The Story on Page One
Cast & Crew
When Victor Santini, an undistinguished attorney, is approached by Mrs. Annie Brown to defend her daughter, Jo Morris, against the charge of murdering her husband, he demurs because Mrs. Brown lacks the money to launch an effective defense. Mrs. Brown's fervor finally convinces Santini to take the case, and he agrees to meet with Jo. In their interview, Jo recounts the events leading up to her husband Mike's death: One night, Mike, an abusive, drunk, threatens their little daughter Avis before leaving for work as a police detective. Jo has sought refuge from her loveless marriage in the arms of widowed accountant Larry Ellis, but has broken off their relationship out of guilt. When Mrs. Brown learns that Larry has asked Jo to leave Mike and marry him, she urges her daughter to reconcile with her lover. Jo then phones Larry and, upon discovering that his beloved young son was killed in an automobile accident, hurries to his side to console him. Soon after, Mike arranges for Lauber, an insurance agent, to come to the house to discuss a new life insurance policy. There, Mike maliciously tells Lauber that Jo wants him to take out a large chunk of insurance, but after Lauber leaves, Mike admits that he is going deaf and fears losing his job as a police officer. One day, while Larry is out of town on business, his domineering mother visits Jo and threatens to expose her "sordid affair" to her husband unless she stops seeing Larry. Upset, Jo phones Larry, who is in Sacramento working on the accounts of his old friend Morrie Goetz, and tells him of his mother's threat. Larry immediately flies to Los Angeles to comfort Jo, arriving at her house late that night. Overhearing whispering in the kitchen, the drunken Mike bursts in, pistol in hand, and fires at Larry. Larry struggles with Mike in self-defense, and the weapon goes off, killing Mike. When Jo concludes her story, Santini voices doubts because she initially lied to the police that Mike was killed by a prowler. It was only after Larry's cufflink was found on the kitchen floor that the police traced him to Sacramento, after which Larry lied that he had been confined to his bed, sick, at the time of the murder. Santini is mystified why the lovers seem to be protecting each other rather than themselves. At the trial, Phil Stanley, the cruel, condescending prosecuting attorney, calls Lauber to the stand and makes it seem as though Jo was eager to claim Mike's insurance policy. Under cross-examination, however, Santini gets Lauber to admit that Jo was not the least bit interested in her husband's insurance. Stanley next questions Goetz about Larry's obvious lie that he was in Sacramento on the night of the murder. Santini then counters that Larry was only trying to hide the trip from his domineering mother, and was not attempting to establish an alibi for murder. After Stanley calls Jo's character into question, Santini asks her to take the stand where, after testifying about the abusive nature of her husband, she admits that she had only one sexual encounter with Larry throughout their entire relationship. On cross-examination, Stanley tries to paint Jo as an adulterous, money-hungry wife, causing her to break down in tears. The next day, Larry is called to testify, and Stanley accuses him of premeditated murder and suggests that he flew back to Sacramento on the night of the murder solely to establish an alibi. After court recesses for the weekend, Santini, concerned about Jo's defense, confers with Judge Carey, the elderly, ineffectual attorney hired by Mrs. Ellis to defend her son. Santini asks Carey's cooperation in depicting Mrs. Ellis as a hateful woman who could drive her son to lie in order to hide his trip to Los Angeles. The next day, Santini calls Mrs. Ellis to the stand and then establishes the pattern of control that she exercised in every aspect of Larry's life, from his education to the path of his career and even the choice of his first wife. Santini then discloses that Mrs. Ellis hired a private detective to spy on her son and then threatened to fly to Sacramento to intimidate him into giving up Jo. In his summation, Santini makes an eloquent plea on Jo's behalf, while Stanley argues that this was clearly a case of premeditated murder. As they tensely await the verdict, Larry finally screws up the courage to stand up to his mother, who retaliates by calling him a murderer. After the jury judges them both innocent, Larry and Jo join hands and leave the courtroom together.
G. W. Berntsen
James Wong Howe
Harry M. Leonard
Edward B. Powell
Walter M. Scott
Lyle R. Wheeler
The Story on Page One
Rita Hayworth plays Jo Morris, a discontented wife and mother whose husband, Mike (Alfred Ryder), is a Los Angeles cop with a belligerent manner and a loud mouth. Gig Young plays Larry Ellis, a mild-mannered widower whose friendship and affection give Jo welcome relief from the tensions surrounding her at home. Jo and Larry sleep together only once, but the film's big turning point takes place when Larry's scheming, moralistic mother finds out about the mostly platonic affair and confronts Jo, threatening to tell Mike what she's been up to. Larry rushes to Jo's house to comfort her, but Mike hears them talking about the situation and rushes into the room with gun in hand. The gun goes off in the resulting struggle and kills Mike, whereupon both Jo and Larry are arrested for homicide. Anthony Franciosa plays Victor Santini, a young lawyer who takes on their case after an emotional appeal by Jo's mother overcomes his initial resistance to what seems an extremely difficult assignment.
