Scandal Sheet (1952, Phil Karlson)

Howard Hawks planned to film Fuller’s “The Dark Page” with Edward G. Robinson and Humphrey Bogart while Fuller was still in the war, but by the time the story finally staggered onto the screen featuring a lower-prestige cast and director, Fuller himself had directed four pictures and was working on his own newspaper drama, Park Row. Maybe that explains why he was so disappointed in Scandal Sheet while he had no complaints about It Happened In Hollywood or Power of the Press. Or maybe he saw the early ones as collaborative screenplays, while this was his novel, written alone, being adapted without his input by three screenwriters – James Poe (Attack, The Big Knife), Eugene Ling (Behind Locked Doors) and Ted Sherdeman (Them!). The reason I wonder is because I think Scandal Sheet blows away the earlier movies and rivals Fuller’s own first two films. I’m sure the script wasn’t what Sam envisioned, but Phil Karlson (later 99 River Street, The Phenix City Story) sure knew how to shoot it. It’s noirish and well-paced with good acting throughout (the hero failed to impress, but isn’t it always that way) and looks like it’s been given care and attention. I doubt Sam was any more pleased when the film was remade in the 80’s with Burt Lancaster and a plot that sounds not-at-all similar to this one).

L-R: some extra, Donna Reed, John Derek, B. Crawford, H. O’Neill
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You can’t tell from the beginning, with crime reporter McCleary (John Derek of Knock On Any Door) and his photographer (Harry Morgan, who played a character named Sam Fuller the same year in High Noon) deceiving a grieving victim into telling them her story before the cops arrive, if the reporter is a slimeball bastard or just a resourceful newsman. Eventually he starts to look like the editor in Power of the Press (but with dreamy slick 1950’s hair), a good guy at heart but a slimeball by association with his muckraking boss, ed-in-chief Broderick Crawford (depressed train operator in Human Desire). That’s not really the point of the story, and the question is dropped when it becomes clear that McCleary is our hero (you can tell because Donna Reed likes him).

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Dudes are going about their business raising circulation at the paper by treating the public like dolts (as in Power of the Press, this seems to work) when the editor runs into his ex-wife (Rosemary DeCamp, above, of 13 Ghosts) at the paper’s Lonely Hearts Ball. She’s rightfully pissed at him for ditching her twenty years ago without a divorce, changing his name and moving to the big city, so she offers to blackmail him until violent hubby pushes her into a bedpost, killing her. Now he’s trapped (Broderick Crawford always seems to be short-tempered and trapped), trying to cover up his crime while allowing his star reporter to try cracking the case. Loose end Henry O’Neill (The Sun Shines Bright) is eliminated, turning the accidental killer into a cold-blooded murderer, and the paper follows the case until its own editor’s face is plastered on the front page as circulation finally surpasses the level that would’ve made him a partner.

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As a possible shout-out to Sam Fuller, the actor who played the judge who fingers Broderick in the gun-totin’ final showdown was actually named Griff.

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Griff! He played a judge in Angel Face the same year.

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