Sunday, May 19, 2024

Borsalino (1970)

Borsalino is a 1970 French gangster movie which was a major box-office hit. Which is hardly surprising, given that it stars Alain Delon and Jean-Paul Belmondo who were at that time the two most popular, most charismatic and sexiest male movie stars in France. When you add to this the fact that the period setting looks completely fabulous and there are lots of fistfights and gunfights this was about as close as you could ever get to a surefire commercial success.

The idea originated with Alain Delon (who produced the movie). He’d just had a hit with La piscine (The Swimming Pool) directed by Jacques Deray and he was keen to do another movie with Deray. Delon’s star power attracted international financing and Borsalino looks expensive because it was.

It’s the story of two small-time crooks in Marseille, Roch Siffredi (Delon) and François Capella (Belmondo). They meet when they beat the living daylights out of each other over a girl, Lola (Catherine Rouvel). Having beaten each other to a pulp they become firm friends, and criminal associates.

Roch and François are ambitious but at first they don’t really have a master plan. They just don’t like being pushed around by the crime lords of Marseille. They eliminate one of these crime lords and take over his operations, and they just keep eliminating rivals until they reach the top.

Roch and François are very different but both are charming and magnetic in their own ways. This is a gangster buddy movie and the differences between the two are (as always) a major factor in making it work as a buddy movie. Both Delon and Belmondo deploy their unquestioned star power and their established screen personas. Roch is super-cool and self-contained and rather moody and brooding, things Delon did extremely well. François is hyper-active and cheerful with a playful approach to life, things that Belmondo did extremely well.

There’s crime and corruption here but this movie takes no interest in the moral implications. Roch and François are bad guys but they’re super-cool and they’re very much the heroes of the story. They’re not rebels. They’re unabashed gangsters and they’re violent and ruthless. Nonetheless the movie is very much on their side, not for political reasons but because they’re super-cool.

The movie-going public loved this movie. Critics were less happy with it, seeing it as a case of style over substance. You can always rely on critics to miss the point. In Borsalino the style IS the substance. This is an exercise in cinematic style. This is pure cinema. Critics, being critics, love looking for political meanings and subtexts. There aren’t any here. This movie ostentatiously avoids such things.

The costumes are superb. The costumes for the two male leads reflect not just the differences between the two characters but the differences between the screen images of the two stars. Delon’s clothes are cool and ultra-sharp. That was Delon’s image. Roch wants to look like a gentleman. François wants to look like a big-shot gangster, which reflects Belmondo’s more flamboyant slightly neurotic image.

The production design is terrific and reflects these differences as well. Roch wants his living quarters to look like a gentleman’s apartment. François’ idea of interior decoration is to have paintings of naked women on the walls.

There’s a lot of fairly graphic violence but it’s done in a very operatic way, in fact in an almost Italian way. The murders (and there are lots of them) are reminiscent of the emerging Italian poliziotteschi genre. This was a Franco-Italian co-production. I have no idea how well it did in Italy but I imagine it did well. It manages to be in tune with the visually extravagant approach of Italian film-making of this era while still feeling very very French.

American gangster movies probably had some influence on this movie but the French had their own gangster movie tradition which this movie draws on heavily.

The two stars are absolutely at the top of their game and they play off each other superbly.

Borsalino looks gorgeous, has a reasonable story, it offers plenty of action and it has style to burn. Don’t overthink this movie. Just wallow in the style. Borsalino is highly recommended.

The Arrow Blu-Ray offers a very nice transfer. Extras include a worthless audio commentary that tries to impose 2020s ideologies onto the movie. In general audio commentaries are best avoided these days.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

The Champagne Murders (1967)

Claude Chabrol’s The Champagne Murders was shot simultaneously in two different versions, an English-language version and a French version (released as Le scandale). Interestingly none of the main players are dubbed in either version. They all (including Anthony Perkins) spoke both French and English fluently. Naturally the more pretentious online reviewers insist that the French version is superior, even if they’ve never actually seen it!

