A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.


July 22, 2011


Now here’s a movie that I probably never would have watched if it were not for our project. I know Amanda has an abiding love for the movie, but it’s not really one that I had any interest in seeing. Indeed this film has been somewhat of a running gag between us ever since Batman Begins came out. I was trying to remember where I had seen Christian Bale before and Amanda declared – as though it were obvious to any simpleton – “He’s in Newsies!” So, yeah, Christian Bale is that guy from Newsies – a movie I had never seen until we watched it for our movie-a-day project.

As with several of the movies that Amanda has introduced to our collection to balance out the fact that a very large majority of the films were purchased by myself without her input I am clearly not the target demographic for this movie. What I find unusual, however, is that Amanda fell so very much in love with this movie in the first place. Before we started this project she often said that she was not a fan of musicals, and she has never been a fan of Disney either. (We’ve both been somewhat surprised to discover just how many musicals we own, given her supposed dislike for them.) But here this film is – a Disney musical – an it’s one she’s been really looking forward to having me watch for a long time.

I fully understand exactly what the appeal of this movie was for Amanda. It’s full of cute boys dancing and being cool and she saw it for the first time when she was twelve or thirteen years old. It is, as she points out to me, a very strange film in that it is a historical drama about the newspaper boy strike of 1899 but presented as a musical full of teen heart-throb type guys for young girls. I found it even more strange to see Ann Margret – the Kitten With a Whip – as a burlesque dancer. How does that fit into this movie?

After a brief voice-over introducing us to the historical period we join the young boys who will be our heroes in a orphinarium. There’s a kid with an eye patch, a kid who fancies himself a ladies man, a kid with a crutch (called “Crutchy”) who is doing his very best Eddie Deezen impersonation, and our hero Jack ‘Cowboy’ Kelly. They are newsboys. Every day they get up at five in the morning, half an hour before they went to bed, and go out onto the streets of New York City to hawk papers for a penny a piece. They pay fifty cents for every hundred ‘papes’ they buy, so there’s the potential to make fifty cents profit per hundred – if they can sell them all. Sure their lot is not great, but it’s no “Hard Knock Life.” In fact they seem pretty happy with their lot, singing and dancing and tricking the rubes in the street into buying their papers.

Jack teams up with a couple new kids, a fellow named David and his precocious little brother, and decides to show them the ropes. (His reasoning being that David’s kid brother would be an asset to work with because of his age and David clearly has a good head on his shoulders.) No sooner have the three of them become friends, however, with Jack being invited to have dinner with David’s impoverished family and singing afterwards about how he dreams of an escape from his own lonely life, than the megalomaniacal newspaper magnate Joseph Pulitzer decides to increase his profits by forcing the newsies to pay 60 cents for every hundred papers instead of fifty cents. Oh no!

The newsies will not stand for this – being forced to pay an extra ten cents threatens to destroy their livelihood – so they decide to strike. All the newspaper selling underaged children of New York band together to insist that this injustice be corrected. Of course things do not go smoothly. They have to crack down on scabs attempting to sell papers in their stead and a mob of older kinds hired as strike busters. They have a lot of trouble getting the word out about their strike because of course the papers themselves don’t print stories about them. (As a sympathetic newsman points out – if it’s not in the papers it didn’t happen.) There’s friction in the ranks as they have to convince all the kids in other boroughs to join them – such as the tough slingshot wielding guys from Brooklyn. There’s a corrupt warden who is hunting for Jack because Jack has escaped from his state-sponsored refuge for wayward boys. And there’s Joseph Pulitzer ranting and raving and attempting to corrupt jack into joining his side.

As an aside – Robert Duvall’s wild-eyed and generally insane portrayal of Pulitzer is one of the stranger things in this movie. I have to wonder just what inspired him to deliver this performance. Was it an attempt to inject some levity into the primary villain? Was he trying to live up to the evil villains of the Disney animated films (who do tend to chew a little scenery?) Whatever the case, it’s very strange to have a historical figure depicted as such a raving lunatic.

Still, I suppose it makes sense. This isn’t a movie about historical accuracy. It’s a movie about scrappy kids joining together and proving that they can stand up to corrupt adults. It’s about performing big synchronized dance numbers in the streets of nineteenth century New York. It’s about Christian Bale singing with a hilarious accent and floppy hair.

The movie has an undeniable charm. I am not the target audience (being the wrong gender and about three decades too old) but I can understand why the mention of this movie makes just about every one of Amanda’s friends swoon. Who doesn’t like a story of children winning out against the unfairness foisted upon them by adults? And clearly it helps if they’re dreamy.

July 22, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , ,


  1. He’s in “Empire of the Sun”! He’s in “Henry V”!

    Comment by Doc | July 25, 2011 | Reply

    • Yes, we laughed to see him in Henry V as one of the boys from the baggage train.

      Comment by tanatoes | July 25, 2011 | Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: