Sam Gatlin (Jack Webb) is the managing editor of an Los Angeles newspaper’s morning edition. We follow him and his staff through their nine-hour evening shift as they put together the morning’s paper. -30- (1959) is more of a slice of life tale than a plot-driven movie and there are various story threads throughout. The major ones include Sam Gatlin’s marriage to Peggy (Whitney Blake), the breaking news story of a young girl trapped in an L.A. sewer, a death in the family and the in-house bet to predict the gender of an Italian movie star’s unborn child.
This film was written by journalist-turned-screenwriter William Bowers, and was directed and produced by leading man Webb. Webb is best known from his role as LAPD Sgt. Joe Friday in Dragnet, which saw a few iterations including two popular TV series and a feature film in 1954. This film has various TV personalities, among them David Nelson (Ozzie and Harriet), Howard McNear (The Andy Griffith Show), Joe Flynn (McHale’s Navy), Richard Deacon (The Dick Van Dyke Show) and William Conrad (Cannon, Jake and the Fatman).
Classic film fans will also recognize Conrad as one of the two killers from the film noir The Killers (1946). In -30-, he plays foul-tempered grump Jim Bathgate, who taunts the office copy boys including the pouty faced Earl Collins (Nelson). It’s difficult to take him serious with a name like Bathgate, but his character is effective in putting the fear of God into the young staff underneath him. Richard Bakalyan plays Carl Thompson, who throughout the film gives a tour of the office to a married couple who have financial investments in the newspaper. It’s through his character that we meet some of the minor characters as well as learn about the various tasks and jobs required to keep a newspaper running. Thompson is both lovable and annoying and provides some comic relief in an otherwise dramatic film.
-30- was a box office flop. It’s slow and sentimental, which doesn’t make for an exciting movie. I enjoyed it for what it was and didn’t have any expectations. It casts a relatively sympathetic light on newspaper journalists, portraying them as hard-working and hard-nosed individuals who are very driven and often butt heads with each other but are at heart sympathetic human beings. It’s not like Billy Wilder’s cynical Ace in the Hole, which will make you weep for humanity.
There are some wonderful roles in this film. I particularly enjoyed watch Webb, Conrad and Bakalyan as well as Louise Lorimer, who plays Lady Wilson, a newspaper veteran and Gatlin’s right-hand “man.” Child actor Ronnie Dapo has a small role as Billy, a boy whose possible adoption by the Gatlin family proves to be a point of contention in the film. I immediately recognized the actor but couldn’t quite place him. It took a quick look up on IMDb to realize that Dapo also charmed audiences with his sweet face and innocences in one of my all-time favorite films, Ocean’s 11 (1960).
The story of the young girl trapped in an L.A. sewer was inspired by the true story of a girl who fell down a well 10 years earlier. It got a lot of TV coverage in a time when TV was still very new. Those of you who were around in the 1980s might remember the story of Baby Jessica McClure, who also fell down a well and whose rescue was a media sensation. I remember as a young girl being glued to my TV screen hoping and praying that Jessica would survive the ordeal, and much to our relief she did.
The term “-30-“ is used in journalism to mark the end of a story. It’s also used in this film to mark its ending and a brief explanation of the term is given. The closing credits for -30- are very entertaining to watch. Depending on the era, a film will usually have a brief closing credit scroll or nothing at all. In -30- we get a choppy kind of boring scroll in the opening credits with a drastically different closing credit sequence. The credit is put in front of an actor or actress or an object that represents them. The variety is what makes it entertaining. We get a full on shot of David Nelson for his credit, an empty chair for Jack Webb’s, a framed portrait for Whitney Blake and the back side of William Conrad for his. It’s not perfect but I had a lot of fun watching it.
Contemporary audiences, however, will be incredibly frustrated trying to search for “-30- (1959)” online. Google will respond with the answer to a math equation!
Raquel Stecher works in book publishing by day and is a classic film enthusiast by night. She’s been writing on her movie blog Out of the Past since 2007 and spends most of her free time watching old movies and reading books about them. She lives in the Boston area, where she watches many classics on the big screens of her local repertory theaters.