Given Chabrol’s admiration for Hitchcock and the initial setup of this movie you might be expecting this to be a Hitchcockian suspense thriller. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is not even a genuine suspense thriller, much less a Hitchcockian thriller. The plot is included more or less as an after-thought. There’s no suspense at all. This is more of a social comedy or a black comedy. A couple of years earlier Chabrol had made Blue Panther, a spy thriller which turns out not to be a spy thriller at all. It’s more of a demolition job on the spy genre and an elaborate cinematic game. This is to a large extent what Chabrol is doing to the suspense thriller genre in The Champagne Murders. Chabrol must have been immensely amused that most critics failed to get the joke.

This was Chabrol’s only Hollywood movie. It’s almost as if he wanted to make sure he would never be asked to make another movie in Hollywood.

The Champagne Murders begins with two friends, Paul (Maurice Ronet) and Christopher (Anthony Perkins), who pick up a young woman. They end up being beaten up and the young woman is murdered. Paul never really recovers his mental equilibrium and spends a long period in a mental hospital. He is released but his mental state is still a little shaky.

By this time Christopher has married into money. He has married Christine Belling (Yvonne Furneaux). Christine owns a vineyard, which had belonged to Paul’s family. In fact she owns a champagne empire and she has been offered a huge amount of money for it from two American buyers. The problem is that the business is worthless without the trade name and Paul still owns that. Christine has to persuade Paul to sell her the name. She wants Christopher’s help. If he’s a good boy and helps her she’ll buy him a yacht - a huge ocean-going yacht. Christopher likes boats.

Christopher and Paul make a business visit to Hamburg. Hamburg was at this time regarded as the sex and sin capital of Europe. While they’re there the body of a young woman, a lady of the night, is discovered.

Christine is always plotting something, and we get the feeling that often it’s for the sheer pleasure of manipulating people. She doesn’t seem to have a totally coherent objective in mind. Christopher may be doing some plotting as well. He thinks there’s something he wants but he doesn’t seem to know what it is. Paul is just increasingly confused. He thinks he may have done something terrible but he has no idea why he might have done such a thing. Paul’s grip on reality is steadily loosening.

The plot really only matters insofar as it sets up the situation Chabrol wants - a group of truly awful, fake, treacherous, manipulative people none of whom can be trusted and at least one of whom might be mad. All of them are so fake that they’re in danger of confusing their own fake personas with reality. Their personalities are not just fake but also fragmented. They lack any real sense of personal identity.

The performances are all slightly odd. This is clearly deliberate. When you look at the cast these are all very fine very experienced acting talents. If their performances are off-kilter that is obviously exactly what Chabrol wanted.

This is not a realist movie. This is one of the ways in which this film is most definitely not a Hitchcockian thriller. Hitchcock dealt with madness and obsession at times and his movies were often visually stylised but they never abandoned reality altogether. With The Champagne Murders we’re much more aware that we need to suspect that there are times when the movie may in fact have crossed the line into non-reality.

When looking at movies from other time periods it’s essential to remember that every decade has had its own distinctive cultural obsessions. The cultural obsessions of the mid-60s bear no resemblance whatsoever to the cultural obsessions of today. Trying to view a 1967 movie in terms of 2020s ideologies inevitably leads to a total misunderstanding of the movie.

You also have to bear in mind the intellectual climate of the 60s. Marxism, Freudianism, absurdism and existentialism were major intellectual currents at that time. They might not have directly influenced every film-maker but they were part of the atmosphere that intellectuals breathed. You can see traces of most of these intellectual currents in this movie.

There was much more consciousness of class. The protagonists of this movie very definitely belong to the decadent bourgeoisie. I don’t think Chabrol had any overt political axe to grind in this film, but in 1967 people would certainly have noticed the bourgeois milieu in which it takes place. Bored amoral rich people who have everything but still manage to be miserable.

