Deadline - U.S.A.
A tough, cynical urban melodrama about the newspaper business, Deadline U.S.A. (1952), is much closer to film noir in mood than in plot and character details but its storyline has topical relevance today as more and more major newspapers struggle to survive in the age of big business takeovers and new technologies. The film is also an intriguing example of a young rising talent (director Richard Brooks) and a major Hollywood star (Humphrey Bogart) at crossroads in their careers.
Brooks had already distinguished himself as a novelist (The Brick Foxhole  it was adapted as the 1947 film Crossfire) and screenwriter of such films as Brute Force  and Key Largo  when he began a directorial career in 1950, starting with Crisis , a Cary Grant suspense thriller. Deadline U.S.A. was only Brooks' third feature but it reunited him with Humphrey Bogart whom he'd befriended during the making of Key Largo. The two men also socialized outside work and Brooks was looking forward to their new project together at 20th Century-Fox.
Based on Brooks' original screen story "The Night the World Folded," the film initially had that as a working title and, at one time, "The Newspaper Story," before the studio settled on Deadline U.S.A. Portions of the film were shot on location in New York City and included the offices of the New York Daily News and Washington Square Park. Some sources claim that Brooks based his story on the actual closing of the New York World newspaper in 1931 though this fact was never confirmed.
Originally the part of Ed Hutcheson was being considered for either Gregory Peck or Richard Widmark, both of whom were favored by Fox mogul Darryl F. Zanuck over Bogart, who was Brooks's choice. Bogart was still under contract to Warner Bros. at the time but free to work on loanouts of his choice, and after a long negotiation ended up with the role. As he had recently returned from a physically grueling shoot on John Huston's The African Queen (1951), Bogart was exhausted and not in the best of health. Brooks noticed almost immediately that his leading man was not the meticulous professional he had worked with earlier. Instead, "He was withdrawing," Brooks recalled. "I don't know if it was already his illness [cancer] or not, but that could have been part of it...There was an impatience that was totally unlike him."
Bogart was not only rude and arrogant to the crew, giving script supervisor Kay Thackeray a particularly difficult time, but he clashed with Brooks occasionally over the staging of certain scenes. For the sequence where Hutcheson meets with the publisher, her family and their lawyers to discuss the sale of The Day, Bogart had trouble delivering his dialogue in synch with the complex camera move and complained, "Why do I have to move? Why can't I just stand there and do it?"
Brooks explained why he wanted the scene played a certain way and Bogart tried it several more times before giving up, saying "I don't know, the thing doesn't seem to work." To this, his co-star Ethel Barrymore snapped and said, "Humphrey, will you for Christ's sake do it!" "Why should I?" he barked back. "Because, Humphrey," she said, "the Swiss have no navy!" According to authors A.M. Sperber and Eric Lax in their biography Bogart, "That broke Bogart up and relaxed him enough to get through the scene. When he returned to his dressing room, Brooks followed. "What in the hell was that all about?" the director inquired of his friend. "I've never heard of you doing anything like that. What's really wrong?" Bogart explained that some friends had been over the night before, "and we did a little drinking, a lot of talking, and they stayed until three or four in the morning. Instead of going to sleep, I started studying the script. I came in here today and I didn't know the speech. And I'm faking it until I learn the speech. I'm sorry." The sarcastic bravado from the set was gone. To Brooks, he looked worn and wilted."
Unfortunately, the reminder of the Deadline U.S.A. shoot wasn't any easier for Brooks and his crew and Bogart left the set in a foul mood after his final scenes were shot. His performance, however, in the finished film was solid and his tired, world-weary quality was perfectly apt for a grizzled veteran of the newspaper racket who resisted the changing times. The supporting cast was equally impressive with Kim Hunter, Ed Begley, Ethel Barrymore and Martin Gabel as the menacing racketeer Rienzi delivering strong characterizations. The film's semi-documentary nature worked in its favor, enhancing the realistic milieu and it was well received by most critics.
Bosley Crowther of The New York Times admired the movie but had some reservations about the depiction of Bogart's character: "It may be the complications Mr. Brooks has contrived for him are a little too snarled for easy following and unqualified belief. After all, it is asking a good bit of an audience to keep straight in mind three separate lines of development of interrelated plots let alone allow the likelihood of the coincidence of all of them...But it has to be said for Mr. Bogart and for the writing and the direction of Mr. Brooks that, in spite of the melodramatic turmoil, they have brought forth a pretty straight m.e. What's more, Mr. Brooks (who, they tell us, is an old newspaper man himself) has laid out a quite authentic picture of a-down-to-earth newspaper shop....Really good newspaper pictures are few and far between. This one, while melodramatic, does all right by the trade."
As a Bogart picture, Deadline U.S.A. was generally overlooked in the wake of The African Queen's success, the film for which he won his first Best Actor Oscar®, and it didn't garner any Academy Award nominations either. It did, however, enjoy the rare distinction of having its first public showing aboard a Coast Guard ship at the request of the crew who voted Bogart their favorite movie actor. Deadline U.S.A. was later adapted as a radio play and featured on the Lux Radio Theatre starring Dan Dailey and Debra Paget.
Producer: Sol C. Siegel
Director: Richard Brooks
Screenplay: Richard Brooks
Cinematography: Milton Krasner
Art Direction: George Patrick, Lyle Wheeler
Music: Cyril Mockridge, Sol Kaplan (uncredited)
Film Editing: William B. Murphy
Cast: Humphrey Bogart (Ed Hutcheson), Ethel Barrymore (Margaret Garrison), Kim Hunter (Nora Hutcheson), Ed Begley (Frank Allen), Warren Stevens (George Burrows), Paul Stewart (Harry Thompson), Martin Gabel (Thomas Rienzi), Joe De Santis (Herman Schmidt), Joyce Mackenzie (Katherine Garrison Geary), Audrey Christie (Mrs. Willebrandt), Fay Baker (Alice Garrison Courtney), Jim Backus (Jim Cleary)
by Jeff Stafford
Bogart by A.M. Sperber and Eric Lax (William Morrow)
The Complete Films of Humphrey Bogart by Clifford McCarty (Citadel Press)