great pair. Donna Reed is particularly wonderful as a working woman in a film noir who doesn’t play the part of femme fatale. She plays brilliantly against type, as a hard-nosed reporter who isn’t obnoxious about it—a thoroughly modern woman.
Henry O’Neill puts in a heartrending performance as the hopeful alcoholic writer Charlie Barnes, whose journalism days have been reduced to memories of his Pulitzer Prize win. Harry Morgan should be noted for the (darkly) comic relief he provides as McCleary’s photographer.
But Broderick Crawford almost steals the show, as the newsman who’ll do anything to save the paper and make it big in the process.
If you are a film noir aficionado, I highly recommend you see this one.