Most modern critics still insist on seeing this movie as Chabrol attempting to do Hitchcock and failing. But while he admired Hitchcock he wasn’t trying to emulate Hitch here. Online reviews also insist on seeing this as a whodunit. At the end you do find out the murderer’s identity, which in a whodunit would be a satisfying conclusion. In this film it just raises more perplexing questions. The neat whodunit solution isn’t the point at all. The really interesting questions are left without neat tidy answers. If you’re looking for a conventional suspense thriller you’ll find this movie exasperating. It doesn’t obey any of the rules of the genre.

If you accept that Chabrol is teasing and toying with the viewer and if you enjoying cinematic game-playing you’ll have a much better time with The Champagne Murders. It’s still an oddball movie but it’s fascinating in its own way. The more you think about it after you’ve watched it the more fascinating it becomes. Recommended.

Kino Lorber’s Blu-Ray looks lovely and includes an audio commentary.

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Un Flic (1972)

Un Flic (A Cop) was Jean-Pierre Melville’s final film. It’s sometimes described as a neo-noir but I’d be more inclined to see it as an existentialist crime thriller.

The opening sequence is extraordinary. It’s a very long build-up to a bank robbery. It was shot in a seaside town out of the tourist season. The streets are entirely deserted. The weather is bleak. It’s raining and there’s a driving wind. And there are these incredibly long vistas of sterile modernist architecture. The mood of alienation and utter emptiness is overwhelming. The robbers’ car (a big American car) appears to be the only automobile in the entire town. In fact, apart from the people in the bank, you could well believe that the town is uninhabited. The robbers are like dead men in a dead town.

Intercut with the robbery are scenes of a senior police detective, Commissaire Edouard Coleman (Alain Delon), driving through the streets of Paris in a police car and being called to various crime scenes. But the first crimes we see him investigating have no connection at all with that bank robbery.

The key details of the plot and the relations between the characters are revealed very slowly and very gradually.

This is a very minimalist film. We don’t get any backstory on any of the characters, we don’t find out how they come to be connected, we get only the sketchiest outlines of the plans of the criminals. We discover nothing of the motivations of any of the criminals. By the end of the movie all we really know about Commissaire Coleman is that he’s a cop. We’re told only what we absolutely need to be told.

Simon (Richard Crenna) runs a night-club and he’s also the leader of the criminal gang. He and Commissaire Coleman are friends although we have no idea how that friendship came to be. Cathy (Catherine Deneuve) is Simon’s mistress. She’s also Coleman’s mistress. We have no idea how this romantic triangle developed and we have no idea of the extent of these emotional attachments.

The gang is planning a much more ambitious heist, on a train.

Coleman has a lead that suggests that something criminal is going to take place on the train but he doesn’t know that there’s any connection with the bank robbery and he doesn’t know that Simon is involved in any way.

Eventually the police get a break and Coleman starts to put some of the pieces together.

What’s interesting is that apart from the main characters we see very few people at all. It’s as if the central characters are just actors on an empty stage set.

Everything in this film seems to take place in slow motion. There are two major heists and while there’s plenty of suspense there’s no sense of action or excitement. The build-up is extraordinarily slow and there’s virtually no action pay-off. At every point where you’re expecting action it just doesn’t happen.

Again all of this would appear to be deliberate. This is a heist movie but if you’re expecting anything resembling an action thriller you’re going to be bitterly disappointed. This movie has the feel of a stately European art film rather than a thriller.

The most notable thing about this movie is the extreme level of emotional detachment. The triangle between Simon, Coleman and Cathy involves all sorts of betrayals. Simon’s criminal career could be seen as a betrayal of his friendship with his friend Coleman the cop. Coleman’s determination to push ahead with the case without being swayed by his friendship for Simon could be seen as a betrayal of that friendship. Cathy’s affair with Coleman could be seen as a betrayal of Simon. Cathy’s involvement in Simon’s criminal activities could be seen as a betrayal of Coleman who is after all her lover.

