Newspaper man Mark Chapman (Broderick Crawford) has taken over the once respectable newspaper the New York Express and has turned it into a scandalous tabloid. He makes no apologies for his unethical decisions as circulation continues to rise under his watch.
Star reporter Steve McClearly (John Derek) is willing to go after the sensational stories Chapman wants, while feature writer Julie Allison (Donna Reed) is disgusted with the low and exploitative stories that are now the Express’ daily headlines.
Chapman finds himself the center of an exposé when his former wife, whom he left years ago, discovers this new identity he has created for himself as this important newspaper man. Chapman accidentally kills her and her murder becomes McClearly’s newest investigation. Finding the murderer of this woman would really be a great story!
As more and more clues begin to point to Chapman, he does whatever he can to avoid his secret from being discovered and steer his reporters in the wrong direction away from him.
Scandal Sheet opens with Derek unmercifully interviewing a victim of a crime. As she pours her heart out to him thinking he’s a cop, he takes his notes, photographer Harry Morgan snaps a photo of this distraught woman and excuses himself, then informing the woman she can talk with the police now. We learn immediately what unethical actions this tabloid paper will do to get a juicy scoop.
Derek is so trusting and admiring of his boss it almost becomes annoying. The guy doesn’t seem to have any backbone or thoughts of his own. It works in the context of the story, but it would have been nice to make him appear to have something of his own personality. I didn’t think Derek was much of a presence in the film. He’s a very bland hero.
Reed looks as adorable as ever. She’s the more optimistic and honorable reporter and tries to be the conscious for Derek. She also doesn’t really get to do much in this. It’s kind of a thankless role.
It’s really Broderick Crawford who looms large in Scandal Sheet and makes the movie so engaging.
As clues come to light about his dirty deed and more and more things point to him, he tries his best to cover his tracks, and hopefully maneuver everyone in a different direction. He sets out to plug this leaky dam as hole after hole starts popping.
He avoids some close calls, but at a certain point his guilt looks like an unavoidable thing that will come out. He tries to maintain his cool, even as he desperately tries to act as casual as possible as he tries to figure out how to lead things away from him.
This kind of turns into the similar plot of The Big Clock, where a man is tasked with solving a murder when he’s actually the guilty one. It’s only with a lot of creative scheming that he attempts to avoid detection and hope that he’s not found out.
This murder Crawford commits is both a blessing and a curse. The story is great for the circulation of his paper, but there’s that little thing about him being found out and finding himself on the front page of his own rag as the killer.
Crawford is incredibly subtle in the ways he’s tries to steer Derek and Reed away from discovering his identity. He never really downright loses his cool or raises eyebrows with his actions. He doesn’t completely reject Derek’s investigation or suggestions. In some instances, he seems to just bank on hope that he won’t be identified by a witness and almost seems willing to accept if he gets found out around this turn then so be it.
I think Scandal Sheet could have been just a run-of-the-mill B-movie noir, but it’s Crawford’s performance as the editor-in-chief/murderer that elevates it into a satisfying yarn.
I couldn’t find the trailer for Scandal Sheet, but here’s a clip when the heat starts up on Crawford and his dirty deed.
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