Hinchcliffe, the ruthless publisher of a sleazy New York tabloid, is concerned that the ethical journalistic policies of City Editor Randall have caused a drop in circulation. He pressures the newsman to run more sensational stories including resurrecting the twenty year old Vorhees Murder Case. Although the perpetrator's actions were ultimately judged justifiable, and she has been subsequently living an exemplary life in anonymity, Hunchcliffe insists Randall revisit the story. Randall assigns Isopod, an alcoholic degenerate, to dig up anything lurid that he find. The unprincipled reporter fraudulently insinuates himself into the Vorhees' home masquerading as a minister and gets the expose he sought. Yellow journalism triumphs, and a decent woman's name gets dragged through the mud again... with tragic consequences. Written by
The Evening Gazette is based on the real-life New York Evening Graphic, the most sensational of all the Front Page-era tabloid papers. (Critics called it the Porno-Graphic.) The paper, owned by Bernarr Macfadden, published from 1924 to 1932. At the time this film was made, the Graphic had been losing circulation, because its new editor had been trying to make it a more respectable paper, just like in the film. The paper was best known for its "composographs," composite photographs used to create an otherwise unobtainable illustration. Louis Weitzenkorn, who wrote the original play, had been a reporter and editor on the Evening Graphic. See more »
Joseph W. Randall:
I've been here three hours and not a member of my staff's been here. No wonder the paper is rotten. We need more drunkards.
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A decent woman and her husband are driven to suicide by the jackals of the press. There is no satisfaction in the end, for the press is relentless in its exploitation of human suffering, wallowing in hypocritical sanctimony and drunk with power, due to its stranglehold on information and its corruption of the political process. The only satisfaction given us in "Five Star Final" is a rhetorical one and, mercifully, the survival of a few brave souls willing to pick up the debris of lives destroyed by the Gazette, the tabloid journal of the film.
Edward G. Robinson plays a ruthless, yet conscience-ridden editor, who too late realizes that crusading journalism - investigative reporting we call it these days - is often just a pretext for pandering to the vulgar public's taste for road kill. I like Robinson in this kind of role better than Robinson the gangster type. He has a brow that is far more affecting when tightly knit in anguish than in fierceness. And his last scene is a tour de force of cathartic fury, which director Mervin LeRoy frames effectively, so that the audience shares in the emotional release.
Also not to be missed is Boris Karloff's sleazy, resourceful hatchet man, who insinuates himself into private lives like a pickpocket. There are other fine performances, notably that of H. B. Warner, who is touching as a tormented victim of publicity. Another standout is Anthony Bushell, as the fiancé of Warner's daughter. He could have played the usual pretty-boy lug, but instead brings sensitivity to an otherwise stock character.
Viewers might be put off by some of the acting technique of this early (1931) talkie. Gestures tend to melodramatic here, due to most of the cast's coming from silents, in which pantomime is important, or the stage, where one must project into back rows. But it's easy to overlook this minor irritant.
Everyone saw the news media's apotheosis of itself in "All the President's Men". For a balanced view of the media, they should see more films like "Five Star Final," a gem whose neglect no doubt delights the jackals of the press.
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