Top 10 editor roles in movies
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What's missing from this picture...?
If an editor (me) writes a love letter to editors, is that self-love? As if a real editor would care. I've met a lot of them, and they are indeed selective regarding what they care about - chiefly that a good headline leads to a good bottom-line. Admittedly they don't all have ulcers, aren't all males in their fifties and do occasionally even go home..
Editors love money and power as much as any other person in a position to obtain and wield it; but most of them do their best to withhold the great secret that they would do their jobs for nothing - or a lot less than they are getting. And this is why I love the 'classic' portrayal of movie editors, which is in itself a stereotype that doesn't bear very close scrutiny with the real-life counterparts of these cigar-chewing monsters: you've just got to admire a dog that won't let go of a bone.
If you check out the IMDB's listing of movies with the keyword 'newspaper editor', you'll find a notable spike of newsroom-movies from the 1930s and 1940s, the era when the power of the press was in itself a newsworthy issue (pardon the pun). And perhaps it's because that 'go tell it to City Hall' stereotype was so deeply tattooed in US cinema's subconscious that we still find a delightful number of '1930's-style' editors in movies made many decades later.
As this list demonstrates, the fascination with the newspaper editor, who is never more than one really hard decision away from a pink-slip, veers sharply between the high-comedy schlock of The Hudsucker Proxy and the chilling, low-key menace of All The President's Men.
I think newspaper editors deserve an article to themselves. And never more so than right now, when we find, to our amazement and (in my case) disgust that...
J. Jonah Jameson does not appear in The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
God knows I was never more than mildly curious as to how Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield, in the new movie) ended up in Aunt May's care and what happened to his parents. And since the Raimi Spider-Man trilogy is so recent in cinema-goers' collective memory, it was a sure bet that the producers of The Amazing Spider-Man were going to have to dick around a lot with the fundamentals of the myth in order not to totally repeat the evolution of Parker in the previous three movies.
But Spider-Man without J. Jonah Jameson? Even Bryan Singer knew he had to throw in Perry White to Superman Returns (though sadly subdued in Frank Langella's performance compared to Jackie Cooper's in the 78-80 Richard Donner Superman movie/s).
But then, did I really want to see a sombre, low-key J. Jonah Jameson? Did I really want to see the Spider-Man character I loved the most neutered because of the 'dark hero' schtick that The Dark Knight set in motion in 2008? Maybe it's for the best, if TASM had to go in that direction and make its own mark.
Well, we'll just have to bear with Spidey's new iteration without JJJ, I guess. But here, for those of you who miss that character-type, are ten of the toughest news-moguls ever to work themselves into mortal heartburn...
10: Arthur Christiansen - 'Jeff' Jefferson / 'the Editor', The Day The Earth Caught Fire (1961)
The Daily Express
"Let me decide what goes into print. You just give."
The fascination with this portrayal of a tough British newspaper editor is only partly in the writing and relatively little in the performance of Arthur Christiansen. The thrill of his inclusion in Val Guest's prescient and truly shining ecological sci-fi thriller is that not only does the action take place at a real British newspaper (The Daily Express), but 'Jefferson' is played by the Express's news-editor, who had never done any acting in his life. Considering that, and the enormous amount of exposition that the character is given to deliver, it's not a bad turn at all. Little was made of the character's name in the movie, and Guest told Christiansen explicitly to 'play himself'. The non-actor also appeared one more time playing an editor, in Guest's lesser entry 80,000 Suspects, released in 1963. Christiansen passed away the same year.
9: Danny DeVito - Sid Hudgens, L.A. Confidential (1997)
"Get me some narco skinny. I want to do an 'all-hophead' issue. You know, schwartze jazz musicians and movie stars. You like it?"
It's a toss-up, usually, as to whether journalists or lawyers are hated more. Sometimes a left-field phenomenon like Lou Grant (CBS, 1977-82) will swing the post-Watergate press back into public approbation. A lot of the time, however, a sleazy and muck-raking character such as Sid Hudgens is nearer the public conception of the muck-raking end of the press. With a completely de-magnetised moral compass, Hudgens trawls the high arteries of Hollywood looking for blood and providing back-handers to the corrupt LAPD in order to get the dirt he needs to keep Hush Hush the shameless scandal-rag that is aspires to remain.
8: Seth Rogen - Britt Reid / The Green Hornet, The Green Hornet (2011)
The Daily Sentinel
"It's not dying that you need be afraid of, it's never having lived in the first place."
As we'll see in #2, the dynamic between editor and publisher is a very flexible one, and it's no guarantee that the person in the higher office is the one wearing the trousers. In this case though, dissipated playboy Britt Reid, inheriting a newspaper from his assassinated father, eventually decides to rule the Sentinel from the top rather than the newsroom floor, with only half an ear on more experienced editor Edward James Olmos. Initially his motivation is the sheer rush of his secret identity as the Green Hornet, and his wish to promulgate the myth; but by the film's conclusion, the ever-present topic of the integrity of the press has begun to penetrate Reid's champagne-addled brain, in this extremely enjoyable superhero outing that really does deserve a sequel.
