Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: In honor of Spotlight, we throw a spotlight on some of our favorite films about journalism.
Throughout his career, Samuel Fuller worked both inside Hollywood and outside it, following any available opportunity to make the kind of independent-minded, personal pictures that few other American filmmakers of his generation could get funded. Always interested in telling the truth on-screen—especially if it was ugly—Fuller excelled at turning his own experiences as a soldier and a journalist into movies that combined a pulpy punch with verisimilitude. Even when he was just working as a writer, he wove a sense of what the reporter’s life was really like into newsroom melodramas like 1943’s Power Of The Press and novels like 1946’s The Dark Page (later adapted into the 1952 noir Scandal Sheet). And when he got the chance to helm his own two-fisted tale of inky wretches, Fuller ignored studio demands that he soften his tone, and financed the project himself. Though the resulting film, 1952’s Park Row, was a box-office disappointment, it’s one of Fuller’s most singular achievements: a period drama with the jittery rhythm and angry edge of a B-picture.
Similar to Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, Park Row is about the birth of a newspaper—although Fuller’s film is set in the late 19th century, and his egomaniacal editor isn’t some millionaire heir pining for his lost youth. Gene Evans plays Phineas Mitchell, a hotheaded reporter who gets fired from the powerful-but-compromised New York City daily The Star at the start of the movie after telling off his boss. He responds by buying some butcher paper, finding a friend with an idle printing press, and starting a rival rag, The Globe. Fuller based Park Row on the actual New York newspaper wars of the 1880s and 1890s, covering the development of linotype, the battles against corrupt political machines, and the campaign to construct a pedestal for The Statue Of Liberty. At the center of it all is Phineas—a snarling ruffian convinced that the only way to show people how to run a publication is to do it himself.
In other words: Phineas Mitchell is a lot like Fuller. And Park Row, for all its connections to real journalism history, is first and foremost a Fuller movie. It’s populated by tough guys and hardened pros with outsized personalities—each of whom seems either like someone Fuller actually knew, or the person he saw when he looked in the mirror. For a film about writers, Park Row is filled with a surprising amount of fistfights (and an unsurprising amount of drinking). The action is driven by its brutally honest hero, who’s determined to speak directly to the people by circumventing the fat cats—or by socking them in the jaw if they stand in his way.
Availability: Park Row is available on DVD from Amazon or possibly your local video store/library.