Tuesday, September 03, 2013

SLANDER (1957)

Steve Cochran is the publisher of Real Truth magazine, a scandal sheet (obviously modeled on the real-life Confidential magazine of the 1950s). On the surface, he is an elegant, soft-spoken man who dotes on his mother (Marjorie Rambeau) but in business dealings, he doesn't care who he hurts with his stories; he claims the truth never hurts anyone. The magazine is successful but sales figures are falling and they need a big lump sum to pay off some debt, so Cochran wants one big, big story that will sell more magazines than ever. There are rumors about some scandalous dish on a respected stage actress, and Cochran needs kiddie TV puppeteer Van Johnson, who knew her when she was young, to confirm it. Johnson just got a good gig on a national show, and Cochran tells him if he doesn't give up the dirt, he'll run a story that exposes Johnson as an ex-con. Johnson's wife wants him to give in to Cochran, but Johnson wants to stand up to him. The results are tragic for more than one person.

As an attack against the trashy exposé magazines of the time which did use blackmail and innuendo, and did cause damage to more than one entertainer's career, this is mild stuff. And Van Johnson is bland as dishwater as the puppeteer (as is Ann Blyth as his wife). But Steve Cochran (pictured with Blyth) is quite good as the publisher and he makes the movie worth watching, at least until the last 20 minutes when he mostly fades into the background. Cochran acts against his normal gruff, tough-guy type, playing quiet but intense. I would say that he based his performance on that of Burt Lancaster, playing a Walter Winchell-type in SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS, but this movie came out six months before the Lancaster film. At any rate, it's an unexpectedly good performance, one of Cochran's best. The sinister music that plays behind him seems a bit of overkill. Rambeau is fine as his mother who plays an important if somewhat far-fetched role in the rushed and unsatisfying climax. [TCM]

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