Hot off the presses: Unethical reporters in classic films

A man is killed and sent C.O.D. to a Hollywood actress.

Rather than call the police, the actress calls her reporter friend to help her out.

The reporter investigates the case like he’s a detective.

He sneaks in houses searching for clues and finds jewels that can be used as evidence. The reporter then puts the diamonds in an ice cube tray to hide them from police.

Reporter George Brent investigates a murder in "A Corpse Came C.O.D."

Reporter George Brent investigates a murder in “The Corpse Came C.O.D.”

As these events occurred in “The Corpse Came C.O.D.” (1947) starring George Brent and Joan Blondell, my dad turns to me and asks, “I hope you don’t do these things at work.”

Later when Brent gets in a fist fight with a bad guy my dad asks, “Is there anyone at the Star that would be able to do that?”

As a reporter who loves classic movies, I go out of my way to watch films where the hero plays a reporter.

However, if I researched my stories using the same methods that reporters used in films, I would most likely get fired.

Glenda Farrell stars as Torchy Blane, a troublesome and wise-cracking reporter in 1930s films. Blane comically gets her information by hiding in trashcans and bugging rooms, techniques not used by contemporary reporters.

Glenda Farrell stars as Torchy Blane, a troublesome and wise-cracking reporter in 1930s films. Blane comically gets her information by hiding in trashcans and bugging rooms, techniques not used by contemporary reporters.

In classic films, reporters are often solving crimes like a police officer and often receive information by unethical means. At the Shelby Star, we do a lot of research on our stories, but I doubt we will ever solve a crime.

In the 1930s Torchy Blane film series, Torchy is constantly at odds with her detective boyfriend Steve McBride for being where she shouldn’t be.

The nine films follow the wise-cracking female reporter, played by Glenda Farrell, Lola Lane and Jane Wyman.

Torchy can be seen eavesdropping, bugging rooms, hiding in trash cans and following bad guys to get the scoop on a story.

If I hid in a trashcan to find out the latest secrets of Cleveland County, North Carolina, not only would that be breaking media laws, I would also smell pretty bad.

John Qualen hides in a desk in "His Girl Friday."

John Qualen hides in a desk in “His Girl Friday.”

In “His Girl Friday” (1940), reporter Hildy Johnson, played by Rosalind Russell, hides an accused murdered in her rolltop desk to get the scoop on a story. Unfortunately, I don’t have a rolltop desk at work, but even if I did, I’m not sure how the sheriff would feel if I stored suspects in my desk.

In another George Brent film “You Can’t Escape Forever” (1942), managing editor, Brent will get hunches by tugging on his ear like he’s communicating with somebody via Morse code.

Then Brent will come up with a fantastic hunch that he will print in the paper, which usually ends up being true.

If reporters worked solely on hunches without fact checking, the paper would be full of corrections that had to be run, rather than news stories.

In “The Philadelphia Story” (1940) reporters James Stewart and Ruth Hussey pose as family friends at the wedding of Katharine Hepburn. The two are tabloid writers there to get information on the story.

Getting information under false pretenses is unethical by today’s standards and would most likely leave you with a lawsuit.

Though there are several comedic representations of newspapers, there are films that represent journalism in a truer light, such as “The Story of G.I. Joe” (1945) about war journalist Ernie Pyle or “Citizen Kane” (1940) about the power of journalism.

Robert Mitchum and Burgess Meredith (as Ernie Pyle) in World War II film "The Story of G.I. Joe" about reporting on the front lines.

Robert Mitchum and Burgess Meredith (as Ernie Pyle) in World War II film “The Story of G.I. Joe” about reporting on the front lines.

As someone who works in newspapers, I don’t take offense to the unethical journalism in the 1930s and 1940s films, because I know most of it is there for comedic relief.

It doesn’t make me stop watching the films; you just have to take it all with a grain of salt, as you would with any movie.

Clearly newspapers have changed a great deal from the 1930s to today.  However, it does make me wonder how media laws and ethics have changed in the past 75 years.

So for my father: No dad, we don’t do any of that at the Star.

This is part of the Breaking News: Journalism in Classic Films blogathon co-hosted by myself and Lindsay at Lindsay’s Movie Musings. Read all of the wonderful contributions here! 

MBDCIKA EC019

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An education from “The Philadelphia Story”

The Philadelphia Story” taught me what a hangover was when I was nine.

And who knew what yare meant before Katharine Hepburn used the word?

My fourth grade education was enhanced when I learned the meaning of those words the first time I saw “The Philadelphia Story” (1940) in 1998.

Katharine Hepburn as Tracy Lord with too many men after her

Katharine Hepburn as Tracy Lord with too many men after her

My dad was out of town one summer evening and my mother, sister and I picked a movie to watch. We loved it.

“Why did she shield her eyes from the sun like that?” I asked my mom. She explained the consequences people face the next morning after drinking too much.

For years after, I even tried to imitate Hepburn’s silly little laugh she does in the film.

I had forgotten not only about my new vocabulary words the first time I saw the film but many of the charming scenes in “The Philadelphia Story” until I saw it last night for the first time on the big screen.

Moonlight Movies at Falls Park in Greenville, SC

Moonlight Movies at Falls Park in Greenville, SC

I drove an hour to my hometown of Greenville, SC where outdoor classic films are shown every week in May at the Reedy River Falls Park.

Classic film screenings are a treat for me. Where I live, viewing movies on the big screen is rare.

It had been several years since I had seen this movie. Though I knew it was good- boasting a cast of Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, James Stewart, Ruth Hussey, Virginia Weidler and Roland Young-I forgot how wonderful it really was.

The leads are perfect in nearly every film but Virginia Weidler steals the show.

On paper, the film sound dizzy: A divorced woman is remarrying, the ex-husband pops back in the picture and then a reporter-who already has a girlfriend-becomes a potential romantic partner. It’s a love pentagon.

But somehow the story works when it’s acted out.

The only time it doesn’t work is in the horrible Grace Kelly remake, “High Society.”

The script of The Philadelphia Story was written specifically for Katharine Hepburn who originated the role on Broadway and reprised her role as Tracy Lord on screen. The film helped rid Hepburn of her box office poison status. 

Katharine Hepburn with Van Heflin in the stage version of The Philadelphia story

Katharine Hepburn with Van Heflin in the stage version of The Philadelphia story

In the play, Joseph Cotten played C. K. Dexter Haven (played by Cary Grant in the film version) and Macaulay Connor was played by Van Heflin (played by James Stewart). While watching the movie last night I couldn’t help picture those two performing those roles.

I have only been to one other Moonlight Movie series in Greenville back in 2011 to see Strangers on a Train. It wasn’t a pleasant experience due to people talking and continuously getting up and down during the film.

However, last night was much more relaxing and everyone was respectful of the movie.

The only disappointing thing is no one applauded when the film started or when actors entered their first scene like at the Turner Classic Film Festival, however I heard several people around me say they had never seen the movie again.

Revisiting “The Philadelphia Story” was fun and I reminded me how great a movie it was. I’m discovering seeing movies on the big screen is a very special experience.

After all-they were made to be seen that way.

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