Poor Ralph Bellamy! For some reason, he almost was always cast as the guy who loses his fiancee or girlfriend to someone else in classic movies. Long before he played the evil Dr. Sapirstein in Rosemary’s Baby, FDR in Sunrise at Campobello, or Randolph Duke in Trading Places, he was usually playing bland, good guy characters in films. That was his part in 1933’s Headline Shooter, and this post is for this weekend’s Journalism in Classic Film Blogathon, hosted by two great bloggers, Comet over Hollywood and Lindsay’s Movie Musings. Be sure to visit their sites to read more great posts by other bloggers on this interesting film topic.
Headline Shooter was made in 1933 by RKO Studios. It’s a fast moving film that comes in at 65 minutes! Try finding a movie of today that is that length! Directed by Otto Brower, screenplay by Agnes Christine Johnston and Allen Rivkin, music by the great Max Steiner, the film features Bill Gargan, Frances Dee, Ralph Bellamy, Jack LaRue, Wallace Ford, Betty Furness, Robert Benchley, Franklin Pangborn, Henry B. Walthall, and Dorothy Burgess.
Bill Allen(Bill Gargan), is a newsreel cameraman. He is brusque, always on the go, ready at a moment’s notice to rush to the scene of a disaster to film it. He thinks he is the best at his chosen career, and his ego is enormous. Fellow cameraman, Mike(Wallace Ford) is his compatriot in the newsreel business. Early in the film, we see Bill filming the disastrous effects of an earthquake and meeting Jane Mallory(Francis Dee), a reporter on the scene writing about the earthquake. Bill and Jane immediately irritate each other and then they get wind of a story about a baby being delivered in an emergency room at a nearby hospital with no electricity available and they jointly rush to cover that news story. After the night’s news has been covered, Jane and Bill have softened up their opinions of one another and we can tell they are interested in each other, but Jane confesses to Bill that she is engaged to Hal Caldwell(Ralph Bellamy), a banker in Riverport, Mississippi and that soon she’ll be marrying Hal and giving up her journalistic career for one of domestic life in a sleepy, southern town. After a few more “meet cutes” with Jane, Bill starts telling her that she should marry him and dump Hal and during one of these discussions, news of a brewery fire is sent to Bill and he rushes off to film that event, leaving Jane behind.
Three events occur that drastically affect Bill’s life. First, his good pal, Mike, is killed while filming the brewery fire, second, Jane has moved to Riverport in order to marry Hal, and third, Riverport just happens to get hit with a huge flood and Bill is sent there to film it for the newsreel company. Hal agrees to drive Bill around the area in order for him to get some good shots of the flood, and Jane accompanies the both of them. When examining a local levee, Bill and Jane discover the levee was poorly built and if it had not suffered from such poor construction, it might have held back the raging flood waters. There is a prominent family in town, the Beacons, and Judge Beacon(Henry B. Walthall) begs Bill to not reveal anything about the levee. The Judge’s son-in-law built it and the news would devastate the family’s reputation in Riverport. Bill refuses to keep quiet about the levee and the Judge, so disgraced about that news getting out to the public, commits suicide! All of this angers Jane, who was starting to have doubts about marrying Hal and giving up journalism, but she is so mad at Bill, she recommits to marrying Hal and tells Bill to get out of her life! The day before her wedding, Jane is contacted by a notorious gangster’s moll(Dorothy Burgess). The moll is dying and she wants to make a deathbed confession to Jane, so that Jane will write a story about it for the newspapers. The confession is about the gangster, Burnett, being a part of an unsolved murder. To keep Jane quiet, she is kidnapped by cohorts of Burnett’s. Bill gets information as to where Jane is being held by confronting Ricci(Jack LaRue), a gangster pal of Burnett’s. After a shootout with gangsters, Bill rescues Jane and she admits that she loves him and wants to marry him, not Hal(poor Ralph Bellamy!)
As I pointed out earlier, this is a 65 minute film so it goes by very quickly. Scenes from a real earthquake, factory fire, and flood were used in this film to good effect. Bill Allen, the protagonist of this piece, is the hard-nosed news man;out to cover a story at all cost, this is his life. However, when his friend dies covering that brewery fire, it gives Bill a bit of pause. It forces him to slow down a bit and evaluate his life. He realizes he doesn’t enjoy being alone and that he loves Jane. He realizes he’d have to alter his life if he had a wife and eventually a family, that rushing off to cover the news and ignoring those closest to him in his personal life wouldn’t be allowed to continue. Jane Mallory is a good reporter, capable and also wanting to cover the news well. She enjoys her career a lot so when she announces her goal is to now marry a banker and retire from her career, it just doesn’t ring true to her character’s persona. At the end, when we know she’ll marry Bill, we can happily imagine her keeping her career and being quite content as a working, married woman.
Headline Shooter is an obscure film. It’s not been released on any dvds or even on VHS! I only saw it a year ago because it aired on Turner Classic Movies. Two scenes from the movie are on their page about the film and you can view them by clicking on this link: http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/2906/Headline-Shooter/videos.html. William Gargan, who seemed to have been heading for leading man status in the 1930s, inexplicably wound up playing second leads in the 1940s and was the lead on a detective tv show in the 1950s, Martin Kane. I admired his portrayal of Sam Peters in Cheers for Miss Bishop, the lovelorn best friend of spinster teacher Ella Bishop, and he was also praised by critics for his portrayal of Patsy’s father in The Bells of St. Mary’s. Gargan was also a nominee for Best Supporting Actor in 1940’s They Knew What They Wanted, which co-starred Charles Laughton and Carole Lombard.
Frances Dee, aka Mrs. Joel McCrea in real life, was also an actress who had lead potential in the 1930s but in the 1940s and 1950s, mainly played secondary roles. She too appeared on television shows from time to time. She is best known as playing Meg in 1933’s Little Women, co-starring with Katherine Hepburn, and having the lead in the Jacques Tourneur directed I Walked With a Zombie; sort of a modern take on Jane Eyre, but set in the West Indies with voodoo and eerie goings on. Crazy title, I know, but actually a pretty good film!