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Capra-esque (in fact, Capra even directed a movie with the same title years earlier) story of a humble small town editor trying to take down a big city isolationist publisher. The plot is fairly engaging and the script has some snappy lines, but it's all so thick with propaganda that it's hard to take seriously. Otto Kruger is so malicious and devious, he might as well be wearing a swastika on his arm. Heck, they practically call him a Nazi in a half dozen different ways anyway. Still, as heavy-handed and hokey as it is, it's kind of fun, and I enjoyed Gloria Dickson's performance as the loyal, brassy secretary (shades of Jean Arthur in MR. SMITH). The best of the three early features in the Sam Fuller box set, even if that's not a tough contest to win.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This film is part of a Sam Fuller DVD collection that was recently
released. However, unlike most of the films in the set, he only wrote
this film--he did not direct it.
The film begins with the owner of a New York newspaper coming to realize that his paper has betrayed the public's trust by distorting stories in order to sell papers. He's about to give an important speech and decides to use this platform to announce important changes to the paper. However, he is shot and killed and the amoral man who was about to get fired for what he's done to the paper is now in charge. Little does he know that the boss dictated a new will before dying--leaving the paper to an honest small-time publisher (Guy Kibbee--in a rare dramatic role).
The purpose of the film is to discuss the abuse of the first amendment's freedom of the press. At times, it draws a parallel to the yellow journalism and half-truths of Nazi Germany. In many ways, the film is an attack on extreme nationalism and implies, quite rightly, that Americanism is best exemplified by an open mind and a desire to print the truth. Sadly, the sort of distortions and manipulations shown in this film are not exactly things of the past--though I assume newspapers don't hire hit-squads like they did in this film! The movie is quite entertaining though it does on a bit strong and seem a bit idealistic. However, despite the heavy-handed ending, the film is quite entertaining and a nice low-budget film from Columbia.
By the way, another reviewer said that this film effectively killed Otto Kruger's career. Though it could be argued that the quality of the scripts he got after this film might have declined, it certainly didn't ruin his career as he has more than 60 credits following "Power of the Press".
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Had Frank Capra done this film 5-10 years earlier, he could have called
it "Mr. Bradford goes to Press". Under the thumbs of Columbia after
Capra had left their employ, it ended up in the "B" category, running
barely over an hour. Guy Kibbee is excellent here as a small town
newspaper owner who is left controlling interest in a big city paper
after the owner is brutally murdered after planning on changing the
methods in which the paper is run. He must face the very nasty Otto
Kruger who fights his presence ruthlessly and editor Lee Tracy who at
first is out for the almighty buck then changes his tune when he fights
his own moral conscience.
I like the fact that the leading hero was not a leading man like Gary Cooper or Jimmy Stewart, but a portly teddy bear of a man usually stuck playing dumb politicians or gullible businessmen suckered in by some gold-digging chorus girl. Kibbee plays the role honestly and beautifully, and could not have been more perfect. Lee Tracy gets to show many different layers of the editor who goes from just wanting the big headlines to fighting for truth. Gloria Dickson, as the late owner's loyal secretary, is fine too. Otto Kruger is extremely one dimensional as the villain, whom I assumed to secretly be Nazi. I have always had an issue with this actor as the distinguished older gentleman who somehow ends up with a younger woman on his arm, and usually loses her to the more handsome hero by the end. Every time I see a picture of Kruger with his slimy hand on some younger stars shoulder, I get a cringe of disgust. It's not his fault he was stereotyped, and fortunately here that doesn't happen. He is the poster child for Carrie Fisher's definition of distinguished: Ugly with money.
Minor Watson is very good in his short appearance as the unfortunate newspaper man. A young Larry Parks is recognizable as the young reporter accused of his murder, while Victor Jory is appropriately evil as Kruger's henchman. This film went in with a lot of things to say and got to the point very well. It's unfortunate though that the very rushed conclusion diminished the impact of the message and gave Kruger the chance to deliver a performance that can only be described as embarrassing. One can almost envision Capra's take on the film's message that would have added at least 20 minutes onto the running time. Plus, an actor such as Edward Arnold or Claude Rains would have made Kruger's character more understandable and less one dimensional.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A newspaper drama that somehow manages to make the cause of democracy
seem almost trite, "Power Of The Press" sticks out only for a juicy,
over-the-top performance by Otto Kruger.
The publisher of the New York Gazette is so moved when an old friend running a Nebraska weekly denounces him as a traitor that he makes a speech to call himself out on exactly those lines. Unfortunately, the conniving minority owner of the Gazette, Howard Raskin, manages to have him shot during a live radio broadcast. Can that old friend, willed control of the Gazette by the dying publisher, clean house and break up a Fifth Column of conniving columnists?
