The Humphrey Bogart Classic “Deadline U.S.A.” Remains Surprisingly Relevant

In journalism school and ever since, I have heard about Deadline U.S.A. It was the legendary type of movie about journalism for real journalists. Unfortunately, it has been unavailable on VHS, DVD or Blu-ray for more than 30 years. You can imagine my excitement when I saw that it was finally being released by Kino Lorber on DVD & Blu-ray.

The movie is a 1952 classic starring Humphrey Bogart as the managing editor of The Day, a traditional, hard-nosed newspaper that seeks the truth at all costs. Not surprisingly, Bogie is just as tough as his paper.

His and the paper’s troubles are many. The paper is being shutdown in just 3 days. One of its reporters just got beat up by a group of mobsters led by an Al Capone-like character named Tomas Rienzi (Martin Gabel). And Bogie won’t rest until his paper exposes Rienzi and all of his misdeeds. Also in that time, Bogie hopes to win back his ex-wife.

It is a solid effort and a descent movie, but it is no Casablanca. What really stands out to me are the comparisons that can be made between newspapers then and newspapers now.

I loved how the journalists in the movie ranted about the public wanting more cute stories about kittens and salacious stories about sex and celebrities. “Oh, to go back to a time when the public wanted real news and cared about holding officials accountable,” they bemoaned…just as the seriously minded among us request today. And, man, if there was a gnashing of teeth in 1952 over real news (part of what is considered journalism’s heyday), this must have been a problem since the birth of newspapers in the 1700s.

Also, the dangers of newspapers going out of business were just as relevant then as now. In the movie, The Day is being bought by one of those kittens and celebrities competitors and shut down. These days, there are no papers left in most cities to pick up the slack, and online kitten and celebrity sites are effectively shutting down the last vestiges of hard reporting newspapers.

And then there were the movie’s reporters and editors in the newsroom. The true blue troopers worked as closely to around the clock as their bodies would allow. They sacrificed spouses and kids for their careers. And, really, to make it in a print newspaper today, that is doubly true. Sadly, the pay isn’t much better, either.

Bogie illustrates the point beautifully, after waking up hung over at his ex-wife’s apartment. When the phone rings, he answers, “City desk.”

Having once worked at a newspaper for 60 to 80 hours a week, I can relate. Every time I heard sirens on my day off, I worried if the paper heard it on the police scanner and were ready to cover whatever was going on.

Deadline U.S.A. really does get newsrooms, the relationships of journalists and the subjects they cover right. So if you are looking for a great dose of newspapering, be sure to pick it up on DVD or Blu-ray.

—Nathaniel Cerf still has flashbacks to his days as an assistant city editor and is absolutely grateful he no longer works in daily news coverage. Yet, he fervently believes in the need for the news industry to keep an eye those in power. So go buy a newspaper and keep them in business.