But there’s no indication that any of these things matter to any of these three people. They don’t seem to be driven to any significant degree by either love or friendship. They also don’t appear to be driven by lust. The Coleman-Cathy relationship is curiously un-erotic. In fact there’s not the slightest indication of any real erotic attraction between any characters in this movie. At no point in the movie is there any emotional or erotic connection between any of the characters. Simon and Coleman are supposed to be friends but they behave like casual acquaintances. Coleman and Cathy are supposed to be lovers but the one time we see them together there’s as much emotion as you’d get between a high-class hooker and a client.

As a result the characters are more or less puppets. We see them doing things but we have no idea why they’re doing those things. Perhaps they don’t know. Perhaps they really are empty inside. My impression is that this approach is very deliberate. It’s one of the reasons I see this as an existentialist movie. The lives of the characters seem to have no meaning or purpose. There’s also more than a hint of absurdism. All of the characters are absurd and pathetic.

The train heist is a very very long very intricate sequence but it’s irrelevant to the plot. These criminals have already made an unrecoverable error by bungling the bank job, after which it’s inevitable that the police will catch them. This whole sequence conveys a sense of utter futility, of people doing very complicated things that are in fact meaningless.

All of which strengthens my conviction that this is very much an existentialist movie. I kept being reminded of Camus’ The Stranger. These are three people who are all very much alone. I think the title, Un Flic (A Cop), is very significant. Coleman is a cop. That’s all he really is. That’s all he’s got. He does his job efficiently and without emotion. If people let him down he discards them and moves on. The meaning of his life is that he’s a cop.

Some critics have fallen for the temptation to see this as a movie about problematic masculinity. In my view that says more about modern film critics and the obsessions of the 21st century than about the actual movie and the obsessions of the 1960s and 70s.

The performances are completely flat. Catherine Deneuve projects a kind of Hitchcock ice blonde vibe. There’s a bit of Kim Novak in Vertigo in her performance.

I’ve already mentioned the stunningly brilliant opening sequence. The train heist is elaborate but totally artificial in its clumsy use of miniatures (I like miniatures work in general but in this case it really is clumsy).

That’s not to say that I hated this movie. It fascinated me in its radical rejection of every convention of the crime thriller genre, and its radical and uncompromising rejection of every convention of movie-making. It’s not a thriller. It’s a remorseless exercise in absurdism, existentialism, alienation and complete aloneness.

This is not a movie for thriller fans. It’s not a neo-noir. This is very much a movie for fans of highly and coldly intellectualised European art-house movies. If that’s your thing then Un Flic does it very well. So, recommended with some caveats.

Thursday, May 9, 2024

The Crowd Roars (1932)

The Crowd Roars is a 1932 Warner Brothers pre-code race-car melodrama directed by Howard Hawks and based on a story idea by Hawks.

If you have any familiarity with the movies of Howard Hawks then you know that he was fascinated by stories about men who put their lives in peril. In particular he was fascinated by men who do this not from a sense of duty (as would be the case with military service) but out of a psychological need to dice with death. Hawks made some of his very finest movies on this theme.

This movie fits that profile exactly.

The Crowd Roars is also a movie about the uneasy dynamics that develop when a woman enters this male world. Again, very Hawksian.

Joe Greer (James Cagney) is a very successful racing car driver. On a trip back to his home town he discovers that his kid brother Eddie (Eric Linden) has decided to follow in his big brother’s footsteps and has taken up race-car driving. Joe is initially not very happy about the idea but relents and soon Eddie is part of Joe’s racing team.

Joe has a girlfriend, Lee (Ann Dvorak). It’s obvious Lee would like to get married. There’s some tension between them. Lee thinks Joe is ashamed of her. Joe is certainly anxious to stop Eddie from finding out that there’s anything serious going on with Lee. It’s made fairly obvious that Joe and Lee have been living together (this is a pre-code movie) and Joe doesn’t want Eddie of any of the family finding out. Lee is also worried about Joe’s drinking.

Another complication is that Eddie gets involved with Anne, and that really angers Joe.

