Scandal Sheet (1952)

“Too bad the guy used an axe on her head; spoiled some pretty pictures for me.”

Scandal Sheet Poster

Synopsis:
When the editor of a sensationalist newspaper (Broderick Crawford) accidentally kills his estranged wife (Rosemary DeCamp), his lead reporter (John Derek) is assigned to the case of the “Lonely Hearts Murderer” — not knowing that his boss is the man he’s looking for.

Genres:

Review:
Phil Karlson’s adaptation of Samuel Fuller’s 1944 novel The Dark Page is an enjoyable if “solid [and] unpretentious” thriller. Because we know the identity of the “Lonely Hearts Murderer” from the moment we see Crawford accidentally killing his long-lost wife in a hotel room scuffle, the film’s suspense lies exclusively in how and when his secret will be found out. A fiendishly ambitious editor devoted to milking every scandal for what it’s worth to his increasingly low-brow but profitable rag, Crawford’s Mark Chapman is forced to shove his tawdry actions (and more distant, seamy past) under the rug — and Crawford does a fine job portraying the kind of audacious (or foolhardy) man who, in his own words, “gambles” with his own life rather than running, at least “until there’s nothing else left to do”.

Unfortunately, despite his best efforts, John Derek is too much of a pretty boy for his role and is never entirely convincing as the eager-beaver rookie journalist who places Crawford on such a pedestal (though his opening scene with Harry Morgan as his sidekick photographer is a zinger). Meanwhile, Derek’s rocky interactions with Donna Reed (trying hard in a weakly written role as his moralistic female colleague) seem to be included in the screenplay merely to provide a requisite love interest subplot. In addition, while its central premise is inherently exciting, the script is predicated on a series of implausible coincidences, and many scenes simply don’t ring true (c.f. a disturbingly paternalistic sequence near the end of the film involving a bar full of stereotypical “winos”). However, the movie possesses enough noir-ish atmosphere (courtesy of Burnett Guffey‘s stark cinematography), enjoyably hardboiled dialogue, and genuine suspense that film fanatics will surely be curious to check it out at least once.

P.S. Fuller was apparently so unimpressed by Scandal Sheet that he vowed to helm all his own flicks in the future — and did.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Broderick Crawford as Mark Chapman
    Scandal Sheet Cinematography
  • Burnett Guffey’s cinematography
    Scandal Sheet Cinematography
    Scandal Sheet Cinematography2

Must See?
No, but it’s worth viewing.

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One Response to “Scandal Sheet (1952)”

  1. Not a must – but not a waste of time either.

    Re-watched this recently cause it’d been years since I’d seen it – and I remembered it as being pretty good. And since I’m a huge Fuller fan, I thought to give it another whirl. It was an odd thing to find that it was not as good as I remembered. Funny how films can sometimes do that.

    However, if Fuller was that “unimpressed” with the adaptation of his novel – one with which he had no direct involvement – he may have been a tad harsh. It’s not a bad film (Karlson is certainly not a hack director) but – for many reasons brought forward in the assessment – it’s not a great one either. And its flaws do detract from it.

    The main problem, maybe, is that it’s a little too one-note. So there aren’t many places for the film to go and there isn’t much room for surprise. (Although it *is* surprising to see DeCamp in such a relentlessly shrill role/performance.) As well, Reed – serving as morality’s mouthpiece and little else, it seems – does kind of begin to seem unlike a real person.

    All that said, Crawford is fascinating to watch throughout. It’s especially gratifying watching him squirm.

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