The three P’s of American society come under scrutiny in this early feature from Elia Kazan.
The police, the press and politics intertwine in all their incestuous glory as Kazan, working from a script from Richard Murphy based on a magazine article by Fulton Ourslev, examines the nature of justice in the United States of the immediate post-WWII-era. A kindly priest is killed in the opening beats of the film, in broad view of a number of eyewitnesses. With the police unable to crack what is far from the perfect crime, the public respond as one might expect. Pressure is piled upon those in political office, who respond in kind to the officers below them. Above all this stands the ever-inquisitive press, pursuing both truth and scandal in equal measure. As things progress, the three elements of press, police and politics come together, with cause and effect protocol taking hold, and the exposing of the over-reliance that each one has on the other.
But it’s not the first, the second nor the third man in this tale of ‘P’ that stands for morality. That instead lies with a fourth, Prosecution, and the district attorney who both at once is a part of the system and a menace to it, who branches out in search of reality.
Much is made of Kazan’s use of real locations in shooting his picture, with Stamford, Connecticut standing in for the same State’s Bridgeport, and nary a set in sight. This snow-globe air of real Americana is particularly appealing, and actually gives a real sense of that ultimate contradiction to the vérité leanings of the aesthetic design, with the film rendered with a tonal feel of myth. This peculiar amalgamation brings to mind other such small town wonders like Shadow Of A Doubt, Violent Saturday and Bad Day At Black Rock, films that each deal in themes much grander than their surface would suggest.
The film is up for re-evaluation right now thanks to a new Blu-ray edition from Eureka Entertainment’s Masters Of Cinema imprint. The programming team at Masters Of Cinema have shown a keen interest in this particular area of the place of the press within the American cinema of this particular area, having recently released Billy Wilder’s Ace In The Hole, and having rediscovered Sam Fuller’s Park Row for British audiences in 2012 (also of a similar air was Akira Kurosawa’s Scandal, an title released by the stable in their early years). While a number of movies, including the greatest of all, Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, have dealt with the press as a subject matter in the past, it’s this spate of gloomier, more scathing portraits of the act of observation that strike as the most contemporaneously relevant to the now. This in turn interweaves nicely with the act of writing about film too, especially when the modern day theoretical hitching points of credibility and ethics are so keenly under observation.