SCANDAL SHEET (director: Phil Karlson; screenwriters: from the novel The Dark Page by Samual Fuller/Eugene Ling/James Poe/Ted Sherdeman; cinematographer: Burnett Guffey; editor: Jerome Thoms; music: George Duning; cast: John Derek (Steve McCleary), Donna Reed (Julie Allison), Broderick Crawford (Mark Chapman), Rosemary de Camp (Charlotte Grant), Henry O’Neill (Charlie Barnes), Henry Morgan (Biddle, photographer), James Millican (Lt. Davis), James Millican (Lt. Davis), Griff Barnett (Judge Hacker), Jonathan Hale (Frank Madison); Runtime: 82; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Edward Small; Columbia Pictures; 1952)
“Hard-hitting film noir thriller.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Director Phil Karlson’s (“The Phenix City Story”/”Kansas City Confidential”) hard-hitting film noir thriller was based on the award-winning novel The Dark Page by former newspaperman and well-known director Samuel Fuller; it’s scripted by Eugene Ling, James Poe and Ted Sherdeman. It uncovers the slimy way tabloid journalism works to increase circulation by opting for the sensational news story over the duller but more important one. Burnett Guffey’s splashy black-and-white photography is filled with New York City atmosphere and the whirlwind energy buzzing around a press room.
Publisher Frank Madison hired loudmouth surly editor Mark Chapman (Broderick Crawford) to raise circulation and doesn’t mind that he does it by making the New York Express into a rag. Hotshot reporter Steve McCleary (John Derek) is the sleazy editor’s sharp-eyed brash protegé, who scoops other papers by resorting to dirty tricks–even pretending to be a cop to get an eyewitness to an ax murder to confide in him.
The overbearing bully editor, beaming over his recent successes, organizes a Lonely Hearts Club ball and promises free gas stoves and televisions to any couple who meet at the dance and get hitched, using their story to sell papers. At the event, Charlotte Grant (Rosemary de Camp), the irate impoverished wife of George Grant, recognizes the editor as the husband she married in Middlebury, Connecticut, who deserted her 20 years ago. Later at her apartment, she refuses to be bribed to remain quiet and vows to destroy him by revealing his dark secret. Chapman has a temper tantrum and roughs her up, and she hits her head against the wall and dies. He dumps her body in the bathtub to make it look like she drowned and takes a suitcase with some of her meager belonging, including photographs of him and her, to hide her identity. He pawns the suitcase in a Bowery pawn shop.
Police Lt. Davis is satisfied it’s an accident and labels the unidentified dead woman as Jane Doe, and is prepared to close the case. But star reporter McCleary sniffs out she was murdered and corroborates his suspicions by getting an unauthorized autopsy done. McCleary runs with the story and makes it headline news, linking it with the newspaper’s publicity campaign for its Lonely Hearts Club event when he finds a Lonely Hearts’ badge pinned on one of her dresses hanging in the closet.
Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.
The editor’s downfall begins when ex-reporter Charlie Barnes, now a skid row drunk, accidentally comes across the pawn ticket when Chapman gives him a handout. After redeeming it Charlie phones Julie Allison (Donna Reed), a reporter at the Express who does not approve of her editor’s unethical methods, and tells her he knows who is the Jane Doe killer. Julie’s arrogant boyfriend McCleary squashes that lead and when Chapman hears about it, he removes Charlie before he can do any further damage. Feeling guilty about Charlie’s death, McCleary comes into possession of a blurred photo of Charlotte with her husband George and works together with Julie to locate him. Through good sleuth work, they discover the judge who married the couple and he’s brought to the New York Express office where he identifies Chapman as George Grant.
The film like Double Indemnity, establishes a strong surrogate father-son relationship between the two main protagonists. In this case between the hardboiled editor and the starry-eyed young reporter, but this time it’s the older one who goofs up. It’s only because Chapman passed on his journalism skills to McCleary that the father is slain in a mythic-ally classic way by the son. As Chapman realizes that McCleary is more efficient than the police and he can’t be stopped until he gets the complete story, the tension mounts as the story can’t be killed without arousing the reporter’s suspicion. Chapman’s downfall is ironically caused because he taught the only one he has ever loved too well how to follow in his footsteps.
REVIEWED ON 2/14/2005 GRADE: B+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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