HEADLINE SHOOTER (1933)
This film is the kind of discovery that us B-movie fans live for, a short, low-budget movie with no big-name stars that is as enjoyable (given the constraints of the genre) as any good A-film. It opens with what seems to be a bedroom seduction scene: we see a rumpled bed and hear a girl deciding she doesn't want to go through with something after all, though the man keeps trying to talk her into it. As the camera pans back, we see photographer William Gargan (at right) trying to get a beauty queen contestant, Miss Grand Rapids, to pose for a cheesecake shot, eating Crocker's Crackers in bed. Soon, Gargan, a newsreel cameraman for Phototone, is on the streets taking footage of the aftermath of an earthquake. Reporter Frances Dee catches him cheating by re-creating the rescue of a child from a building, but soon the three are busy dodging aftershocks and looking for more human-interest stories—she’s a "sob sister" who writes tear-jerking features. Gargan flirts with Dee, but admits that when it comes to romance, he's a "hit and run driver." He treats his buddy Wallace Ford better: Ford works for a rival company, but he's also married and an alcoholic, and once in a while, Gargan has to save his ass when he screws up a shot.
During a major fire, Ford is killed when a wall falls on him. Dee then announces she's leaving the biz and going back home to Riverport to marry her fiancé (Ralph Bellamy). When floods threaten Riverport, Gargan heads out for to get a story (and the girl, he hopes). Bellamy gives Gargan the tip that the floods were due to bad concrete used deliberately by corrupt officials in the building of the levee, and the three of them face intimidation to get the story. Dee tries one more time to quit, but she gets wrapped up in one more story involving a gangster moll's deathbed confession and winds up kidnapped. Will Gargan be able to save her? And will Bellamy lose the girl?
What I liked about this: a fast pace, a fair amount of action, likeable characters, good but not overpowering use of humor (the opening scene, the look on Dee's face as she tries to resist that last story, a cameo by Robert Benchley as a radio reporter at the beauty contest), fine performances all around, from Gargan and Dee—who work together well—to Jack LaRue in the small role of a gangster pal of Gargan's. Like many B-films, it’s a bit overplotted—Ford's story seems especially superfluous, though he's very good—but it never feels confusing or threatens to spin out of control. Real footage of the 1933 Long Beach earthquake and other disasters adds a note of realism. The last part plays out a bit like HIS GIRL FRIDAY. William Gargan is one of my favorite B-actors and this may be his best performance. A minor-key joy. [TCM]