The last time I shared a list of my favorite films about the Fourth Estate in 2009, I heard from a lot of people.
Even my esteemed colleague Roger Ebert joined the conversation, questioning me for leaving out two contemporary newspaper movies, Zodiac (2007) and State of Play (2009).
Other readers were just as passionate about favorites of theirs missing from my list, including The Paper (1994), Absence of Malice (1981), Nothing Sacred (1937), The Public Eye (1992), Foreign Correspondent (1940) and two versions of The Front Page (1931 and 1974).
But all lists are conversation starters, as Chicago Tribune columnist Phil Rosenthal pointed out at the time with his own provocative list, adding: “What’s the point, if you can’t have some fun discussing it.” In that spirit, here are my top 10 favorite newspaper movies.
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1. Citizen Kane (1941) Orson Welles’ tour de force, inspired by the life of William Randolph Hearst, is the grandest of all newspaper movies. Buy or rent the DVD with Roger Ebert’s splendid audio commentary.
2. Sweet Smell of Success (1957) Burt Lancaster is so evil and sadistic as powerful New York gossip columnist J.J. Hunsecker that it makes you believe every sordid tale ever told about Walter Winchell.
3. All the President’s Men (1976) The Robert Redford/Dustin Hoffman movie about Watergate made investigative reporting sexy and made superstar heroes out of Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.
4. Ace in the Hole (1951) Billy Wilder at his most cynical and Kirk Douglas at his most ferocious. Every media circus surrounding a person in peril was foreshadowed here.
5. Deadline USA (1952) Humphrey Bogart plays the screen’s greatest crusading newspaper editor, fighting the mob and keeping The Day from being liquidated. Ought to be mandatory viewing for every journalism class.
6. His Girl Friday (1940) Howard Hawks’ remake of the Chicago newspaper classic The Front Page with Rosalind Russell opposite Cary Grant. The rapid-fire dialogue and breakneck pace leaves you breathless.
7. Call Northside 777 (1948) A virtual time capsule of Chicago in glorious black and white. James Stewart plays a composite of two real-life Chicago Times reporters who helped free a man wrongly convicted of killing a cop.
8. Scandal Sheet (1952) Broderick Crawford plays a magnificently surly editor obsessed with boosting circulation even if it means turning his once-respected newspaper into “a disgusting tabloid pandering to the passions of the base moron.”
9. Continental Divide (1981) John Belushi as a Mike Roykoesque columnist and a most improbable romantic leading man. Newsroom interiors were shot at the old Chicago Sun-Times Building on Wabash Avenue.
10. Power of the Press (1943) Suave but menacing newspaper owner Otto Kruger has his own publisher murdered and frames a former employee. It takes small-town newspaperman Guy Kibbee to stand up for freedom of the press.