Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Dispatch from Reuters

I think I have a new favorite classic film sub-genre: biographical films starring Edward G. Robinson. Yesterday I saw A Dispatch from Reuters, the story of Paul Julius Reuter and how he started the famous news wire service with some passenger pigeons. I'm beginning to think I love Eddie G. in these kinds of roles more than the gangster films. Although Johnny Rocco is hard to top. 

The real Julius Reuter, also
well known for his sideburns.

Like another Eddie G. biopic I love, Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet, Robinson here plays a character completely unlike any of his gangsters: an industrious, hard working man who wants to speed up the dissemination of news not for any profit, but because "the news belongs to everyone." He starts out providing stock prices via carrier pigeons, and just to be as fair as possible, he locks the subscribers in the room while he reads the prices, and then lets them out all at once so no one has an advantage over anyone else. This leads to some hijinks where one banker tries to cheat by tossing the prices out the window to his office boy; Reuter notices this and next time, gives the wrong prices and doesn't correct himself until he sees the office boy run away.

The story reaches its climax when Reuter is the first, by over 7 hours (because he has built his own telegraph line from Ireland to England), to get the news of Lincoln's assassination. He won't hold it back, not even to save his best friend from losing a bundle in the stock market. The news starts a panic, but when no other source can confirm it, the brokers decide Reuter made it up to crash the market, and that leads to a session of Parliament where the members argue about whether Reuter can or should be punished. Right when it gets the most tense, however, a messenger comes in with the news that Lincoln has, in fact, been murdered. All the MPs have egg on their faces, but they do apologize to Reuter, and the movies ends on this great triumph.

Sadly, Robinson did not grow
similar sideburns for the movie.
One person I felt was kind of unnecessary to the film was Eddie Albert, who plays Reuter's friend Max. They're in business together from the start (back in the days when the local village children call Reuter "the pigeon fool" and throw rocks at him), but Max is lazy and irresponsible, at one point letting all the pigeons get away. He does provide contrast by making Reuter/Robinson look all that more industrious, but I don't think he brought much else to the film, and Reuter looks hardworking enough on his own.

As always at Warner Bros, there is all kind of character actor goodness to be found in this film, including Otto Kruger (Reuter's father-in-law), Albert Basserman (Reuter's partner Geller), Nigel Bruce (Sir Randolph), Montagu Love (John Delane, head of The Times), and Gene Lockhart (Bauer the banker).


Sam [also known as Harry] said...

I've actually been unable to understand why Edie Albert was in most of the vehicles in which he played. I never really warmed up to him--not even in "Green Acres"...

He was, however, in one of my favorite TV shows as a child, the "Cry of Silence" episode of The Outer Limits. Creepy.....

Jennifer M. said...

I can usually take or leave him, but for most of this movie I wanted to punch his character in the face.