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In the early 1930's, seemingly, only Warner Brothers had the guts to film this type of raw entertainment. Seen today, "Five Star Final" seems to be ahead of its time! It is racy, daring, provocative and is also a rough and tough exposé of the newspaper racket and its unscrupulous tactics. Edward G. Robinson, Marian Marsh (her hysterical confrontation with the nasty tabloid personnel at the films finale is a real gem), H.B. Warner (the personification of dignity), Boris Karloff (callous), Aline MacMahon, Ona Munson and Frances Starr are all superb. "Five Star Final" is a film that is still enjoyable and delivers a wallop, even by today's standards.
A powerful, uncompromising early look at "Yellow Journalism" which made
a great enough impact at the time to be counted among the year's best
films at the Academy Awards to say nothing of the rush of similar
pictures which followed in its wake, culminating in Howard Hawks'
masterpiece, HIS GIRL Friday (1940).
Edward G. Robinson is re-united here with the director of LITTLE CAESAR (1930), the film that made him a star, and delivers another great performance which is sufficiently nuanced to anchor the somewhat melodramatic plot in reality. Supporting him, among many others, are Aline MacMahon as his long-suffering secretary who's secretly in love with him and Boris Karloff in a marvelous turn as the most shamelessly hypocritical reporter on the newspaper's payroll. The cynical, rapid-fire dialogue gives it an edge and an authenticity that's almost impossible to recapture these days and, needless to say, became one of the key elements in this type of film.
The film features a number of good scenes but the highlights would have to be: the split-screen technique introduced to shut out the former convict, who is now being hounded by "The Gazette", from having a conversation with either the owner of the paper or its news editor (Robinson); the lengthy and heart-breaking scene in which the female ex-convict's husband (played by the ever-reliable H.B. Warner) bids farewell to their daughter and her soon-to-be husband without letting them in on the fact that the woman has committed suicide and that he intends to join her soon after; the hysterical tirade at the end by the daughter when she finally confronts the men who have destroyed her life, a brave tour-de-force moment for Marian Marsh (familiar to horror aficionados from SVENGALI , THE MAD GENIUS  and THE BLACK ROOM ) who had so far only rather blandly served the romantic interest of the plot; the final shot of the picture, with the latest issue of "The Gazette" being swept into the gutter by street-cleaners along with the rest of the garbage, thus leaving no doubt whatsoever as to where the film-makers' true sentiments lay.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
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
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.
It's amazing to see that the sleazy tabloids we deal with today are not
that different from the one portrayed in this picture. They will do
ANYTHING and sink to ANY depths to cover a story--especially if it
includes sleaze, innuendo and outright lies. In this case, they
resurrect an old story and destroy an innocent woman just to sell a few
more papers--resulting in a horrible tragedy that was completely
Although some of the supporting cast is only fair, the lead played by Edward G. Robinson is what makes the picture. He is a pig living in the filth his readers want until he and his paper just push too far and Robinson can no longer live with himself. His rather histrionic reaction is amazing to watch--not so over the top but just full of fury and intensity. A must see little sleeper of a film.
FYI--Humphrey Bogart did a very good remake of this movie a few years later ("Two Against the World"). It's also very good but I would advise seeing the Robinson version first--after all, in most cases the original is better than the remake and this is no exception.
The muckraking editor of The Gazette revives an old murder case (with a
FIVE STAR FINAL) to increase the paper's circulation.
Movies have long been fascinated with the fast-paced action of the journalistic newsroom and have mined stories about newspaper shenanigans for both comedies & dramas. Here, from First National Pictures, was one of the earliest talkies to have a real success in exploring the medium. The action is fast and the dialogue fits. The film goes further, however, reaching beyond the newspaper staff and focusing on a family who becomes the victim of untrammeled yellow journalism.
Pugnacious Edward G. Robinson gives a vivid portrayal of the unscrupulous editor who slowly begins to develop a soul when he is confronted by the turmoil his decisions have on the lives of innocent folks. Seemingly incapable of giving a bad performance, Robinson fascinates as he chews the scenery with his full-throttle performance. The always sterling Aline MacMahon scores as his wise, levelheaded secretary who nurses a secret love for him. Their scenes together are riveting.
In supporting roles, creepy Boris Karloff plays an alcoholic reporter without any morals whatsoever. Wisecracking Ona Munson has fun with her role of a floozy who becomes a girl reporter. Oscar Apfel is good as the paper's spineless owner. Rat-faced George E. Stone is rather repulsive as the guy who sends out the goons to strong-arm newspaper vendors on the street.
H. B. Warner & Frances Starr both shine as an innocent couple whose lives are made a misery by the rapacious Gazette. Playing their daughter, Marian Marsh has a terrific scene at the film's climax when she confronts the three newspapermen who destroyed her home. Sturdy Anthony Bushell appears as her steadfast society boyfriend.
