[By Rob Edelman]
When one thinks of Humphrey Bogart, one thinks of The Maltese Falcon, The African Queen, The Treasure of The Sierra Madre and, of course, Casablanca. However, one worthy film starring Bogie has finally become available on home entertainment thanks to Kino Lorber. While Deadline – U.S.A. (1952) is admittedly not of the caliber of The Maltese Falcon or Casablanca, it is a fine film that for one reason or another is too little-known. [It was written and directed by onetime radio reporter Richard Brooks, who wrote Key Largo with John Huston and went on to make such notable films as Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Elmer Gantry, The Professionals, and In Cold Blood — Ed.]
At its core, Deadline – U.S.A. is a portrait of what journalism should be in a free society and how dedicated reporters often place their personal lives on hold just to do their jobs. Bogie plays the fast-walking, fast-talking managing editor of The Day, a forward-thinking big city paper dedicated to reporting “the facts, and the meaning of those facts.” In the course of a brief time period, he must deal with a range of crises. They involve everything from exposing the nefarious activities of the local crime boss to dealing with advertisers who pressure editors regarding the content of news coverage to responding to the news that his paper is about to be sold to a competing tabloid.
Bogie is surrounded by a dedicated staff of reporters, played by actors whose faces are recognizable to anyone familiar with 1950s films and TV shows, including Kim Hunter, Ed Begley, Warren Stevens, Paul Stewart, Martin Gabel, and Jim Backus, along with the formidable Ethel Barrymore. [If you look very fast in a scene set in the press room you’ll spot a young James Dean. — Ed.] One of the more interesting characters is a rarity for the era: a female reporter (Audrey Christie) who does more than just report on fashion and food. Granted, Deadline – U.S.A. is not without flaws. Some of the dialogue is a bit preachy, particularly when the Bogart character pontificates on the role of journalism in a free society. But there is one bit of dialogue that has extra-special meaning: journalism “may not be the oldest profession. But it’s the best.”
Even though Deadline – U.S.A. came to theaters 64 years ago, the manner in which it emphasizes the role of journalism resonates to this very day. We live in an era when way too much news reporting seems to originate from press releases. Newspapers are losing circulation and laying off staff, in some cases ceasing publication. The 24/7 news stations primarily are concerned with ratings, rather than the kind of investigative journalism that gets at the truth of a story. That’s why a film such as Spotlight, last year’s well-deserved Best Picture Academy Award winner, is so valuable. The bottom line in this fact-based
film is that, if not for the tenaciousness of the Boston Globe journalists presented in Spotlight, would we ever have known about the long, distressing history of the sexual abuse of children on the part of Catholic priests? Deadline – U.S.A. is a worthy predecessor of Spotlight. Both films underscore the value of a free press and the efforts of steadfast journalists to peel away the hype and hunt for the truth.