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FIVE STAR FINAL (director: Mervyn LeRoy; screenwriters: from the play by Louis Weitzenkorn/; cinematographer: Sol Polito; editor: Frank Ware; cast: Edward G. Robinson (Joseph W. Randall), Marian Marsh (Jenny Townsend), H.B. Warner (Michael Townsend), Anthony Bushell (Phillip Weeks), George E. Stone (Ziggie Feinstein), Frances Starr (Nancy (Voorhees) Townsend), Harold Waldridge (Arthur Goldberg), Ona Munson (Kitty Carmody), Boris Karloff (Rev. T. Vernon Isopod), Aline MacMahon (Miss Taylor), Oscar Apfel (Bernard Hinchecliffe), Purnell Pratt (Robert French), Robert Elliott (R.J. Brannegan), Evelyn Hall (Mrs. Isabelle Weeks), David Torrence (Mr. Arthur Weeks), Polly Walters (Telephone Operator); Runtime: 89; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Byron Morgan; Warner Brothers; 1931)
“Worth seeing mainly for Karloff’s colorful performance in a character role.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Mervyn LeRoy’s (“Little Caesar”) zippy melodrama was nominated for Best Picture but lost to Grand Hotel. It’s based on the hit Broadway play by Louis Weitzenkorn, former managing editor for the sensationalizing tabloid the New York Graphic, who knows what he’s talking about as far as sleazy newspapers. At the time this early talkie ‘social protest’ film was highly praised for its sharp attack on irresponsible newspapers, but it has become dated and its melodramatics have lost their power. It still might be relevant as it exposes to what lengths newspapers will go in order to boost circulation.

For the last ten years Joseph W. Randall (Edward G. Robinson) has been managing editor for the Evening Gazette whose publisher, Bernard Hinchecliffe (Oscar Apfel), is concerned that circulation is down because Randall has gone high brow on him. We know the New York editor has a guilty conscience and feels dirty because he’s obsessed with washing his hands. He’s frustrated because in order to earn his wages he has long ago given up on his ideals, but is challenged by his sassy secretary Miss Taylor (Aline MacMahon), who is secretly in love with him and disapproves of his actions. The editor fights back and says of her: “You sit there like a visible conscience… Ideals won’t put a patch on your pants.” On his back are the advertising people, French and Brannegan (Purnell Pratt & Robert Elliott), who suggest circulation will rise with the “chewing gum trade” if you give the public what it wants: more human interest stories. Also under pressure from his bottom line only boss, Randall capitulates and runs a 20-year-old murder story serial that had pregnant stenographer Nancy Voorhees (Frances Starr) kill her boss who wouldn’t marry her after knocking her up, hoping to revive the once hot tabloid scandal to sell papers as it offers a follow-up to how Nancy is now living. Nancy has since married bank cashier Michael Townsend (H.B. Warner) and lives a happy, quiet and respectable anonymous life in Washington Heights with her pretty Hunter College student daughter Jenny (Marian Marsh), who doesn’t know mom’s a murderer and that Michael’s not her real dad. Jenny is to marry on the day the story is run to nice guy Philip Weeks (Anthony Bushell), a socialite whose snobby father is a manufacturer, and her parents are worried that the young couple will learn the truth and call off the wedding. To cover the story Randall hires Chicago scum reporter Kitty Carmody (Ona Munson) and teams her with veteran slimeball reporter Isopod (Boris Karloff), a drunk who was booted out of divinity school for sexual misconduct and has a rep as an underhanded reporter. Isopod gets into the Townsend home by posing as a clergyman, and is mistaken by the parents as the one who will officiate at the wedding. After he takes them into his confidence he obtains a photo of Jenny and info on the groom, and when the story runs in the five-star final edition the parents are devastated. When Nancy is unable to kill the story after speaking to the editor, she commits suicide and when discovered by her husband he follows suit. The double suicide is uncovered by Kitty, who sneaked into the apartment to take photos. Randall is shaken over the tragedy while the hypocritical publisher is pleased with the sudden 100,000 rise in circulation until Jenny goes to the newspaper with a gun in her purse and hysterically asks “Why did you kill my mother?”

The film is worth seeing mainly for Karloff’s colorful performance in a character role, before he was typecast into only horror roles. Robinson was fine as the conflicted editor, but the other supporting roles were stiffly performed. Starr and Warner were just dreadful carrying on as if they were on stage for a Victorian drama, making their soap opera moments almost risible. But when the film covered the newsroom, things picked up and looked snappy.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”