At Home, BluRay/DVD Reviews

DEADLINE U.S.A. (KINO/Lorber)

By • Jul 6th, 2016 •

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BluRay review by Roy Frumkes

Two surprisingly ornery commentaries from my two favorite commentators are yours to savor, courtesy of KINO/Lorber! I presume that the old adage about any publicity being good publicity is behind KL’s decision to run with these oral tracks.

The perversely stand-offish vocal duo (in separate packaging), is a first (and a second) in DVD/BluRay listening [I’ve encountered such things before, but never two in a row from the same company]. Says Eddie Muller in the opening moments of his commentary for DEADLINE U.S.A., “I’m welcoming you to a film that, quite frankly, is not noir at all. So this may be a first for me – providing an audio commentary for a film that simply isn’t noir, no matter how I might try to stretch the definition.”

Amazing enough, from the Czar of Noir. Then, from horror archeologist Tom Weaver on his commentary accompaniment to INVISIBLE INVADERS: “ A lot of 50s monster movies aren’t quite as exciting as their titles, and INVISIBLE INVADERS has to be near, or at the top, of that underachievers list.” To which he adds, “I don’t think I’ve ever before done a commentary, solo, on a movie I’ve liked so little.” And finally, offering what solace he can for the trek ahead, “I’ll look hard for chances to say positive things.”

Fascinating, gathering both of these gifted cinemavens and handicapping them with subjects that just aren’t up to their specific gifts. I’m going to concentrate on DEADLINE U.S.A. however, because in Muller’s estimation, while it may not be noir, it’s still a terrific film, a particularly personal one for him, and he’s glad for the opportunity to sink his teeth into it.

The heart of the drama in DEADLINE, Muller feels, is the threat posed to a free press. Based on the true story of how Joseph Pulitzer’s heirs sold his newspaper to an arch rival twenty years after his death. The Bogart character, Muller insists, is based on Pulitzer. And, he points out, director/writer Richard Brooks prophesied 75 years ago how the consolidation of newspapers negatively impacted the foundations of democracy.

There is excellent newsroom detail, but the first act is also stagey and over-written, not to mention preachy, and it feels like the narrative will be unable to struggle out from under all of it. Muller doesn’t address this in depth, though he does touch on it. Fortunately, with the coming of Act 2 (at about the 26 minute mark), the film manages to find itself and leaves all the painful staging behind.

Bogart is Ed Hutcheson, the editor of the New York Day, a newspaper facing the end of the road. “Bogart of course was perfect for this role,” Muller continues, “because of his inimitable ability to project cynicism and idealism simultaneously, which had been his stock and trade since CASABLANCA.” At another point he characterizes this dual-linear gift as a co-existence of sarcasm and melancholy.

Brooks fought for Bogart, hard to believe of someone who recently was voted the best actor of the 20th century, but producer/studio head Darryl Zanuck erroneously thought the actor’s stock was on the way down, not realizing that THE AFRICAN QUEEN was due out soon, and that Bogart would win the Academy Award for his performance.

Four plots/subplots are played out in the film’s 87 minutes: 1) The menace of gangster Rienzi, 2) the mystery of the dead, fur-clad nude, 3) the sale of the newspaper, and 4) Ed’s attempt to reconcile with his wife. Zanuck, who possessed a gift for story editing, insisted that these threads be compressed, and Brooks complied. As a result, the third act has a true noir sense of dread that Brooks may not have originally intended, but it works well. Even as the film ends on a positive note, we’re still worried about Bogart’s fate.

Supporting characters are too numerous to mention, but let it be said, all the parts are extremely well cast. Paul Stewart excels as the paper’s sports editor. Ethel Barrymore lends wisdom, morality, and hopelessness as the noble rag’s elderly, out-voted current owner. Ed Begley is sturdy, and Martin Gabel is a frightening heavy. A scene in a limo between Gabel and Bogart (54:30) precedes and pretty much equals the famed taxi scene between Rod Steiger and Marlon Brando in ON THE WATERFRONT. Only Kim Hunter, as Bogart’s ex, left me cold, but others have liked her in the role, so I’m willing to be out-voted.

It’s a good pressing. Rich blacks, crisp imagery, dialogue clear even amidst the hustle and bustle of the newsroom and the mechanical roar of the basement presses churning out their last editions. Nice cover art emphasizes the noir aspect of the film that Eddie Muller says isn’t there.

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