Lee’s best friend is Anne Scott (Joan Blondell). This might lead you to believe that this is yet another movie in which Blondell has merely a supporting role as the heroine’s pal. That’s not the case here. Blondell shares top billing with Cagney and she is certainly not a mere supporting player. The four main characters - Joe, Eddie, Lee and Anne - are all equally important although obviously Cagney and Blondell have the edge when it comes to star quality.

This is an exciting race-car action film with some thrilling racing footage. There are complex romantic dramas as well, with real people often driven by conflicting emotions.

It’s also the story of a man struggling with his personal demons. Joe is a difficult troubled man. He’s not a sympathetic character in a straightforward way. He’s quick-tempered. He has a bit of a nasty streak at times. He treats Lee badly. He’s stubborn and he’s obsessive when he gets an idea into his head. And something is about to happen that will add self-pity to the volatile mix.

Joe treats Eddie like a small child. He treats both Lee and Anne very badly. He and Lee are obviously sleeping together. That seems to be why he won’t marry her. You don’t marry girls with such loose morals. He really is ashamed of her. This is all monstrously unreasonable. But that’s the crux of the plot. Joe really isn’t a very nice guy. The question is whether he can learn to be a more decent human being before his behaviour leads to disaster. He is a very flawed hero indeed, but that’s what makes him interesting. We know he needs to change and we hope that he will.

Cagney relishes the opportunity to play a man at war with himself and he does a fine job. Blondell and Dvorak play women with a bit of depth as well. It has to be said that Eric Linden is rather colourless as Eddie. Frank McHugh is amusing and likeable as Joe’s driving team-mate and buddy Spud Connors.

It’s easy to overlook just how incredibly dangerous race-car driving was in the 1930s. Safety precautions were non-existent. Fatal crashes were commonplace. If your car caught fire your chances of survival were slim. That’s part of Joe’s problem. He has plenty of guts but he’s smart enough to understand the dangers, and he needs alcohol to face the risks. And of course alcohol increases the risks.

The racing sequences are impressive and manage took very dangerous. Filming them was indeed very dangerous.

This is all perfect material for Hawks and he makes the most of it.

Sadly this movie does not appear to survive in a complete form. The original running time was 85 minutes but existing prints come in at around 70 minutes.

The Crowd Roars is a grown-up action movie with some real depth. It’s an excellent and underrated Howard Hawks and it’s highly recommended.

The Warner Archive DVD release provides a pretty decent transfer.

I’ve reviewed Ceiling Zero (1936) and Only Angels Have Wings (1939), two other great Howard Hawks movies about men who choose to dice with death.

Sunday, May 5, 2024

Looking for Mr Goodbar (1977)

Looking for Mr Goodbar was mildly controversial at the time of its release in 1977. It’s certainly sleazy enough and violent enough to make its X certificate understandable.

It was written and directed by Richard Brooks, based on Judith Rossner’s novel. Brooks has taken a fascinating story idea (a woman drawn by masochistic impulses into dangerous sexual games) and turned it into a meandering over-long utterly conventional morality play. The message of the movie is that bad girls get what they deserve. A bad girl being a woman who dares to flout the established conventional moral rules.

Diane Keaton plays Theresa. She teaches deaf children. On the surface she is a paragon of virtue but she lives a double life, cruising sleazy bars and picking up loser men.

This fascination with casual sex begins when she’s still in college and she has an affair with a married professor. He unceremoniously dumps her after he’s had his fun so she decides to devote herself to the pursuit of pleasure.

Of course it’s all her father’s fault. He’s a devout Catholic. He thinks his daughter is a whore and the spawn of Satan.

There’s an entirely pointless sub-plot involving Theresa’s crazy sister Katherine (played by Tuesday Weld chewing every piece of scenery she can get her hands on). In fact there are lots of pointless sub-plots. What might have been a tense 90 minute film becomes a bloated 136 minute mess.

Theresa gets involved with a social worker who annoys her by wanting a serious relationship. She also gets involved with a hyper-active nutter named Tony (played by Richard Gere chewing every piece of scenery he can get his hands on). Theresa becomes a hooker although she seems to be motivated more by an urge to revenge herself on Dead Old Dad than by money.

