DVD Review: Mike Wallace Is Here

STUDIO: Magnolia | DIRECTOR: Avi Belkin
RELEASE DATE: Oct. 29, 2019 | PRICE: DVD $22.49
SPECS: PG-13 | 89 min. | Documentary | widescreen | stereo

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  | Audio  | Video  | Overall 

When those of a certain age think of a no-nonsense journalist, the name that typically comes to mind is “Mike Wallace.” A stalwart member of the 60 Minutes team and crack investigative reporter for CBS for decades, Wallace was an aggressive seeker of truth with a confrontational style. He dug deep for the truth, often catching his subjects off-guard, revealing secrets that pointed to their vulnerability and, often, guilt in questionable situations.

Mike Wallace is Here is an expansive look at the former Myron Leo Wallace, a Brookline, Massachusetts native of Jewish descent, who lived to the age of 93 (he died in 2012) and worked until close to the end.

For his film, Israeli director Avi Belkin had access to the priceless CBS archives and he makes great use of them. We follow Wallace’s rise to news titan on a road that has many surprises along the way. We watch Wallace, self-aware of his skin issues and believing he had a “face for radio,” beginning in the nascent television industry, working as an actor, pitchman and TV host before breaking  into the serious side of the business in 1956 with a show called Night Beat, and then The Mike Wallace Interview, both with clouds of  his trusted Parliaments swirling in the air. He later went smokeless on 60 Minutes, but continued  interrogating subjects with probing questions and subtle commentary backed by expert research and an indefatigable desire to cut through the dross and get to the real story.

Thanks to the archives, then, Mike Wallace is Here offers a superbly edited “greatest hits” parade of Wallace’s best moments, as he corrals subjects into squirm-inducing admissions or interview bail-outs when Wallace lands a knockout punch.

There’s Putin, the Grand Wizard of the KKK, Ayatollah Khomeini, gangster Mickey Cohen, Martin Luther King and various subjects of the Watergate era, and, yes, a 40-ish Donald Trump, as well as Streisand (who asks him “Why are you such a pr-ck?”), Kirk Douglas, Dali, Bette Davis and Shirley MacLaine. Adding shading to the film are talking head testimonials from friends living (Steve Kroft, Lesley Stahl) and not (60 Minutes cohorts Harry Reasoner and Morley Shafer, producer Don Hewitt).

If there’s one place that Mike Wallace is Here disappoints a bit it’s in the personal department, although what’s here is quite compelling. A revealing segment centers on the death of Wallace’s son Peter at the age of 19, and the newsman’s bouts with depression and a suicide attempt are also touched on. But not much is related about Wallace’s four marriages, and son Chris Wallace, a Fox News broadcaster, has limited screen time.

With media, the news and the call-out of dogged investigative reporting as “fake news” by political powers so pervasive, now seems like a perfect time for Mike Wallace is Here. Having earned an enthusiastic sendoff at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and decent numbers in limited theatrical exposure, Mike Wallace is Here is bound to find interested parties with news junkies and the likes of those who recall the journalist’s bravado and lifelong commitment to finding the truth.

Buy or Rent Mike Wallace Is Here

About Irv

Irv Slifkin has been reviewing movies since before he got kicked off of his high school radio station for panning The Towering Inferno in 1974. He has written the books VideoHound’s Groovy Movies: Far-Out Films of the Psychedelic Era and Filmadelphia: A Celebration of a City’s Movies, and has contributed film reportage and reviews to such outlets as Entertainment Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, Video Business magazine and National Public Radio.