Samuel Fuller’s Belle Époque, etched lovingly in "blood and ink." Gutenberg and Benjamin Franklin are the presiding deities in 1880s New York, brass effigies wobbling on their pedestals while newshounds scuttle and collide in the streets below. (The high-angled camera travels over a cobblestone boulevard to enter the saloon, and then executes a pair of rapid lateral pans across the crowded counter just to blow out any remaining bits of period-piece dust.) The main newspaper’s pursuit of the almighty headline has cost innocent lives, the gruffly principled journalist (Gene Evans) accuses it of "contempt by publication" and sets out to found his own daily. The elderly writer (Herbert Hayes), the cartoonist who can sketch on beer foam (Neyle Morrow), the typesetter who can’t read (Don Orlando) and the shoeshine tyke (Dee Pollock), everybody watches in awe as a dormant print machine springs to steaming, clanking life. Strolling by to check out the competition, the rival paper’s editor (Mary Welch) readily locks horns with Evans and kicks off a corkscrew courtship: "Pretty as a perfect front page. Still, you remind me of the obituary column." In this heartfelt portrait of the artist as choleric muckraker, Fuller is a stirred engineer keeping an unflagging flow of cracked energy between performers and lenses. The circulation wars are real wars, with explosions and maimed kids, and yet the film bubbles with optimism: In a shoestring set with the Brooklyn Bridge painted on the background, it envisions a communal America of fast-talkers and immigrants, geezers and tots, builders and shake-up visionaries. (And what is the protagonist’s unkempt, butcher paper-printed tabloid if not a boisterously transparent stand-in for independent filmmaking?) "Make it fresh" is here the byword of journalism and cinema alike, a close-up of the warring couple harmonized dissolves to nothing less than Lady Liberty herself. Losey is concurrent with The Lawless, though it’s really with the Twain of Roughing It that Fuller’s spirit lies. Cinematography by Jack Russell. With Bela Kovacs, Tina Pine, George O’Hanlon, J.M. Kerrigan, Forrest Taylor, Dick Elliott, and Stuart Randall. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce