Journalism in the Movies - Thursdays in March
Stop the presses! This month's Spotlight on TCM examines the role played by journalism in the world of cinema, with perspectives ranging from screwball comedies of the 1930s to hard-hitting dramas of the 1970s and '80s. The power of journalism and freedom of the press have been important topics over the decades and is gaining new urgency in recent times.
We celebrate the importance of the profession with a series of movies in which newspaper men and women work to uplift or take down individuals and establishments. Joining TCM host Ben Mankiewicz to discuss the films at hand are Carl Bernstein, the investigative journalist and author who was a key figure in the original news reporting in the Watergate scandal of the 1970s; and Anderson Cooper, the primary anchor of the CNN news show Anderson Cooper 360°. Bernstein appears on the first two Thursdays of our tribute and Cooper on the final two evenings.
Our Spotlight is divided into topics, beginning with Journalism and Politics and a screening of All the President's Men (1976), Alan J. Pakula's riveting film based on the book by Bernstein and fellow Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward. Like the book, the movie focuses on the reporters' relentless efforts to uncover the details of the conspiracies that would bring down the administration of President Richard Nixon. Dustin Hoffman plays Bernstein and Robert Redford appears as Woodward. The movie won four Oscars out of eight nominations.
Also in this category are such classics as Citizen Kane (1941), Orson Welles' groundbreaking masterpiece about a newspaper magnate partly based on the real-life William Randolph Hearst; and All the King's Men (1949), Robert Rossen's Oscar-winning screen version of the Robert Penn Warren novel about the career of a Southern politician (Best Actor winner Broderick Crawford) as seen through the eyes of a journalist (John Ireland).
Newspaper Noir is an intriguing genre combining journalism with the shadowy crime melodramas known as film noir. Billy Wilder's Ace in the Hole (1951) is the compelling account of a cynical reporter (Kirk Douglas) who exploits the plight of a young man (Richard Benedict) trapped in a collapsed cave. Alexander Mackendrick's Sweet Smell of Success (1957) tells of a powerful, Walter Winchell-like newspaper columnist who manipulates the lives around him with the aid of a scheming press agent (Tony Curtis). The Blue Gardenia (1953), While tge City Sleeps (1956) and Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956) rounds out the night.
TV News features two 1970s dramas that were very timely in their day and remain relevant today. The China Syndrome, stars Jane Fonda as a news reporter at the center of discovering a coverup from a nuclear plant mishap; and Network (1976), directed by Sidney Lumet from a script by Paddy Chayefsky, looks at volatile relationships among the staff of a television network that will do anything for high ratings. Among the film's four Oscars were those for Best Actor (Peter Finch as a suicidal news anchor) and Best Actress (Faye Dunaway as a ruthless executive).
Newspaper Comedies include It Happened One Night (1934), a captivating screwball lark about an enterprising reporter (Clark Gable) on the trail of a runaway heiress (Claudette Colbert). This one was the surprise winner of all five major Academy Awards: Best Picture, Director (Frank Capra), Actor (Gable), Actress (Colbert), and Screenplay (Robert Riskin). Howard Hawks' His Girl Friday (1940) is a hilarious variation of the Charles MacArthur/Ben Hecht play The Front Page, with Cary Grant as the hard-boiled editor-whose star reporter is now a female (Rosalind Russell) and his former wife.
Reporters at War include Burgess Meredith as WWII correspondent Ernie Pyle in William Wellman's The Story of G.I. Joe (1945). The film is set in Tunisia and Italy, where Pyle accompanies infantrymen into combat. Remarkably, it marked Robert Mitchum's only Oscar nomination in the Supporting Actor category for his breakout performance as a strict yet compassionate Army lieutenant/captain. The Year of Living Dangerously (1981), starring Mel Gibson, Sigourney Weaver and Linda Hunt in an Oscar-winning performance, follows an Australian journalist's (Gibson) love affair with a British Embassy officer (Weaver) during the turbulent attempted coup of Indonesia's president in 1965.
by Roger Fristoe