The other evening, over a late cup of coffee, a friend of mine complained about the quality of newsreels.
"Try to recall the newsreels you've seen in the last few years," he said. "I have, and most of them were extremely dull.
"The big trouble," he went on, "is that the newsreels try to compete with newspapers and television newsreels. It's plain that they can't. There will always be a two or three day lag between the event and the reel. No one wants to sit squirming in his seat as Truman talks for ten minutes on the steel situation, especially when the text of the speech can be found in any good newspaper."
"Ah," I broke in. "Aren't you forgetting that these newsreels make an accurate account of history, much more than even the most objective news story could?"
He waved this aside. "Let them take their film and shelve it for history. There are many more interesting stories that can be filmed. Floods, riots, fires, human interest--all these events don't just depend on being up-to-date for their appeal. A newsreel can easily be fascinating. Instead, most are only boring."
I am sure the Universal newsreel now at the Beacon Hill would please my friend. Although it started in the conventional manner, showing John Foster Dulles signing the Japanese treaty, it quickly switched to Japan itself. There, hundreds of Japanese students were rioting in protest against this same peace treaty. Blood and police billies flew through the air, as the militia tried to keep the riot in check.
As a sharp contrast to this demonstration against America, New York's Loyalty Day parade flashed on the screen. The camera moved from the floats of different nationality groups to show the spectators. There were little children, sucking their thumbs, next to hulking legionnaires, scratching their heads.
A dash to Chicago and a huge fire in the grain elevators kept the action moving. The fire swung from beam to beam, as its roar came through the loud speaker. Tiny firemen hurled huge geysers of water, in a futile attempt to stop the blaze.
The newsreel quickly changed its pace. This time it was India, as the cameras covered a beauty contest to select the national entry in the Miss Universe contest at San Francisco. The lovely Indian girls, dressed in elaborate saris were a welcome change from the usual Atlantic City pageant.
Universal's final bow to human interest was a seven minute feature entitled Bear Facts. Set in Denmark, it photographed the visit of two bears to a young girl in a hospital. Some clever commentary and the expert performance of the bears were highly amusing.
Also on the Beacon Hill screen are two J. Arthur Rank reissues. The Adventuress and Night Train to Trieste are both spy pictures. The former is dull plot-wise, while the acting of Deborah Kerr is even worse. Night Train to Trieste, however, is an exciting thriller, with suave international spies, beautiful women, and a comic British busybody.
The newsreel goes on at 9:43, 1:09, 4:39, and 8:05.