Like so many films of the early classical narrative era, Ever In My Heart (1933) uses newspapers to advance the plot along, to serve as major, and minor, narrations on setting and character. A short feature at 68 minutes, it introduces the technique of using a newspaper to advance narrative and scenario at the one-third point. A newspaper flips open and doomfully announces that Germany has invaded Belgium, beginning WWI, at the time when the German-born Hugo declares his citizenship and allegiance to the USA.
“If one could only believe a single line in these newspapers.” she sighs.
“Censorship is working, all right.” Hugo replies, nonplussed.
It is Christmas, they are waiting for Hugo to come to them, listening to “Silent Night” and scorning it because it’s a German song. Newspapers continue to feature in scenes, their large-text headlines obscured but obvious enough within the frame, being read at the dinner table. The news, apparently, is one-sided — and though I am educated on twentieth century history, living in current times I can definitely believe that it would be censored of Allied atrocities. The exchange above, between a married couple who are ostracised from their vehemently American social scene because they are perceived as German, is a bitter reminder at the shallowness of mob behaviour, of surface thinking, the kind made so shameful by Fritz Lang’s Fury three years later. (In his column about “Newspaper Movies”, Richard Brody also brings up two Lang films, While The City Sleeps and Beyond A Reasonable Doubt, which both also confront the immateriality of truth and reality in the newspaper “business”.)
News-reporting, too, hardly seems to be balanced. At least, not any more. In newspaper movies, or even simply in movies which feature newspapers as story in their editing or in their dialogue, newspapers certainly show no signs of being balanced. They are there to give only one opinion, to make only one point, and that (for plot excitement) is usually the most bigoted, the one given with the least amount of research. It’s used to terrify the action, like here, in Allen Baron’s Blast of Silence (1961).
In the end of Ever In My Heart, Barbara Stanwyck rules the film, as she does all of her films, although in the most bitter way she doesn’t — she is forced into her role. (The still below is the moment she spies her son, who has just transitioned from very ill to passed away, to illustrate her supreme acting skills.) Poisoning her ex-husband, lover to her and America but hated by all other Americans, and herself, she becomes the unhappy and unintended victim of a blind and insulated patriotic cruelty. It’s one of those shameful states of humanity that it’s almost too hard to think about it, and write about it — the state is out of our hands, too, and in the hands of the newspaper moguls.
(I am aware, too, that propaganda and censorship powers are rather strongly held by film studios and the movie machine, too. Those powers are arguably stronger when held and enforced by the news media, in those earlier times of the three-print-newspaper days, through to now with the 24-hour media machine.)