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Mike Reese, yellow journalist and antihero, prints a story that leads to a gang killing, and is blacklisted from the city papers under suspicion of ties with racketeer Carl Durham. So, with a shrug, he makes the suspicion come true, then elbows his way into the editorship of the local paper in a small town where, opportunely, a sensational murder case threatens to destroy the family of newspaper magnate E.J. Stanton. When a black servant is made the patsy for this killing, Reese helps himself by helping her...but proves a dangerous ally. Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
Duryea's Mike Reese has all the scruples of a pinball with about that many scheming twists and turns. It's perfect casting for that unusual performer. Fired from a city newspaper, reporter Reese uses mob money to buy into a sleepy suburban paper, where he exploits a sensational murder for private gain.
For its time, the movie's about as cynical as they come. Still, this crime drama's a genuine sleeper with few punches pulled until the Code enforced ending that unfortunately isn't very convincing. What the story does show in fairly unsparing style is how corruption can reach into a town's highest levels. The narrative is pretty plot heavy so you may need the proverbial scorecard. But it's an intelligent screenplay, providing plausible motivation for the various misdeeds.
I suspect the movie's title comes from the role the underworld plays in doing the dirty work for more respectable members of society, and then exploiting the connection for nefarious purposes (Stanton & Durham). It's the connection between the two worlds that appears to be the main theme. DeSilva plays the mob boss in unusually jovial fashion (perhaps too much), along with occasional hints of snarling menace.
I wouldn't expect a cheerleader type like Gale Storm to be in a crime movie, but she does a believable job as the struggling suburban publisher, put into a fix by her recently deceased dad. I kept expecting something to develop between her and the high-powered Reese, but this is not a movie of clichés.
As I recall, the film was taken to task for casting a white woman (Anderson) in the important role of the "Negro" maid Molly. Now, there's a question of why the maid would be made a Black woman in the first place since her race is not a factor in plot development. And second, why cast an obvious white woman in the part, which only invites unneeded curiosity. I'm not sure what the answers are, but leftist writer Blankfort and director Endfield may have wanted to make a racial statement that didn't make it to the screen. But whatever the reason, the casting remains a false note in an otherwise thoughtful screenplay.
Several notable social themes do emerge. Note how easily a well-meaning public is fleeced by Reese and the shyster lawyer, after offering up their hard earned money to the defense committee. Then there's the town's wealthy establishment that can ruin anyone who crosses them, including Reese and his newspaper. Or the yellow journalism that will print whatever promises to make money. Just as importantly, these key topics play out in fairly subtle, non-preaching fashion.
Director Endfield shows here, as in his powerful Sound of Fury, aka Try and Get Me (1950), that given the chance away from his Joe Palooka programmers, he could do social conscience films with the best of them. Note the many careful touches in this filmthe shabby people lined up to donate to the defense committee, the defining bust of Napoleon discretely behind editor Lee's (Dunne) desk, Lee slyly opening the door behind Reese despite what he's saying. Too bad Endfield finished his career in England after falling victim to the blacklist.
All in all, the movie's not as powerful as Sound of Fury, but it does avoid clichés and remains consistently engaging and unpredictable. Endfield appears fascinated in both films with yellow journalism and how it's used to exploit society, a worthy topic for any period. Editor Reese is nothing if not entrepreneurial in his schemes, with the money-making ideas spitting out as fast as a machine gun. It's an impressive lead performance by the great Duryea. Anyway, except for the occasionally cheap sets and unconvincing climax, this obscure indie production remains a genuine sleeper.
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