Citizen Kane (1941): Not only were the 1930s and ’40s an exciting time for newspapers, they were an exciting time for newspaper movies. Hollywood loved cranking out pictures about macho, motormouthed journos and editors. A notable exception is The Greatest Film of All Time. The rotten, tragic figure at the center of Orson Welles’ debut is no less than a newspaper publisher who repeatedly abuses his position—a character so transparently inspired by William Randolph Hearst that Hearst wouldn’t allow mention of the film in his papers.
Ace in the Hole (1951): By the ’50s, it was time for the classic image of the noble reporter to be flipped on its head. And the man to do that was Billy Wilder. In his sourest film, which is saying something, Kirk Douglas plays a desperate, amoral reporter who boasts, “I can do big news, small news and if there’s no news I’ll go out and bite a dog.” He’s not kidding: He winds up exploiting a man trapped in a cave-in, dragging the story out until lives are destroyed.
Park Row (1952): Samuel Fuller was a newspaper copyboy at 12 and a crime reporter at 17; unlike Wilder, he believed that journalists could be noble, even if they frequently weren’t. Gene Evans, the cigar-chomping lead of his fifth film as director, is so principled he forms his own paper in 1880s New York, only to run into trouble with a bigger, venal competitor.
Deadline, U.S.A. (1952): Upon discovering that his newspaper will be sold and dissolved, scenery-chewing editor Humphrey Bogart spends his last days on a suicide mission to nail a local mob boss. As with Park Row , the problem is the economic realities faced by honorable journos, a subject relevant to 1952, the 1880s and 2011.
State of Play (2009): Made while newspapers across the country were folding, this condensation of the excellent 2003 British miniseries stresses the importance of newspapers, complete with editor Russell Crowe schooling blogger/new media gamine Rachel McAdams.
Page One: Inside the New York Times (2011): We’re not fucked. Yet.