Honor of the Press (1932)

US / 61 minutes / bw / Fanchon Royer, Mayfair Dir: Breezy Eason Pr: George W. Weeks Scr: John Thomas Neville Story: M.L. Simmons, J.K. Foster Cine: Ernest Miller Cast: Edward J. Nugent, Rita La Roy, Wheeler Oakman, Dorothy Gulliver, Russell Simpson, John Ince, Reginald Simpson, Franklin Parker, Franklyn Farnum, Vivian Fields, Charles K. French.

The investigative crime journalist and the busy newsroom were to become staples of noir—often with the lonelyhearts columnist as love interest and the crooked or at least “pragmatic” owner as antagonist—so this movie serves as an interesting prototype. Here the lonelyhearts columnist is more vamp than sweetheart, but otherwise the formula’s faithful.

Daniel H. “Danny” Greely (Nugent) comes from the rural Wattlesville Echo to talk himself into a job at the Metropolitan Clarion in East Orange, NJ. That city has been plagued by the thieving and murdering gang run by the so-called Gold Baron. The Clarion‘s reporter Larry Grayson (Simpson) seems to be following the Gold Baron Gang’s activities far more closely than the cops are able to, a fact that the Clarion‘s relatively new owner, Roger Bradley (Oakman), is using to lambast Police Commissioner Drake (Ince), whose inquiries are getting nowhere.

At a society ball that Danny’s been designated to attend with Clarion agony aunt Daisy Tellem (La Roy), he’s taking the chance to canoodle in the cloakroom with his hatcheck-girl sweetheart June Bonner (Gulliver) when the Gold Baron Gang descends; even though he phones in his story from the site, Grayson somehow beats him to it. Even before we see Bradley setting up a hit on Danny, it’s become fairly plain to us that he’s the Gold Baron; he’s using his own daily Golden Nuggets front-page box to send coded messages to his gang. Bradley’s longer-term plan is to buy up the only other local newspaper, the Herald, so that, through entirely controlling the “news” fed to the folk of East Orange, he can make the city his own. (Viewed 80 years later, as the Koch Brothers aim to buy up a major newspaper chain for an exactly similar purpose, this aspect of the movie seems spookily prescient.)

The movie’s no classic, but it holds the attention and raises (even if only halfheartedly) a few interesting questions—some of them mouthed by Danny’s immediate boss, Clarion City Editor Dan “Perk” Perkins (Simpson, who does this part well), an old-style newsman who scoffs at Bradley’s boasts of having made the Clarion hugely more profitable at the price of the paper’s honor. Like most protonoirs, this is stuck with a gratuitous comedy-relief scene. This one, though, is actually quite funny. Danny visits the Clarion‘s photographer, Sorrell “Sorry” Simpson (Parker), who has apparently just invented the telephoto lens; this is glossed over as a piece of wacky crankdom. Danny persuades Sorry to do a publicity shot of girlfriend June, who has the prettiest face; Sorry’s response is that “Nobody ever sees a face in leg art.”

It’s tempting to think that the “H.” in Danny’s name might stand for “Horace”; on the other hand, had the scripters intended such a witty little reference they’d have spelled Danny’s surname “Greeley” rather than “Greely” . . . would they not?

On Amazon.com: Honor of the Press and Honor of the Press