Five Star Final

1931, Movie, NR, 89 mins

Review

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This is an offbeat but fascinating film which pillories the transgressions of the muckraking tabloids so popular in the 1920s. Apfel is the uncaring, circulation-lusting publisher of the New York Gazette, a notorious scandal sheet, who hires Robinson, a hardworking, slightly scrupulous editor, telling him to dust off a 20-year-old murder case by infiltrating the family involved and obtaining background information. To accomplish this unsavory job, Robinson reluctantly hires Karloff, a slimy, sneaky scandalmongering reporter who pretends to be a priest while ingratiating himself to Warner and Starr; it is Starr on whom Karloff concentrates, since she had been convicted of manslaughter after slaying her betraying lover two decades earlier. He digs up enough additional scandal for a shocking expose. When the story hits, Starr is overcome with shame and shock, as is her consoling husband, Warner; they both commit suicide which drives their frantic daughter, Marsh, whose life has also been ruined by the story, to arrive at the newspaper and to attempt to kill publisher Apfel. Robinson stops her but, in disgust at what his paper has done, turns around and verbally blasts his boss in one of the greatest resignation speeches in the history of film, threatening to kill Apfel himself if the stories continue, then he walks out for the film's finish.

Although banality creeps into the tearjerker, Robinson's bravura role as the conscience-stricken editor, the workings of the tabloid office, and Karloff's incredibly repulsive character (he had been a divinity student defrocked for drunkenness) is utterly captivating. Robinson employs a symbolic habit of washing his hands after every dirty deed he performs for Apfel, but only with water poured into a basin in his office, using soap in the final scene before resigning. Warner and Starr are excellent as the victims, as is Marsh, the horrified daughter. A standout is Munson as a hardened picture chaser for Apfel's tabloid, one without pity or compassion, unlike the kind-hearted madam she was later to play to perfection in GONE WITH THE WIND (1939). Good, too, are the cynical, heartless newspaper types portrayed by Stone and MacMahon. Apfel is properly detestable as the ruthless newspaper publisher, a character closely resembling the publisher of the old New York Mirror.

This film was based on a successful London-based play, "Late Night Final," written by Louis Weitzenkorn, one time managing editor of the New York Evening Graphic, which peddled wild scandal and rumor as news during the 1920s. Weitzenkorn, like the Robinson character, quit the tabloid in disgust and later took his revenge with his hard-hitting play. Film Daily selected FIVE STAR FINAL as one of the 10 best movies of 1931, a production that boosted Robinson's career and got him out of typecast gangster roles he created too well for himself in LITTLE CAESAR (1930). This film was released the same year as THE FRONT PAGE, both of them establishing the traditions which would be profiled into cliches in many a newspaper movie to come. FIVE STAR FINAL was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture, losing to GRAND HOTEL. Remade in 1936 as TWO AGAINST THE WORLD. leave a comment

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