(director/writer: Samuel Fuller; cinematographer: Jack Russell; editor: Phil Cahn; music: Paul Dunlap; cast: Gene Evans (Phineas Mitchell), Mary Welch (Charity Hackett), Bela Kovacs (Ottmar Mergenthaler), Herbert Heyes (Josiah Davenport), Tina Pine (Jenny O’Rourke), George O’Hanlon (Steve Brodie), Dee Pollock (Rusty), Hal K. Dawson (Mr. Wiley), Forrest Taylor (Charles A. Leach), Stuart Randall (Mr. Spiro), Don Orlando (Mr. Angelo); Runtime: 83; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Samuel Fuller; United Artists; 1952)
“Gritty drama about a newspaper war in NYC in 1886.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Sam Fuller directs and pens this low-budget gritty drama about a newspaper war in NYC in 1886. It’s an energetic film that veers between sentimentality and combat. It’s Fuller’s love letter to the newspaper people who fought for a free press. Ben Franklin and Horace Greeley are icons who have statues on Park Row, in the Bowery neighborhood where the great newspapers reside and where aspiring editor Phineas Mitchell (Gene Evans) genuflects before. It held my attention because of its electric pace and by the vast inside knowledge about the early days of newspapers it imparts.
Phineas is fired from the editorial staff of The Star by publisher Charity Hackett (Mary Welch) after mocking her lack of integrity in printing stories that are not factually true. This disappoints bar patron Steve Brodie (George O’Hanlon), who just jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge so Phineas could write a front page story for The Star. But to the rescue comes Charles A. Leach (Forrest Taylor), who proposes that he and Phineas go partners in starting a newspaper–with Phineas running it as editor while he provides the printing press and bankrolls the operation. In the bar they quickly hire their staff and print their first edition on butcher’s paper, as they grab the public’s attention with a story rallying the common man to voice outrage that local hero Brodie was arrested.
Miss Hackett is portrayed as the Wicked Witch, whose newspaper is a rag, as she has failed to honor her family’s rich tradition in the business by being a true newspaper person. A love and hate conflict boils over between the rivals and escalates to street violence and thuggery when Hackett orders her staff to bury Phineas’ The Globe and they destroy newsstands, the printing press and run over the legs of a boy delivering the papers. A “circulation war” begins in earnest, and a brawl starting in the local bar and carrying onto where The Globe goes to print becomes the film’s centerpiece action scene.
It leaves you with no doubt the passion Fuller shows for the newspaper business. It can be seen as the indie filmmaker’s stab at making a “Citizen Kane.”
REVIEWED ON 1/18/2006 GRADE: B