Home Box Office's Winchell stands out as a
biographical drama about one of the founding fathers of gossip and tabloid journalism,
Walter Winchell, and as a variation on "the buddy film."
In looking back at his 30-year career as a powerful
columnist for the Hearst chain's New York Daily Mirror, the movie does a great job
at re-creating the look and sound of Winchell's era, from the antique cars and big-band
music to the Stork Club.
Already the most popular -- and feared -- newspaper
columnist, Winchell (Stanley Tucci)
becomes even more powerful when he gets a weekly radio slot
on NBC Radio's Lucky Strike Hour. His staccato radio delivery stuns the cigarette
sponsor's "suits," and his "dots and dashes" writing irks his editor,
but his fans love the wordsmith's unique style.
Along the way, he angers many powerful people, but he also
becomes pals with some, most notably President Franklin D. Roosevelt (nicely portrayed
here by Christopher Plummer).
When, at FDR's urging, he takes on Adolf Hitler and reports
that Jews are being killed by the Nazis, Winchell runs into a buzz saw because his boss,
William Randolph Hearst, fears that the crusade will hurt his German business interests.
Hearst (Kevin Tighe) comes across as sleazy and conniving in this drama.
Winchell, of course, is vindicated once Hitler invades
Winchell zealously exposes the indiscretions of the rich
and famous, but he keeps his own secrets. He beds many budding actresses in his St. Moritz
hotel room, notably Dallas Wayne, whose portrayal by Glenne Headly is annoying at first,
but later proves touching.
If Tucci is the heart of this drama as Winchell, Paul
Giamatti, as ace ghostwriter Harold Klurfeld, is its soul. It's interesting to see how the
coldhearted Winchell gets his scoops, but it's Giamatti who makes us care what happens to
him, especially as his star power begins to dim.
That decline starts in 1951, when the Stork Club refuses to
serve singer Josephine Baker, who later blames Winchell for not helping her. The New
York Post plays that up to discredit him.
In 1963, he loses his main pulpit when the Mirror folds.
Years later, at a reunion with his
writers, Winchell finally acknowledges his respect for
Klurfeld's talent. (Scott Abbott's screenplay is based on Klurfeld's book.)
HBO's Winchell, which bowed Nov. 21 at 8 p.m., will
repeat six times through Dec. 11.