Theresa gets into some awkward situations but she just doesn’t learn.

According to this movie there was not a single decent sane human being in the United States in 1977. Every character in the movie is exaggerated to the point of parody.

There are intermittent brief fantasy sequences which are presumably intended to give us a glimpse inside Theresa’s mind. These sequences are an unnecessary distraction.

The acting on the whole veers between hysteria and extreme hysteria.

The one exception, and the movie’s one redeeming feature, is Diane Keaton. There’s nothing she can do about the weak script but she does manage to make Theresa reasonably believable. Theresa is confused and out of control and Keaton gets this across very effectively but she is also able to infuse the character with a certain degree of humour.

Generally speaking I despise the use of the term camp to describe movies but it’s about the only adequate way to describe this one. It’s camp in the truest sense - a movie that tries to take itself absurdly seriously but in fact cannot be taken the least bit seriously.

There’s also some half-baked Freudianism.

This movie manages to be incredibly heavy-handed and confused at the same time. The message seems to be that women should forget about sex and just settle down and get married and learn to be good girls. Otherwise very bad things will happen to them.

Looking for Mr Goodbar
has its good points. It is at least an attempt to deal with sexual subject matter openly and in a grown-up way even if it’s an attempt that mostly misfires. The ending is technically bold and striking.

And Diane Keaton’s performance is undeniably impressive.

Looking for Mr Goodbar is mostly a missed opportunity. It is fascinating in its own way and perhaps worth a look as an example of a 70s movie that really gets down and dirty.

This movie has a reputation for being difficult to track down. There was in fact a DVD release which is still obtainable. It’s letterboxed but as far as I’m concerned that’s OK. At least it’s not pan-and-scanned. And there are certain aspects of this movie that make it very doubtful that it will ever get a Blu-Ray release.

Friday, May 3, 2024

Cop Hater (1958)

Cop Hater is a 1958 American crime B-movie based on one of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels.

Since it’s a crime movie shot in black-and-white a lot of people have succumbed to the temptation to assume it’s film noir. It isn’t. Not even close. It’s a tough police procedural, just as the Ed McBain novels are police procedurals.

It’s a hot day in the city. Apparently all it takes is a hot day and everyone goes crazy and starts killing people. A cop named Reardon gets gunned down in the street. Reardon was a paragon of virtue, almost the perfect cop. Why would anyone want to kill him?

Then another cop gets killed. He was pretty much a candidate for sainthood. It doesn’t make sense.

The police are pretty upset. Murder is an everyday occurrence and it’s no big deal but cop killing is a very big deal indeed. The lieutenant in charge gives his men a speech about how cops are symbols of everything that holds society together. Kind of like the flag, and motherhood.

The cops figure the killer could be from a teen gang. After all these crazy kids today kill for kicks. So we get some prime 50s juvenile delinquent hysteria.

The police have no real evidence. They pull in lots of suspects who are really never serious suspects to begin with and the case is going nowhere.

The lieutenant in charge is getting frustrated. He’s a bit bad-tempered by underneath he has a heart of gold. All the cops in this movie have hearts of gold.

This movie goes through the motions of being a police procedural. They do some routine police work. They do some forensic stuff and they call on a few informers. These things go nowhere in plot terms. The plot relies on the hoary old device of the hero having a sudden inspiration. So as a true police procedural it’s a bit of a non-starter.

As a murder mystery it works fine although it suffers from a lack of a sufficient number of genuinely plausible suspects.

This is certainly not film noir. In fact with its worshipful attitude towards authority and its total lack of sympathy for anyone who is in any way an outsider it’s practically the antithesis of film noir.

Interestingly the police completely ignore suspects’ legal rights and rough up suspects but the movie treats this as a good thing. It means the cops are doing their jobs. They’re great guys and they do stuff like this to protect the public.

Director William Berke spent his career making B-movies. He had a reputation for churning out movies very very quickly. The job he does here is competent but uninspired, but we can be sure he brought the movie in on time and on budget.

