Case Number 03229: Small Claims Court


Anchor Bay // 1984 // 87 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron (Retired) // August 21st, 2003

The Charge

The Weekly World News is far funnier...and more factual.

The Case

Lois Thorndyke moonlights as Louise Thorne, troublemaking tabloid reporter for the scandalous paper The Informer. Specializing in stories laced with sin and sleaze, she longs to be a legitimate journalist. When her cameraman comrade is shot during a shoot, Lois is desperate to find someone new. Into her complicated life walks Barry Denver, a very naïve Momma's boy. Barry thinks he is signing on to work for Mayor Franklyn, New York's popular man of the people. After all, Louise has just become His Honor's personal assistant. But when his first assignment ends up being a photo spread of a pimp's apartment, Barry starts to smell a rat. Then there is a series of robberies that keep interrupting the good times of many of Manhattan's wealthiest people. The tabloid wants evidence of who's behind the crime spree. The Mayor's office wants to ward off threats from political rivals who are trying to cast doubt on Franklyn's stance on crime and the sleazy tabloids. When an unlucky assignment at a nightclub leads the duo to big clues about the burglary ring, Barry and Louise can't decide if they're in big trouble or just in over their head. A little more digging uncovers a strange connection between the Mayor, the Informer, and the syndicate. Apparently, the top city official may be its reigning crime boss as well. In the end, it turns out that most of the information garnered and the resulting gossipy indignation are all easily explained and wiped away. All the damaging facts are simply deemed Not For Publication.

Poor Paul Bartel. At the time of his death from liver cancer at age 62, he was mostly remembered, if considered about at all, as a recognizable character actor and the director of such crass camp classics as Death Race 2000 and Eating Raoul. The fact that Raoul had come out 18 years previous and Race was over 25 years old summed up his situation (and problem) within Hollywood creative circles. When it came to playing cameos and small parts in other people's films, he was a much sought after commodity, but when it came to getting financing and support for his own work, he was adrift in a sea of many admirers, but few power brokers. As a result, his body of film work is spotty at best. For every well-remembered romp like Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills, there is a stillborn Shelf Life or an easily dismissed Lust in the Dust. Or Not For Publication. Reminiscent of Sam Raimi's rarely seen, barely successful screwball crime comedy Crimewave and eons removed from the successful update of the genre by Joel and Ethan Coens' sublime 1994 The Hudsucker Proxy, this tawdry tabloid tale of power, politics, and newspapers tries to be a searing comic commentary on our scandal obsessed and possessed society. Unfortunately, it's nothing more than a pleasant, pallid diversion, the kind of film you don't mind watching but can't seem to remember a few hours later. Instead of sizzling with the wit of Bartel's more famous cannibalism farce or recreating the verbal volleys and witty wordplay from similarly styled films of the past, it bogs itself down in unnecessary plot and personal twists. Even the ending seems oddly out of sync. Bartel may be considered a true original, but unfortunately, Not For Publication isn't.

Part of the problem is the storyline. Modern moviemakers have assumed that the reason films like His Girl Friday or Bringing Up Baby worked so well is that they had machine like plots that gelled like vanilla ice cream and hot fudge to create a confection of cinematic perfection. Well, that is mostly true, but the fact is that a good narrative is not necessarily over stuffed with story, and Not For Publication is guilty of convolutions and conundrums of astronomical proportions. Each character carries with him or her untold tons of subplot baggage that literally weigh the film down. Nancy Allen is not only the mayor's new assistant, love interest, a hopeful regular and actual tabloid reporter, but she is emotionally involved with David Naughton (who has his own numerous issues) and champions the various civil causes her now-dead famous photographer and publisher father supported. Whew! Adding anything else to her overwrought dossier threatens to smash her svelte shoulders under an intense burden of backstory. Laurence Luckinbill's Mayor Franklyn and Naughton's Barry Denver are equally extra esoteric. Trouble is, having a fact-filled personal history doesn't make you a convincing three-dimensional character. Only Luckinbill appears to be in on the joke, maintaining a wonderful balance between letch and leader with a pleasant twinkle in his eye. Allen is a blank however as the Lois/Louis character, failing to register on many (or frankly any) level. She seems completely out of her element here, trying to play sophisticated but coming off shallow. Naughton treads the middle ground, only coming to life when given something bizarre to do (like the animal costume song and dance). Bartel has a distinct visual style best described as literal cinematic comic timing. He holds joke pauses and utilizes quick cuts hoping to tweak the beats of potential humor within his film. Sometimes it works; other times it merely emphasizes the staleness of the wit. Not For Publication hopes that hundreds of narrative threads and editing tricks will turn something muddled into something madcap. Instead, it renders it moot.

Another sad facet of Bartel's career was ultra low budgets and, though they try their best to clean it up, Anchor Bay cannot give a digital gloss to what is basically a cheap looking and feeling movie. Still, one can only image what the transfer would have looked like without the company's loving attention to detail. Overall, the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen is clean and defect free, but it does suffer from grain and fuzziness as a result of the original element's poverty row roots. There are a couple of moments of noticeable compression, but it's not fatal. On the sound side, the Dolby Digital Mono is no great shakes. The audio seems over processed, always on the border of hiss or distortion. This is especially true when action scenes mix effects, music, and dialogue loops. Anchor Bay at least tries to make up for the unknown quantity aspects of the title by providing a clever menu page (it resembles the front cover of a tabloid), a lengthy step-through bio of Bartel, and a trailer for the film. But perhaps the crowning jewel of this DVD is the 16-minute documentary about Bartel's life featuring fantastic, insightful interviews with Mary Woronov (friend and frequent co-star), Tab Hunter (the hunky hero of Lust in the Dust), and many others. It proves that with a little effort and some splendidly entertaining talking heads, a great deal of depth and pleasure can be gained about a simple subject. Bartel's life would make a captivating film and Anchor Bay is to be thanked for providing this miniature peek into his creative and personal process. While Not For Publication mostly flounders as a film, the story behind its creation and the creator is well worth a look. Anchor Bay has come up with a real winner. And that's definitely for the record.

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Scales of Justice
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile
Studio: Anchor Bay
Video Formats:
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)

* None

Running Time: 87 Minutes
Release Year: 1984
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks
* New 16-Minute Documentary about the Career of Director Paul Bartel
* Paul Bartel Bio
* Trailer

* IMDb