The Public Eye

Synopsis: Leon Bernstein is New York's best news photographer in 1942, equally at home with cops or crooks. The pictures are often of death and pain, but they are the ones the others wish they had got. Then glamorous Kay Levitz turns to him when the Mob seem to be muscling in on the club she owns due to some arrangement with her late husband. Bernstein, none too successful with women, agrees to help, saying there may be some good photos in it for him. In fact, he is falling in love with Kay.
Genre: Crime, Drama, Romance
Director(s): Howard Franklin
Production: MCA Universal Home Video
Rotten Tomatoes:
99 min


In murky light, a piece of paper sinks in a shallow tin tub.

By degrees, faces and forms appear on the page: a swooning

woman, (circa 1940) a cop who tries to catch her, a crowd of

onlookers standing in the shadows of a tenement house in the

aftermath of a murder. Before the photograph has completely

developed, it seems to fade in a dreamy


Another submerged page. A new images begins to appear: a

thick-ankled stripper (again, 1940) sleeping between shows

in her dingy dressing room. Before it has fully developed,

this photo also


A new page on which appears a billboard attached to a burning

building. It advertises a 1930's sunburn medication: "Put

out the flames with SunzoCaine!" Painted flames rises from a

sunbather's burnt back, mixing with the real ones.

We continue sensuously to DISSOLVE THROUGH black and white,

high-contrast photos as they come hauntingly to life (all of

them depicting New York, at night, in the late 30's or early

40's) till we END TITLES.

We PAN TO the dim red darkroom bulb, under which we begin to

hear a faint siren and


...another red bulb, this one atop a patrol car.


We hear a Dispatcher's monotonous voice over a hissing police



Signal 30. Two-three-six Thompson


Inside the car, the Young Cop who's driving angles forward

in his seat, pressing heavily on the gas.

His older partner stares forward, blankly.



A respectable working-class block. Neighbors are clustered

by the stoop in robes, pajamas, undershirts. A woman with

young children holds them to her nightgown. All watch as The

Cops pull up by the curb and rush from their squadcar. They

push their way through the crowd.


(in an undershirt,


Third floor.

The Cops continue into the building.


The Cops move stealthfully up the dim stairwell, guns drawn.

On the third-floor landing, a door is ajar. Light spills out

onto the floorboards.

As they ascend, the Cops can see the corpse of a smartly

dressed young man inside:

It lies face down, its features rudely pressed and bloody

against the floor. A freshly-blocked hat lies a few feet

from the dead man; he was shot as he came home.

On the landing, the Cops move carefully to the door, hugging

the wall.

They hear someone moving inside the apartment. They freeze,

barely breathing.

The older Cop cocks his gun, crosses himself, wraps his hand

around the doorframe. He jumps into


crouching, gun drawn. A crackling, blistering sound is heard

as a flash of light fills the room, blinding him.


(blinking as he stands)



A flashbulb hits the floor hollowly.

BERNZY (whose real name is Leon Bernstein and whose

professional name is "The Great Bernzini") inserts a new

bulb in the giant chrome flash attachment of his Speed Graphic

press camera. A cigar is planted in the corner of his mouth.

Bernzy cuts a curious figure: He wears an oddly oversized

suit that has capacious pockets to accommodate camera lenses,

film plates and flashbulbs. His thick-soled shoes are sensible

to a fault. He wears a hat but no tie.

His face is alert and ironic, his movements rapid and



(to the Cop, deadpan)

You scared me.

He reaches into his jacket to extract a new 4 x 5 glass film

plate (from a bag of plates hung over his shoulder) with a

well-practised, unhurried speed.

The older cop, O'BRIEN, is annoyed; his comment sounds like

an accusation.

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Howard Franklin

Howard Franklin is an American screenwriter and film director, known for such films as The Name of the Rose and Quick Change, his collaboration with Bill Murray. His other films include The Public Eye, about a 1940s tabloid photographer modeled on the photojournalist Weegee and starring Joe Pesci; Someone to Watch Over Me and The Man Who Knew Too Little. more…

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Submitted by aviv on February 09, 2017


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"The Public Eye" STANDS4 LLC, 2019. Web. 20 Oct. 2019. <>.

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