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Monday, April 15, 2013

POWER OF THE PRESS (1943)

The pungent odor of a good Samuel Fuller pic comes steeped with his formative years as a punk crime reporter for the tabloid press. But paradoxically, when tabloids themselves are the subject matter, that bracing wiseguy manner shrivels into corny sentiment, with platitudes & speechifying in place of action. It all but kills his ‘passion project’ about the ‘rags’ of turn-of-the-century NYC, PARK ROW/’52, which he wrote & directed. And it sinks this earlier story credit, a ham-fisted Frank Capra-esque fable about a decent small-town newspaper publisher who winds up running a mass circulation daily with Fascist/Right-Wing leanings after its duped owner is murdered. Lew Landers megs like he’s in a hurry to get home, with his cast front-and-center and his angles squared. Without much budget, the big set piece gets phoned-in by a reporter who describes a thrilling street riot to us. A radio adaptation would have more visual interest. Capra vet Guy Kibbee looks exhausted as the aging editor while Otto Kruger & Victor Jory, with some unfathomable plan to overthrow the government, are slightly less subtle than Snidley Whiplash as the baddies. At least, we get to see (and hear) Lee Tracy, THE FRONT PAGE’s original Hildy Johnson spewing out orders and ‘copy.’ Fuller gets him on the side of the angels with an improbable, not to say, unethical twist ending that all but negates the main ideas of the story. But for a touch of real life irony, there’s an uncredited Larry Parks playing a left-wing agitator who’s framed on a murder charge. Before the decade was out, Parks would be blacklisted for real for his left wing Commie sympathies on charges hyped up by (wait for it) . . . the tabloid press.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Press junkies can worry over possible Fascist takeovers in a couple of highly uneven pics with news-ink on their hands. There’s Cukor’s glossy & melodramatic KEEPER OF THE FLAME/’42 with Hepburn & Tracy, or, for confused intensity, Capra’s MEET JOHN DOE/’41 with Stanwyck & Cooper. (There actually is a Capra pic called POWER OF THE PRESS/’28, but with a totally different story.)

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