#157) The Power of the Press (1928)

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#157) The Power of the Press (1928)

OR “Go, Cub, Go!”

Directed by Frank Capra

Written by Sonya Levien. Story by Frederick A. Thompson.

Class of 2005

The Plot: Clem Rogers (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) is a cub reporter who dreams of writing a major scoop. He gets his chance when his editor (Robert Edeson) sends him to investigate the murder of the city’s D.A. (Charles Clary). While at the scene of the crime, Clem sees a young woman trying to escape. She turns out to be Jane Atwill (Jobyna Ralston), the daughter of the mayor (Edwards Davis), and Clem’s prime suspect. What follows is an examination of journalistic integrity, a takedown of political corruption, and the seeds Frank Capra planted that will eventually bloom into full-grown “Capra-corn”.

Why It Matters: Wow, this gets one of the shortest blurbs for any NFR entry. They call it a “[d]exterous newspaper yarn” and give the briefest of plot synopses. It always baffles me when the NFR doesn’t defend one of its own choices.

But Does It Really?: If I were writing the NFR blurb (and I’m not, but I wouldn’t turn down the offer), I would say that “The Power of the Press” represents Frank Capra’s beginnings in film during the silent era. He had only been directing for six years, but “Press” features many Capra hallmarks, primarily an idealist central figure caught in a cynical and corrupt institution, whose honesty and strong convictions win out in the end (and gets him the girl, of course). Capra also throws in some of his other favorites: a romance that stems from conflict, a memorable supporting cast, and even some clever dialogue (via intertitles, naturally). The film is not a popular classic nor a cultural benchmark, but it holds up well and exhibits the confident skill of a young director who will go on to help define the sound era.

Shout Outs: Marie makes a quick reference to “The Big Parade”.

Everybody Gets One: Most of the supporting cast, as well as screenwriter Fred Thompson, who would go on to achieve fame on “Law & Order”. Special mention to Charles Clary as D.A. Nye, aka “The vic”.

Wow, That’s Dated: Lots of old-timey journalism staples like newsies and references to Arthur Brisbane. Plus the practice of wearing your press pass in your hatband, not around your neck in a frou-frou lanyard.

Seriously, Oscars?: The 2nd Academy Awards is the only Oscar ceremony where there were no official nominees in any category (though the Academy would later announce de facto nominees based on their records). With this in mind, we don’t know for sure if “The Power of the Press” was in the running for any Oscars. But don’t worry, Capra will get his due.

Other notes

  • Capra is credited as “Frank R. Capra” for this one. The R stands for Rosario.
  • Ah, the bustling newsroom of early cinema. Say hi to Walter Burns for me. Either one.
  • When did we stop naming boys “Clem”?
  • Douglas Fairbanks Jr. looks like a cross between Fred Astaire and Buddy Ebsen. Oh, and Douglas Fairbanks Sr., I guess.
  • Why the green tint during the outdoor scenes? Are they down the street from Three Mile Island?
  • If nothing else, this film is a pretty thorough overview of how newspapers used to be printed. It’s like there are little men living in your office copy machine!
  • Atwill’s opponent in the mayoral election is named – and I swear I’m not making this up – Robert Blake. He couldn’t have shot the D.A. because he went back to Vitello’s to collect his gun that he had left there (Look it up, that was his actual alibi).
  • Neat cinematography all of a sudden. Chester Lyons and Ted Tetzlaff were having some fun that day.
  • “Li’l Marie”? I had her first album!
  • Yeah, calling the woman you accused of murder “little girl” will not help her stop crying.
  • Marie doesn’t want to be Blake’s “Prisoner of Zenda”. She should talk to Clem about that.
  • Drunken title cards. Nice touch.
  • “This is a man’s job. You go to the Times office and wait for me.” [Deep exhale]
  • Idealism and a strong morality, sure, but Clem also has a lot of dumb luck on his side.
  • Did we skip something? It appears a few scenes are missing from this film’s surviving print. Thankfully it’s nothing pertinent. Helps with the pacing, actually.
  • A car chase at 62 miles per hour!? What recklessness!
  • “The Power of the Press” features an early Columbia Pictures logo. Instead of a torch, the woman in the logo is holding a…bidding paddle?

Legacy

  • The subgenre of movies where journalists are noble heroes, like “All the President’s Men” and “Absence of Malice” and…everything right now.
  • Speaking of, is “The Post” any good? I want to see it, but I don’t hear a lot of buzz around it.

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