Wednesday, July 3, 2024

NFR Project: 'The Power of the Press' (1928)


The Power of the Press

Dir: Frank Capra

Scr: Sonya Levien, Frederick A. Thompson

Pho: Chester A. Lyons, Ted Tetzlaff

Ed: Arthur Roberts

Premiere: October 31, 1928

62 min.

This picture demonstrates the developing talent of director Frank Capra, still six years away from his breakthrough comedy masterpiece It Happened One Night. This is Capra’s last silent film, and as such it displays some of the hallmarks of a mature Capra production.

Capra is a polarizing figure in American cinema. By his detractors, he’s condemned as a sentimentalist, and as one who thinks too simplistically. But his style is strong and his subjects are engaging, leading to a widespread use of the phrase “Capraesque” to describe his unique combination of idealism, wit, and sincerity.

Capra started out as a gag writer, and laboriously worked his way up to the director’s chair. He was first noted for his writing and direction of several successful Harry Langdon vehicles. These comedies cemented his reputation as a reliable talent.

Here Capra gives us an engaging newspaper drama. An arrogant young cub reporter (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) is sent out on assignment to cover the murder of the city’s district attorney, days before a mayoral election. He tags the young daughter of one of the candidates as the murderer, then learns that he is wrong. He then sets out, through subterfuge, to find and name the real killer.

Capra gives us a familiar Capra hero – a young, idealistic, and somewhat deluded young man who is cut down to size when he realizes his error. The hero then overcomes adversity due to his grit, determination, and cleverness, saving the day.

Douglas Fairbanks Jr. makes for a cocky protagonist. Raised from the age of nine solely by his mother, Fairbanks got the acting bug and was soon working in the same profession as his world-famous father. Handsome, compact, and dapper, Fairbanks Jr. would forge a decent career in action and comedy films.

The illustration of the inner life of a daily newspaper is quite apt; the controlled chaos of the newsroom is accurately outlined. In particular, Capra gives us a whole sequence of the recasting of the paper’s front page, from editorial down to the linotype operators and finally the mechanics setting the printing plates into forms on the huge mechanical printing press. It’s an impressive sight, one that reinforces the title of the film. The press is powerful indeed.

The NFR is one writer’s attempt to review all the films listed in the National Film Registry in chronological order. Next time: The Sex Life of the Polyp.

No comments:

Post a Comment