Sunday, September 15, 2013

PICTURE SNATCHER: CAGNEY TURNS YELLOW! (yellow journalism, that is)

This post is part of the Journalism is Classic Film Blogathon hosted by Comet Over Hollywood and Lindsay's Movie Musings.
Picture Snatcher Job Description
There's good, classic journalism, there's hard-hitting journalism, and then there is that old favorite of the masses, yellow journalism. Dating back to the late 19th century and a feud between the Hearst and Pulitzer New York newspapers, yellow journalism generally is defined by a sleazy and sensationalized approach to its topic - a perfect theme for a Warner Brothers quickie starring that pre-code prince of amorality, James Cagney.
Cagney practices his technique
In this 1933 goodie, Jimmy plays Danny Kean, a gangster (naturally) who harbors a secret desire to be a newspaper reporter. Once he completes the obligatory detention in the clink, Danny turns over the "business" to Jerry the Mug (the dirty dog who set him up) and decides to go  - if not straight - at least not quite so crooked.
Ralph Bellamy as Al - yellow stains are not just from tobacco
He calls on old pal Al McLean, the editor of the bright yellow Graphic News. Now, Al is a broken down has-been who once offered Danny a job, never thinking the kid would ever take him up on it. But here's Danny, ready and eager like a pit bull puppy. Al is played by Ralph Bellamy, who does a wonderful job as the alcoholic newsman who has fallen about as low as he can go. Danny proves his spunk by using unethical means to get a prized photo of a fireman who, having found his wife and lover dead from a fire, was refusing to come out of his smoldering home.

Danny, with his questionable ethics, fits right in at the Graphic News. When a group of journalism students show up for a tour, Danny imparts all of his journalistic wisdom while making goo-goo eyes at one of the academic cuties (Patricia Ellis as Pat). He describes his job as tracking down the saps who don't want their pictures in the papers. When asked which was his toughest subject, he answered "the Governor." Why? He had to ask his pardon.

Professor Cagney and his students
Shouldn't someone have fired the teacher that sent those kids to the Graphic News rather than the New York Times? Just askin'.....

Naturally, Danny falls for the classy Pat and naturally her father is the police officer who sent Danny to the slammer in the first place. Danny fixes that little dilemma by getting another newspaper to run a glowing story about the protective father. In fact, the story is so influential, the officer is promoted and grateful to Danny. There's also a nice little side story with snazzy Alice White as Allison, a copy writer who romances Al and runs after Danny.
Alice White wants to collaborate with Cagney
Things come to a head when a big story erupts - a woman is to be executed in the electric chair at Sing Sing - and the Graphic News staff, because of the paper's low reputation, is not invited. Danny goes so far as to steal an invitation from another reporter which proves to be useless. But, surprise! Pat's dad is in charge of invited guests! He sneaks Danny in and all who view the execution are reminded that no photos are allowed. Danny, who never met a rule he couldn't bend or break, has secretly strapped a camera to his leg and snaps a picture of the execution.
Ready for a close-up
Danny becomes the scourge of journalism and is chased by a hoard of angry and outraged pressmen. Handing Al the prize photo, the Graphic News lives down to its reputation as the sleaziest tabloid in town. The publication of the photo leads to Pat's dad's demotion, so naturally Pat gives Danny the heave-ho.
The sensational photo
Danny, who has been drowning his sorrow with some hooch, also ticks off fellow alcoholic Al when he sees faithless Allison making the moves on Danny (who is not interested). But Al soon catches on to Allison's faithless ways and quits her, the booze and the Graphic News. But, alls well that ends well. Danny and Al get the scoop on Danny's old partner, Jerry the Mug. This leads to their employment at a real, legitimate newspaper, the Daily Record. Just to make things sweeter, good old dopey dad gets reinstated and Pat and Danny are reunited. Yay!
Cagney gets the job and the girl
All this in 77 minutes (and filmed in 15 days)! This neat and snappy little film is a true example of the Warner Brothers ripped-from-the headlines school of film and is based upon a real life picture snatcher who smuggled a camera strapped to his leg into the execution of murderess Ruth Snyder. The resulting photo was subsequently and sensationally published on the front page of the New York Daily News. For anyone who lives in New York, they can attest that the Daily News has much, still, in common with the Graphic News!

