On Monday, the Pulitzer Prize Board announced its list of nominees and winners in journalism and letters. The reporting winners in particular seemed to strike a particular chord this year – from The Washington Post and The Guardian‘s publication of the Edward Snowden documents to The Boston Globe‘s coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings, it felt like there was something urgently earnest about the Pulitzers this year, a reminder that we can still seek out and find great journalism amidst the media blitz.
I don’t aspire to be as earnest about it, but here at The Best Films of Our Lives we thought we’d do our little part in paying tribute to the golden days of journalism, when “newspaperman” was actually a profession boys and girls might aspire to. For your weekend viewing pleasure, here are some recommendations for great films about those fast-talking, gung-ho hacks of the yellow press.
“His Girl Friday” (1940)
Cast: Rosalind Russell, Cary Grant, Ralph Bellamy, John Qualen, Helen Mack
“His Girl Friday” is in the public domain. Watch it in full on YouTube, stream it for free on Hulu, download it, remix it, go crazy!
This is the ultimate newspapermen movie for newspapermen (and women). With his best reporter (and ex-wife), Hildy (Rosalind Russell) determined to quit the business and get married (to someone else), Walter (Cary Grant), a fast-talking, too smooth editor, has just one evening to win her back personally and professionally. This is screwball comedy at its finest–witty, cruel, sweet, and romantic. Hildy and Walter talk their way in and out of trouble, fall in and out of love, and plumb all kinds of depths (moral or otherwise) to get the best story. Because in the end, if there’s anything Hildy and Walter love more than each other, it’s the story.
“Roman Holiday” (1953)
Cast: Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn, Eddie Albert, Hartley Power
Available streaming on Netflix and Amazon Prime, for rent on Amazon Instant or iTunes
If “His Girl Friday” is about the lengths a reporter will go to for a story, “Roman Holiday” is about the things even greater than the story. Audrey Hepburn makes her acting debut as a young European princess aching for freedom–to dance with the common folk, eat gelato in the sun, and wear pajamas to bed. She runs into Joe (Gregory Peck), and after an argument about Keats and Shelley, accepts his offer for a brief stint of liberation in Rome. Little does she know that Joe is actually a journalist looking to profit from the secret princess–the scoop to end all scoops. From this premise came the role that most suited Hepburn in her long and storied career, as well as Peck’s chance to prove that Cary Grant wasn’t the funniest leading man in town. The city of Rome co-stars in all its wonder, adding irrepressible energy and ancient charm to an endearing, energetic film. But beyond Hepburn’s grace and Peck’s charisma, it is the writing that elevates this film. Dalton Trumbo was never recognized during his lifetime for his Oscar-winning work, having been blacklisted by HUAC, but his dialogue, clever but natural, and the film’s poignant last scene ensure that “Roman Holiday” remains one of the classiest films to date.
“All the President’s Men” (1976)
Cast: Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Jack Warden, Martin Balsam, Hal Holbrook, Jason Robards, Jane Alexander, Meredith Baxter, Ned Beatty
Available to rent from Amazon Instant and iTunes, on disc from Netflix
All those making positive comparisons between “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and the classic conspiracy thrillers of the 1970’s might want to go back and remind themselves what real paranoia looks like. The Watergate scandal, and Woodward and Bernstein’s uncovering of it, has long since passed into the banality of historical myth; and while Alan J. Pakula’s film was, to a large degree, part of crafting that legend, it’s remarkable to revisit it today and see the tangible cloud of fear that hangs over its protagonists’ dogged and desperate search for the truth. The ultimate triumph of an idealistic, skeptical journalism can not totally erase Redford’s sweaty, barely repressed panic, as, alone in a dingy and cavernous parking lot, he is left to ponder whether he’s gotten in over his head – and what the consequences may be if so.