The most effective scenes in The Story on Page One unfold during the long courtroom scenes that dominate the second half, building considerable suspense about the fates of the two defendants. Flashbacks reveal the backstory of their discontented lives, their brief love affair, and the killing that landed them in jail. The verdict arrives in the last moments of the picture, by which time viewers have had plenty of time to decide how they'd decide the case if they were in the jury box.
The Story on Page One is the second of two movies directed by Odets, one of the most respected playwrights of the twentieth century. He rose to fame in the 1930s as a founding member of the Group Theatre, a troupe known for the sort of earnest political convictions that Odets expressed in plays like the 1935 productions Awake and Sing! and Waiting for Lefty, which focus on social and economic challenges facing working-class characters in the Depression era. The Story on Page One is stronger on domestic drama than political argument, but it makes telling points about the power of money in the American legal system, as well as the difficulty of winning a case unless you're fortunate enough to have first-rate lawyering on your side. Odets's steady concern with the everyday psychological problems of ordinary people also stands out, especially in scenes contrasting the influence of two very different mothers--the controlling, sanctimonious Mrs. Ellis (Mildred Dunnock) and the quietly resilient Mrs. Brown (Katherine Squire)--on the lives of their grownup offspring.
Odets worked on screenplays for various directors during the Hollywood stage of his career, and other writers penned screen adaptations of some of his plays, as was the case with Ruben Mamoulian's excellent Golden Boy in 1939. Like many filmmakers, he saw directing as the industry's most "interesting and stimulating" job, and it was also a way of preventing unwanted changes to his scripts. He made his directorial debut with None But the Lonely Heart, a 1944 melodrama starring Cary Grant as an errant young man and Ethel Barrymore as his aging mother. He then started writing The Story on Page One, which began as an eight-scene play called The Murder Story and eventually reached theaters under its new title in 1959.
Sitting in the director's chair helped Odets see his screenplay for The Story on Page One from a new perspective, and he made a number of changes when the production was before the camera, not always taking care to prevent continuity mistakes and odd gaps and slippages in the plot. At the beginning, for instance, Santini refuses to represent the defendants on the seemingly impossible case, but a few minutes later he's hard at work on their behalf without a word of explanation. There are even two moments when the same actor plays a witness in the box and a spectator watching the witness from the other side of the courtroom! "In tightening his screenplay directorially," Gene Ringgold wrote in The Films of Rita Hayworth, "Odets left loose story ends dangling which, as a writer, he should have resolved." Spotting these loose ends is part of the fun for viewers watching the picture today.
The best asset of The Story on Page One is the acting, especially by Hayworth, who is seasoned and mature enough to make Jo a believable and sympathetic figure, and by Young, who's equally sympathetic, if a bit more conspicuously dapper than his character needs to be. Mildred Dunnock is also excellent as Mrs. Ellis, the control freak described by Saturday Review critic Hollis Alpert as "an octopus in a genteel mother's clothing." The one miscalculation in the cast is Franciosa, whose tough-talking brusqueness doesn't entirely suit the outgoing young lawyer he plays. James Wong Howe did the atmospheric camerawork, making solid use of the black-and-white CinemaScope format, and Elmer Bernstein composed the score.
Reviews of The Story on Page One were less than enthusiastic, with Alpert complaining of "laborious flashbacks and fairly crude characterisations" and The New York Times critic Bosley Crowther lauding the "well-balanced cast" but dismissing the story's subject as a "low-grade domestic homicide, without any particular imagination or suspense." Perhaps the most insightful comment came from the critic at Time, who opined that moviegoers "will readily understand that the lovers are not really being tried for murder but for adultery, that the jury is not on the screen but in front of it, and that the camera is fighting for the lovers just as hard" as the lawyer defending them. As that comment suggests, The Story on Page One is both a courtroom picture and a psychological drama sparked by a romantic triangle gone tragically awry.
Director: Clifford Odets
Producer: Jerry Wald
Screenplay: Clifford Odets
Cinematographer: James Wong Howe
Film Editing: Hugh S. Fowler
Art Direction: Howard Richmond, Lyle R. Wheeler
Music: Elmer Bernstein
With: Rita Hayworth (Jo Morris), Anthony Franciosa (Victor Santini), Gig Young (Larry Ellis), Mildred Dunnock (Mrs. Ellis), Hugh Griffith (Judge Edgar Neilsen), Sanford Meisner (Phil Stanley), Robert Burton (District Attorney Nordeau), Alfred Ryder (Lt. Mike Morris), Katherine Squire (Mrs. Brown), Raymond Greenleaf (Judge Carey), Myrna Fahey (Alice), Leo Penn (Morrie Goetz), Sheridan Comerate (Ofcr. Francis Morris)
by David Sterritt
The Story on Page One
According to a November 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item, the film's title was temporarily changed to A Question of Morality. A May 1959 Daily Variety news item announced that Marilyn Monroe was to star in the picture. Studio publicity contained in the film's production file at the AMPAS Library notes that some location shooting was done at the Los Angeles Hall of Justice.
Released in United States Winter January 1960
Second film directed by playwright Clifford Odets; the first was "None But the Lonely Heart"(1944).
Released in United States Winter January 1960