The real execution photo
For more on the Ruth Snyder story, click here.

"Picture Snatcher" is a Warner Brothers and Cagney pre-code home run with lots of fast and funny dialogue. Cagney is a joy and totally in his element as the toughie who knows that all newspaper is eventually good for is wrapping herring.

20 comments:

Patti said...

Great article, Flick, and a terrific addition to the blogathon.

I did a re-watch of this film 3 or 4 weeks ago. Such a wonderful film, and James Cagney is positively brilliant (as always). I love that man.

Caftan Woman said...

The pace of those 30s Warner's flicks can leave the viewer breathless. Where did the actors and crew find the energy? Cagney was tailor made for that studio. Great look at "Picture Snatcher".

ClassicBecky said...

I left a bit of a snappy retort on your facebook page about this pic ... I saw this movie a while back and loved it! "Cagney Turns Yellow" is a great play on words for this one. Don't you just love the way old Hollywood was able to put out a really good movie for almost no money, in a short time, with good scripts, a timely story and wonderful cast. Movies in our time could sure take a lesson from it. I find myself seeing movies all the time now and leaving the theatre saying "This would have been a good movie if they would have edited it and taken out about 30 minutes." Great article, Chick.

Silver Screenings said...

15 days? Wow! That is amazing.

Sounds like a great film - one that I'd love. What a great cast too!

Thanks for reviewing. I'm adding this to my enormous must-see list.

Judy said...

Must agree that this movie is incredibly fast-moving and great to watch - I love it when Cagney says "Stop me if I'm talking too fast"! Also agree with you that Ralph Bellamy does a great job in his role as the drunken news editor. Great article!

FlickChick said...

Thank you, Patti. I agree that Cagney is at the top of his game here.

FlickChick said...

CW - so true! Cagney and Warners, for all their love-hate stuff, were a perfect fit.

FlickChick said...

Becky! Ha ha - I saw that little comment and I said to myself "just wait until she sees what I mean!" Sadly, the days of quick and great are done. I don't think those folks ever knew how really this stuff was. It was a magical moment in movie history.

FlickChick said...

Silver Screenings - I know you'll love it- how could you not??

FlickChick said...

Thanks, Judy - and yes, it was so nice to see Bellamy in a good, intelligent part. And Alice White was quite a snappy little cutie. The only blah part was Patricia Ellis. She was pretty, but bland. Cagney rarely got a leading lady of equal spunk (Joan Blondell & Ann Sheridan being the 2 exceptions).

Danny said...

This is definitely one of my favorite discoveries as I'm working through the films of the early 30s. It's really caustic, but Cagney gives everything a light, playful touch. Great review-- thanks!

DorianTB said...

Still chuckling over "CAGNEY TURNS YELLOW,", Chick! We need more smart, swift, snappy movies like PICTURE SNATCHER, especially with James Cagney in the lead! This was a terrific choice for the Journalism in Classic Film Blogathon!

girlsdofilm said...

15 days? They really DON'T make 'em like they used to! Thanks for this review which was as well paced as the film itself. Cagney is one of my all-time faves, I love your title.
Thanks for sharing!

angelnumber25 said...

Great review! I couldn't believe they packed this all in to a movie that was just over an hour long! I love how it's got that 1930s Warner Brothers touch with Cagney being a gangster-turned reporter. Thanks so much for joining us for the blogathon!

Best,
Lindsay

FlickChick said...

Danny- thanks so much for the kind words. Cagney always had such a light touch that even murder and mayhem seemed fun!

FlickChick said...

Dorian - if only we had more films like this today! Everything takes 2 hours or more. Nobody seems to know how to tell a story quickly and efficiently.

FlickChick said...

Girls - thanks for stopping by-so glad you liked it.

FlickChick said...

Lindsay- thanks for the kind words and for o-hosting this fun event! Lots of great articles.

said...

Great post! Ralph Bellamy deserves to receive more attention, he's a great supporting actor. And the yellow press (a term we also have in Brazil) is a good subject for films.
I'm planning a crazy post involving James Cagney next week...
Kisses!

FlickChick said...

Thank you, Le - and looking forward to your Cagney post!