The screenwriter was Henry Kane. Kane was also a prolific pulp novelist, his books including the rather good Frenzy of Evil.

Cop Hater does have its strengths. We really do feel the oppressive atmosphere of a heat wave. The low budget helps give the film a seedy gritty sweaty and at times sleazy feel. The acting is B-movie standard but that helps as well. There are no “star” performances. The cast is more like the ensemble cast you’d get in a TV cop show.

Overall Cop Hater is a decent crime B-movie. It certainly has an air of toughness to it. Recommended.

The MGM Limited Edition Collection made-on-demand DVD is presented open matte and the transfer is at best acceptable. There are no extras. Overall the DVD release is a bit disappointing.

Monday, April 29, 2024

The Famous Ferguson Case (1932)

The Famous Ferguson Case is a pre-code movie from First National Pictures that is both a murder mystery and a newspaper story.

It begins in the sleepy American town of Cornwall. Marcia Ferguson (Vivienne Osborne) is perhaps getting a bit too friendly with bank cashier Judd Brooks. They’re both married, but not to each other. Marcia Ferguson’s husband arrives back in town unexpectedly. 

That night Mr Ferguson is murdered. Mrs Ferguson is found bound and gagged. She tells the sheriff that two men broke in and killed her husband. The sheriff has a few doubts about her story but there is absolutely no solid evidence against either Mrs Ferguson or Judd Brooks.

Bruce Foster (Tom Brown) is a wet behind the ears cub reporter on the town’s newspaper, The Cornwall Courier. He does know enough to know this is a big story and he sends it off to a major New York paper. By the next day Cornwall is overrun with New York reporters.

They’re not a very inspiring lot. They’re out for a sensational story and being reporters they don’t care if the story has any truth to it as long as it will sell newspapers. If they don’t look like getting a sufficiently sensational story they’ll manufacture one. They decide that the story they want is that Mrs Ferguson and Judd Brook were the murderers. It’s a sensational story, combining sensationalism and salaciousness. They manipulate the county attorney into charging Mrs Ferguson with murder. They don’t care if she’s innocent or guilty as long as they get the story.

There’s certainly a murder mystery plot here but the main focus is on the appalling behaviour of the press. These reporters give the word cynicism a whole new meaning.

There are romantic dramas being played out as well. The most unscrupulous and unethical of the reporters is sleazy alcoholic Bob Parks (Kenneth Thomson). He’s set his sights on young Bruce’s girlfriend Toni (Adrienne Dore) who is also a reporter on The Cornwall Courier. Bob Parks already has a girlfriend, fellow reporter Maizie Dickson (Joan Blondell). That doesn’t stop him from chasing anything in a skirt. Maizie is getting fed up not just with Bob but with herself and the newspaper game. She’s jealous, but mostly she’s disgusted - especially given the fact that Toni is so naïve and is inevitably going to get hurt the way Maizie herself has been hurt.

The gentlemen of the press continue their campaign to railroad Mrs Ferguson straight to Death Row.

Joan Blondell gets top billing and she is of course very good but her character is not really the main focus of the movie. Kenneth Thomson makes a great drunken sleazebag gutter journalist. Leslie Fenton is excellent as Jim Perrin, a reporter who is even sleazier more loathsome than Bob Parks. The other cast members are all very good.

Lloyd Bacon was a more than competent director who doesn’t receive much attention from critics but he was reliable and really keeps things moving in this picture.

There’s not a huge amount of pre-code content but the story has a nicely sordid sleazy cynical edge to it. It’s also quite open about the ways in which public officials allow themselves to become the willing tools of dishonest journalists. The criminal justice system doesn’t come off too well.

Unfortunately there’s some speechifying, mostly intended to try to convince us that most reporters are ethical.

The resolution of the murder mystery is a bit too obvious but then the murder mystery is not what this movie is primarily about.

The ending is a bit of a letdown - the movie pulls its punches a bit here.

On the whole a pretty decent examination of the awfulness and cynicism of the press. Highly recommended.

The Warner Archive DVD provides a very pleasing transfer.