Sunday, December 10, 2006

Some Things Never Change

A few nights ago, I woke up to a strange little movie on TCM. The information bar indicated that another movie was on but instead of the listed film, we got what was clearly a very old newspaper movie.

The literal focus is a man (they were all men) who sits smack in front of the camera for most of the movie and who apparently is the city editor, shouting orders to a copy boy and other editors as the paper nears deadline, only to be interrupted by the news that a huge fire has broken out on a ship. And the city editor has been trying to write about the vessels' owner and his disregard for safe operation of his ships. For good measure, and extra drama, the ship owner is a major advertiser who threatens to pull his ads from the paper.

The editors' evident delight in learning about this huge story is suddenly shaken when the city editor discovers that his wife and daughter may be victims, with little tidbits of color about the fire seeming to support his conclusion and that of his colleagues as they learn about the potential personal tragedy. The city editor moves between doing his duty and sagging in pain as his worst fears seem confirmed, then reverting to his job again.

Spoiler--It all turns out well, with a particularly poignant clue turning out to be false and the back story about the advertiser strikes me as rather insignificant, though if I'd seen it from the beginning, perhaps not.

This film caught my attention for a number of reasons, one of which was that I'd never heard of it. It turns out to be one of those little filler films TCM runs between main movies, and my impression that perhaps I'd missed something because I'd only caught about 15 minutes was wrong. It's only 18 minutes long but it is packed with energy, dialogue and emotion.

Unfortunately, TCM says you can't get a tape of it and they don't announce those little fillers, so good luck seeing it. I did, however, get TCM to tell me more: it's called simply "Copy" and was made in 1929. You can read just a little more about it here.

And I disagree with the one reviewer who's commented on it. I thought it was dead on, if a little hammy, as a lot of those old movies were, especially those that featured those who'd come from the silents.

It reminded me of a few times in newsrooms--the night the editor who was about to be promoted to city editor was killed by a drunken driver, the two different times when newsroom employees were murdered, including one whose story we'd run without realizing the victim was our guy (He had an entire other life outside the newsroom and he hadn't been carrying newspaper ID) and, of course, the events of Sept.11 and people we worked with or their families, or hell, the whole country, became targets. We weren't enjoying the adrenaline rush of a big story back on that day and didn't, for a very long time, but there was that same sense of invasion, reality coming home, that day, that I saw encapsulated in this movie.

Anyway, if you ever get the chance to catch this movie, please do. I'd be interested in the reaction of others.

1 comment:

Mark Murphy said...


I stumbled into this movie a while back. It was unusual to see Roscoe Karns in a lead role; he spent many years in movies, usually playing some kind of comic crackpot, such as the guy who tries to blackmail Gable in "It Happened One Night."

I think one reason many performances in the movies of the time were over the top is that a lot of those folks were stage-trained and had to learn to tone things down.

Karns did a lot of films with Howard Hawks, including "His Girl Friday," in which he has been demoted from the city editor of "Copy"
to one of the cop reporters....

Sometimes TCM shows another newspaper short, "Important News," from about 1936. It's about a small-town newspaper. On the day that a
gangster comes to town and gets shot to death, the editor of the paper (named "Scoop," I believe) decides to lead the front page with a frost warning, figuring the farmers in the community would need to know more about that more than the shooting, which I think he might have even put on an inside page (!)

Scoop's news judgment makes him the butt of jokes around town until a visiting big-time journalist from Chicago passes through (don't know exactly why this small town attracts so many notables), tells Scoop he did the right thing and even offers him a job in Chicago (!!) Of course, Scoop turns him down -- some lady in South Podunk just had
twins and he has to run off to cover it.

Scoop's assistant is played by a lanky, unbilled actor who was new to movies: James Stewart.

Though it's true that TCM doesn't have schedule listings for these shorts (more's the pity -- many of them are at least as interesting as the features) the shorts often follow movies with similar settings
or themes, so "Copy" might be put on after, say, "While the City Sleeps" (ever see that, from the 50s, with Vincent Price as an editor?) or "Five Star Final."

mark m.

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