"I don't think we want anyone on this paper who fears democracy more than he or she fears Hitler," says the new boss upon taking control of the Gazette, as Rankin sulks diabolically on the sidelines, plotting his next atrocity.
Based on a story by Samuel Fuller but brought to the screen by other hands, "Power Of The Press" is a warning about newspapers that work against American interests while war is being waged in Europe and Asia. Sedition is an easy thing to dislike, but the movie overplays its hand so much in this direction that it quickly becomes tinny and shrill. Director Lew Landers had an hour to kill for this B-movie, and does so with big close-ups of things like a shoe stepping on a newspaper as the publisher's killer makes his getaway.
Guy Kibbee was a comedy actor who took a rare dramatic role here as the new publisher, one Ulysses Bradford. He pontificates, reasonably but at great length, about the need for a fair press that prefers the truth to flashy headlines that rile readers. Just in case you aren't convinced, there's Gloria Dickson as "Eddie," Bradford's girl Friday, who nods vigorously at his pronouncements. If Bradford's homey wisdom doesn't roll your eyes, her earnest echoes will.
Speaking of eye-rolling, Kruger does a lot of this as the rascally Raskin. He's so obvious and one-dimensional a villain that Kruger's portrayal makes him almost enjoyable, ordering newsmen to print up phony and damaging stories while twiddling his stogies with a smirk.
"Following the parade doesn't sell papers," he says in explaining his motives to head editor Griff (Lee Tracy). It's an interesting tack; unfortunately, the writers gild the lily by making Raskin a covert Nazi, with his own private Gestapo, when just being amoral would have been enough.
Told about Bradford, he seethes: "A man who wrote that should be in a concentration camp!"
There's a mystery to be solved, involving first the publisher's death, and then the mysterious fate of an alibi witness for the accused killer, whom Bradford knows is innocent after one jail meeting. Everything points so obviously at Raskin; one wonders only how the guy can act so cool while committing his crimes.
Eventually he loses it, in a predictable Scooby-Doo conclusion after Griff sees the light and gives him a taste of his own medicine. In case that's not enough, Bradford then concludes the movie by turning to the camera and warning the audience of the traitors in their midst.
"Griff" was a standard name in Fuller films which makes its debut here; the touch of Fuller is otherwise notable only by its absence.
"Power of the Press" is so packed with patriotic pronouncements that any semblance of plot -- and the story isn't all that bad -- gets lost. We know that a free press is vital to a free country; no need to keep drumming it into our thick skulls. The tale starts with the murder of a New York newspaper publisher who bequeaths his controlling interest in the Gazette to an idealistic small-town editor, Scattergood Baines...uh, sorry... Guy Kibbee. Otto Kruger as the paper's other publisher (who seems, in 1943, to be campaigning for Hitler) turns to his favorite hit man, the Shadow...uh, sorry, Victor Jory...to maintain control. Lew Landers directs the proceedings in Capraesque style without much of Capra's spark. If a savvy script editor had cut some of the blathering, this might have been a decent thriller.
You know, it sure seems that the more films I see from the 1930s & 40s,
the more I'm becoming convinced that this so-called "Golden Age" of
movies was, in fact, not as "golden" as some people would like to
imagine it to be.
Yes. I'll agree that there were certainly some real gems from that particular era of film-making - But, what I'm beginning to discover is that for every precious gem that is so fondly remembered, there remains a literal quarry full of nothing but ordinary stones and pebbles that would best be ground up into gravel.
In other words - The mediocre & forgettable b-movies of those days of yesteryear definitely out-number the gold by, at least, 10 to 1. I ain't kidding here.
Power Of The Press was, in its own way, something of a dramatic social commentary. Its story concerned the political machinery behind honest, fair-minded news-reporting, as opposed to the denial of freedom of speech through selling the gullible public narrow-minded bias and manipulative propaganda.
Unfortunately, this rather run-of-the-mill picture lacked conviction and a substantial enough bite to its seemingly dire message.
I suppose that a lot of this picture's mediocrity could be rightfully blamed on the "Hayes Code" (which was in full-force at the time). This vicious, self-righteous censor board trampled on hundreds of well-meaning movies from this era and, pretty much, reduced them to their pitiful toothless state.
Power Of The Press (which had a running time of only 64 minutes) was directed by Lew Landers who churned out dozens of low-budget movies throughout the 1930s & 40s.
Landers died in 1962 at the age of 61.
The Power of the Press is one the many anti-isolationist movies to come out in the year 1943. However when one watches this hard impact melodrama you can help but feel that director Lew Landers put too much propaganda into the film. If handled better it could have been one of the greatest cinema masterpieces of all time. Otto Kruger was so badly panned by critics for his performance in this movie that his career never really recovered.
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