It doesn’t get much better than this. What’s remarkable about Scandal Sheet is how it ends up so far from where it started; a short movie that successfully transforms itself from a glib, snappy celebration of hype to the extreme psychological tension of film noir entrapment. Broderick Crawford as the editor Chapman can’t possibly have more unscrupulous underlings than the front-running Steve (John Derek) and Biddle (Harry Morgan). Donna Reed, as Julie, anchors these jerks with her steady conscience, while Henry O’Neill’s Charlie is a down-and-out shadow of Chapman’s success. Ironically, it’s Charlie who exposed Chapman’s/Grant’s secret past, and not-so-secret present.
The trigger, so to speak, for the movie’s switch is the appearance of Rosemary De Camp, as Chapman’s very estranged wife Charlotte. As in the best noir set-ups, the past intrudes with a vengeance. Chapman’s life changes suddenly and irrevocably in the scene where Chapman assaults and accidentally kills Charlotte. From then on, Chapman may as well be in hell. By the crude paradox that he’s built his name and fortune on–his tabloid newspaper–he finds himself at the epicenter of Charlotte’s (then Charlie’s) murder. His stalwart star employees are voraciously, but unwittingly investigating him. It’s a great device that the audience knows more than any of the characters; the mystery is how it’s all going to play out.
Chapman is a bad person, but not completely evil. He doesn’t want to kill anybody, but he never thinks before he acts. He does hesitate when he could kill Steve–he admits he likes Steve too much. This small bit of redemption, as honorable as it is, comes much to late. Steve, on the other hand, is flexible and honest enough to believe Julie’s suspicions about the murders, and he also feels guilty about leaving Charlie vulnerable. In a counterpoint to Chapman’s recklessness, Steve becomes his own man through thoughtful action. The denouement in Chapman’s office keeps the temperature steaming until the very end. It’s a bit reminiscent of the ending in Double Indemnity. in that case, it’s the employee Fred McMurray who confesses to his boss, Edward G. Robinson. Both scenes take time, as the details of how the murderers’ jobs baited them with greed is the meat of these stories.
I can’t think of any significant way that Scandal Sheet misses its mark. The dialogue produces plenty of notable quotes; the first part of this drama is as free-wheeling and breezy as the rest is smoldering and intense. Highly recommended for fans of film noir. 10/10.