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Film / The Power of the Press

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The bad guy, apprehended

The Power of the Press is a 1928 film directed by Frank Capra, starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Jobyna Ralston, and Mildred Harris.

Clem Rogers (Fairbanks) is a cub reporter at a big-city newspaper. He is green as green can be, writing up weather reports, badgering his editor for real assignments that are not forthcoming. He gets a huge break when the district attorney is murdered on an evening where Clem is the only reporter in the newsroom. Clem makes his way to the crime scene only to spot an attractive woman climbing out of the building. A helpful passerby named Van tells Clem that the woman is Jane Atwill (Ralston), daughter of one of the candidates in a mayoral election that is only two days away. What Clem doesn't know is that Van is a Mook in the employ of Blake, the other candidate for mayor. Blake is a crook and has lots of secrets, including Marie Weston (Harris), his moll, who knows way too much.

The Power of the Press was a step up for Capra, who had started out making comedies with Harry Langdon and would soon go on to bigger and better things. Douglas Fairbanks Jr. was only 18 years old and enjoying one of his first leading roles; he would soon follow in his father's footsteps and become a huge star. Ralston and Harris were both known for their association with silent screen comedians. Harris was Charlie Chaplin's first wife; she'd had a decent acting career that came to a halt with talkies. Ralston is best remembered as Harold Lloyd's leading lady for most of his best films. She left Lloyd's company and made a stab at a career of her own, appearing in this film as well as Wings, but her career also ground to a quick halt with the arrival of talking films.

No connection to the 1943 crime film Power of the Press (note the lack of the definite article).


  • Contrived Coincidence: Clem just happens to run into Van in a public park. Van's suspicious behavior (including reaching for his gun) when Clem greets him leads to Clem following Van, finding out the link to Blake, and unspooling the whole mystery.
  • Da Editor: Clem's is the standard-issue gruff, barking editor. He insults Clem's reporting skills and doesn't give him an assignment until he has no other choice, and he fires Clem when Clem tries to get him to yank the story to be nice to Mary. But he does back up Clem when Clem's rival Bill tries to steal the story.
  • Epic Tracking Shot: A striking tracking shot follows Van to the door of an office. Van opens the door. The camera enters first, and then spins 180 degrees to capture Van again as he enters the office.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: Two days, tops, given that the movie starts with two days before the election and it ends with the election not having happened yet (the paper says Atwill's election is "assured").
  • Flashback: A couple. One flashback illustrates the story that Jane told to the police. Then a second flashback when she's telling Clem includes the detail that she left out when talking to the cops: the folder that the DA passed her.
  • Follow That Car: "Follow that girl!" says Clem to a cabbie when he sees Jane getting away in another cab.
  • Frame-Up: Van tries to pin the murder of the DA on Jane, or at least throw suspicion long enough to tip the election to his boss, Blake.
  • His Name Is...: The mortally wounded DA manages to tell Jane that the folder has evidence against Blake, but doesn't tell her what it is, leaving Jane and Clem to figure that out.
  • I'm Dying, Please Take My MacGuffin: The DA was about to hand over the folder anyway when he got shot. He still manages to hand it to Jane and tell her it has important evidence before croaking.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Trope Maker? Clem goes to great length to get his story, eventually capturing Van and then escaping from all the other mooks before delivering Van to the newsroom.
  • No Name Given: Da Editor never gets one.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: Probably not intentionally so. But the surviving print runs only 63 minutes. Close to the end of the film, Van has the drop on Clem and Marie, pointing a gun at them. There's a sudden blink to a car outside, and then a Jump Cut back to the house—where Van is Bound and Gagged and Marie has the gun. This is almost definitely due to deterioration of the original film negative.
  • Playing Drunk: Clem gets the folder that the DA gave to Jane. He finds Van at a nightclub and pretends to be drunk while letting Van get a look at the folder. Afterwards Clem retrieves the folder, and he and Jane note that the picture of Marie Weston was the one thing that Van took.
  • Police Are Useless: There are cops already at the crime scene, standing by the corpse and guarding the front door, preventing Clem from getting in. But nobody bothers to search the house or post a guard by the back window, which is how Jane is able to climb out and escape.
  • The Rival: Bill, an older, fatter, and more experienced reporter. Bill takes delight in tripping Clem in the office, he tries to steal Clem's story about the DA's murder, and he literally does a dance of joy when Clem is fired and booted out of the newsroom.