7: Mel Gibson - Jerry Fletcher, Conspiracy Theory (1997)
"The Vietnam War was fought over a bet that Howard Hughes lost to Aristotle Onassis"
It was 1997, and the word 'blog' had not yet entered the dictionary. In Richard Donner's suspenseful and highly amusing thriller, Mel Gibson plays a taxi-driver that also runs a paranoid publication in his spare hours - as if Travis Bickle had done something just slightly more positive than buying a sack-load of guns. At this point the fanzine or small-scale newsletter had already begun to be eroded by the internet (or at least the BBS systems that had been connecting nutters digitally since the 1980s); but in any case it's unlikely that Fletcher, pathologically wary of black helicopters and covert surveillance, would ever have put his publication on Blogger.com.
6: Robert Downey Jr. - Joseph Wershba, Good Night, and Good Luck (2005)
Shirley Wershba: "Name me one woman who asks her husband to take off his wedding ring before he goes to work."
Joe Wershba: "Ava Gardner".
Anyone who has seen Kiss Kiss Bang Bang - released the same year as Good Night And Good Luck - would surely love to see RDJ let his comedy chops loose on a 'screwball' editor. However that would hardly have fitted George Clooney's laconic, Jazz-permeated salute to Ed Murrow, and to a more serious era of television news than our own. Joe Wershba's comedy is tempered by both his fear of the McCarthy communist witch-hunts that are infiltrating the CBS offices and the additional terror of his bosses finding out that he is married to a co-worker - which revelation would excise one or other of them from their position.
5: Jackie Cooper - Perry White, Superman II (1980)
The Daily Planet
"If Paris is going to go kaplooey, I want my best reporter in the middle of it!"
Here begins the trilogy of 'screwball' editors that have found themselves together in this list by coincidence rather than design. When actor Keenan Wynn had some heart problems that took him off the cast of Richard Donner's ambitious take on the comic legend, Western veteran Cooper got the gig on the sole condition that he had a fully valid passport and could fly to England immediately to take on the role. Superman's 'creative consultant' Tom Mankiewicz, responsible for putting nearly all the humour into Superman (1978) and Superman II, wrote some wonderful schtick for Perry White in both movies, with plenty of first-rate physical comedy and one-liners.
4: John Mahoney - 'Chief', The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)
The Manhattan Argus
"How tall is he? What's his shoe-size? Where does he sleep? What does he have for breakfast? Does he put jam on his toast? Doesn't he put jam on his toast? If not, why not, and since when?"
In the field of the survival of the 'screwball news-room comedy' editor, the Coen Brothers' absurdly under-appreciated rags-to-riches-to-rags tale is a special case. Despite being set in the late 1950s, the clip below demonstrates that the entire spirit of the movie is a love-letter to 1930s fast-talking screwball comedies. It was great too to see Frasier's John Mahoney bust loose from his weekly infirmity and lower-key comedy to really chew his newsroom staff out in Hudsucker.
3: J.K. Simmons - J. Jonah Jameson, Spider-Man 2 (2004)
The Daily Bugle
"Get your pretty little portfolio off my desk before I go into a diabetic coma."
They slapped a wig on one of America's finest character comedy actors and lo, the wise-cracking, cigar-smoking, uncompromising editor of the Bugle seemed to have stepped straight out of the best era of Spider-Man comics to provide delightfully sharp comic relief for the Raimi trilogy (though sorely wasted in Spider-Man 3). Simmons is Jameson, very much a hard-boiled, painfully plain-speaking ed in the 1930s screwball newsroom-comedy mould. And why tone Jameson down when he gets so little screen time to make his mark? Editorial perfection.
2: Orson Welles - Charles Foster Kane, Citizen Kane (1941)
The New York Enquirer
"The news goes on for 24 hours a day."
Sometimes editors climb above the post to higher power, and sometimes they descend from the Asgardian boredom of executive meetings in order to genuinely steer the fate of a publication at the very vanguard of the ground troops. As in The Green Hornet (#8), Charles Foster Kane is, strictly-speaking, the proprietor rather than the editor of the anti-establishment Enquirer, but the editor he does employ is little more than a capable amanuensis for Kane's own direct orders and sense of boundless possibility - and only a semi-effective firewall for the newspaper-mogul's more dangerous impulses, and inner impulse towards tragedy.
1: Jason Robards - Ben Bradlee, All The President's Men (1976)
The Washington Post
"If you guys fuck up again, I'm going to get mad."
Here we are dealing neither with the 'Yoda' figure nor with mere comic relief, but rather with the Acme to which all apprentices aspire. As capable of filling the room with laughter as with dropping the ambient temperature ten degrees when the ordure stars heading for the fan, the ever-capable Robards won the Best Actor in a Supporting Role Academy Award for his portrayal of the real-life editor who had to risk his newspaper to take down a president and put 'Watergate' in the dictionary as an abstract term.
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