|Released by Pyramid | Directed by Anton Lorenze
Run time: 65 minutes
Proof That It’s a Pre-Code Film
- “I’ve got something red hot– all about that evangelist having a baby!”
- Her big scoop is a ‘love nest suicide’.
- Our heroine answers the door in a short towel at one point.
- The hero saves the day through good old fashioned blackmail.
Back Page: Femme Fourth Estate
“First thing I smelled when I came into the world was crude oil, but I never smelled anything as crude as this.”
Ah, journalism. Remember that? The Back Page, a cheap programmer with a great protagonist, is a paean to helping the public out of a jam while still looking out for numero uno.
This is all masterminded by Jerry (Shannon), a woman journalism who spends most of her career walking into rooms and watching men’s eyes bug out when they realize ‘Jerry’ is short for Geraldine. Jerry’s just landed her first big scoop at a big city newspaper– a love nest suicide where noted grocer chain magnate John Smith was apparently egging his lover on to kill herself when she began to displease him– until the story itself is killed by a sensitive editor.
Jerry is fired, but won’t take a husband to make up for it, as she’s determined to make her own way in the world. Her reporter boyfriend, Brice (Hopton), suggests she try out an editor position in a small town and then work her way back up to the city. She heads to a tiny town named Apex, where the biggest news is just how deep the dust has gotten on the office desks.
There is one point of interest, though, and that’s an oil well on the town outskirts that has drawn in a lot of local’s money at the behest of banker Blake (Edwin Maxwell). Blake, being a banker in the early 1930s, is the villain of the piece, and also Brice’s uncle, making things a little complicated.
Into this steps Jerry, who bowls past everyone’s dropped jaws (a girl reporter?!) and dismantles all of her opponents with ease, as each man demonstrates a cocky overconfidence or cruelty based solely on aggressive arrogance. Jerry is more clever than the town of Apex combined. Early on she manages to offend the paper’s biggest advertiser, dopey old money grocer Nate (David Callas), and within a few minutes of applied psychology has quadrupled his ad runs.
When Blake tries to buy out all the townspeople by pretending the well was a failure, Jerry dismantles his ploy and saves the day. But other problems surface when she learns that Blake owns the newspaper, and he’s about to remake the newly-rich town to his own ends.
Russell Hopton would surely be on few people’s list of romantic leads– he’s pretty much Ned Sparks at 1.5 speed– but he’s good in an innocent way. Sterling Holloway has some dopey laugh lines, but is pleasant enough. I really enjoyed Claude Gillingwater’s Webster, the old newspaper owner who warms up to Jerry almost instantly and returns to life from a moribund state. He’s sweet for his type.
But the real star of the show is Peggy Shannon, one of the rare actresses of this time given a script where the woman character is allowed to completely dominate everyone and everything. You can tell the low budget is hurting her performance to an extent– sometimes and the others are merely acting at each other than with– but then you can also see the joy dancing in her eyes as her ambition begins its quick ascent.
Back Page looks good on what was obviously a limited budget. Though a lot of the same sets are reused with rearranged furniture and the flubbed lines become noticeable, the production has a fairly witty and fun script. It also benefits from a large assortment of extras, who buzz about to cover up the plain walls of the flats.
Star Peggy Shannon would be dead less than a decade later due to alcoholism, though she’d have plenty of small parts between then and here. Between this and Deluge, it’s apparent she had some measure of talent, something that worked even if it never shone. But you can see it, and it’s worth seeing.
Click to enlarge. All of my images are taken by me– please feel free to reuse with credit!
Trivia & Links
- Suffice to say, the film’s title is an ‘homage’ to 1931’s The Front Page.
- Filmed in 1933, not released until 1934.
- John Grant at Noirish has a more in-depth run down for you, ending pointedly:
Back Page is amiable rather than exceptional, and could be criticized on any number of grounds, yet it’s well worth watching if for no other reason than the enchanting performance in the lead of an actress who could have achieved so much had it not been for her inner demons.
Awards, Accolades & Availability
- This film is available on Amazon as a bonus feature on the DVD and blu-ray of Deluge.