Five worst journalists -- in the movies, at least
The Stop the Presses series at the Alamo Drafthouse, which celebrates the media in movies with screenings of such classics as Sweet Smell of Success and concludes with the premiere of Anchorman 2, has inspired a lot of conversation about the relationship between journalists and the films that portray them. While inspirational tales of dedicated investigators may go on to win awards and persuade young idealists to pursue a career in the news, movies about journalists who suck at their jobs are often much more entertaining. The worst newsmen in cinema are united by their blinkered narcissism, which bleeds into their work life in fascinating ways. Read on for a list of movies that herald wildly unprofessional behavior -- and stay classy, Denver.
Dreamworks Pictures Ron Burgundy
5) Richard Thornburg in Die Hard and Die Hard 2
A good journalist should not insert himself into a story, particularly one as grievous as a terrorist attack. But Richard Thornburg, a WZDC reporter, gets improbably involved with two domestic attacks, obliviously throwing wrenches in John McClane's hero gears out of sheer narcissistic obsession. In Die Hard 2, Thornburg's broadcast from the inside of a hijacked plane is riddled with embellishments, manipulations and cowardly attempts to escape. Essayed by William Atherton -- the protean snob of
'80s filmdom -- Thornburg does worse than self-servingly report biased news and generally smarm up the proceedings. He endangers the lives of terrified hostages and keeps getting in John McClane's yippee-ki-way. Thornburg gets his comeuppance in the end, however, when Holly McClane tazes him.
4) Howard Beale in Network
While Howard Beale's "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!" speech can be an intoxicating mantra -- as appropriate for '70s malaise as it is today -- the character is not meant to be admired. Peter Finch's final acting role, for which he won the first-ever posthumous Oscar for Best Actor, is such a tour de force that viewers drawn into the whirlwind of his charisma fail to notice that Beale is going slowly insane on-air. Beale starts out as an industry hack, but one night he freaks out enough to say something true. After this stunning moment of clarity, Beale immediately returns to being strung along by his corporate puppeteers, which makes him more of a cautionary tale than an aspirational figure. Besides, any character whom Glenn Beck claims as an influence has much to atone for.
3) J.J. Hunsecker in Sweet Smell of Success
Often, the worst journalists make for the most entertaining movie characters. J.J. Hunsecker, a gossip columnist modeled after Walter Winchell, is a silver-tongued scoundrel who wields his media influence almost as devastatingly as he wields his scathing wit. As played by Burt Lancaster (easily the most manly Burt of cinema history),
Hunsecker is drunk with power, using the influence of his column to destroy a moony jazz guitarist who wants to marry his little sister. Sweet Smell of Success is a fantastic film. Brazenly cynical for its era, the movie may inspire some nostalgia for a period in time when columnists enjoyed that much influence -- until it demonstrates precisely why they shouldn't.