Movie mavens will recognize little Frank Darien as an eager undertaker. And that's blonde Polly Walters as the Gazette's kooky-voiced telephone operator.
from a solid cast makes this film a must see. No wonder this earned a best-film Oscar nomination! Edward G. Robinson turns in another terrific performance as the tough editor of a sleazy NYC newspaper. Marion Marsh starts out iffy but her final scene is excellent. Frances Starr, H.B. Warner, Aline MacMahon (of course!), and Boris Karloff are all excellent as well. Nice comedic support from Polly Walters as the operator and Harold Waldridge as the office boy. But it is Robinson who carries this ensemble film through its twists and turns and has a few swell lines as well. The only problem is Ona Munson, who is pretty dreadful as the pretty dreadful character of Carmody. Marsh is remembered for her Trilby to John Barrymore's Svengali, but this is a better performance. And what a shame Starr made only 3 films! Her telephone scene is a cinematic classic!
Five Star Final according to Edward G. Robinson in his memoirs was a
favorite role for him. He enjoyed having to go through a film without
once taking up a weapon. But Robinson did have a weapon at his disposal
here, one deadlier than the tommy gun. The power of yellow journalism
to ruin and destroy lives for the sake of circulation.
Circulation is down at the New York Graphic, the sleazy tabloid where Robinson is the hardboiled editor. Publisher Oscar Apfel decides to rake over a 20 year old murder, one of those where are they now pieces. A woman killed a man who got her pregnant and refused to marry her and another man stepped up to the plate and raised her baby girl as his own. The couple, H.B. Warner and Frances Starr have lived quietly and anonymously on the west side of Manhattan the daughter, Marian Marsh is about to marry Anthony Bushell the son of a manufacturer.
The poking and prying of Robinson's reporters results in tragedy. It also gives Robinson a severe attack of conscience, encouraged by his girl Friday, Aline McMahon.
Stealing the film in the small part he's in is Boris Karloff as disgraced seminarian who affects the guise of clergyman to get the story he's after. It's one of Karloff's best non-horror film roles, he's positively creepy in the part.
The reason for Karloff's disgrace is sexual one and getting Karloff's mojo going as well is Ona Munson who also has a great part as the Nellie Bly of the tabloids. She tops Karloff in what she'll do for a story.
Five Star Final is a hard hitting well acted drama that does tend to go a bit overboard into melodrama, especially when H.B. Warner and Frances Stark are on screen. It was nominated for Best Picture of the year, but lost to the immortal classic Grand Hotel. It was later remade five years later as Two Against The World with Humphrey Bogart taking the Robinson part and the locale changed from a newspaper to a radio station.
I can easily see Five Star Final being remade for this century with the protagonist being the owner/operator of an internet website. The media may have changed, but sleaze is still sleaze.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is what made Edward G. Robinson so great. He could take any role
and make it unique and also from the start he could kid his "tough guy"
persona (which he doesn't do here)!!!! Aline MacMahon also deserves
praise. This was her first film and she was perfect in the role of Miss
Taylor - Randall's "conscience". Yes, she soon started to play kindly
aunts and best friends but she was vital to any film that she was in
and in this film, next to Robinson, she is the highlight. Adorable
Marian Marsh, who had just had a hit as Trilby in "Svengali" went on to
star in several hits of the early 30s. In this film she plays the
daughter Jenny Townsend and her high light is the end - "Why did you
kill my Mother????"
Joseph W. Randall (Edward G. Robinson) is managing editor of the Evening Gazette, the biggest scandal rag in the city. He is determined to make the paper more respectable and because of that the circulation is down. "you are trying to get above our readers... Say if I sat on a cigar box I'd be above them!!!". The paper's owner "the sultan of slop" decides to resurrect a 20 year old murder case where a young woman Nancy Voorhees killed her boss. She stood trial but was let off because of her baby. The paper wants to know what became of her. She is now married to a bank manger (H.B. Warner) who loves her dearly and stood by her. Her daughter, Jenny is about to be married to Phillip (Anthony Bushell) whose parents are in high society.
Boris Karloff is really creepy as Isopod, a defrocked priest - "don't drive in taxis with him!!!" He poses as a priest interviewing the parents of the bride - in reality trying to get a scoop for the paper. Jenny's parents confide in him, thinking he really is a priest and of course Isopod takes it to the papers.
The story makes front page news on the day of the wedding. Phillip's parent visit and command that the wedding be called off. Nancy, the mother, calls the paper, and by the use of a triple screen you see how her pleas go unanswered by everyone, except Miss Taylor. Her husband goes to see a friend who says he will do all in his power to stop the story but it is too late for Nancy, who has taken her own life.
"Why did you kill my mother!!!!". Even though Phillip has stood by her, Jenny is distraught and goes to Randall's office planning to kill him. After a huge show down that will leave you emotionally breathless a glass door is broken and Randall goes off with Miss Taylor - "if you want my opinion - take me to a speakeasy some night - I won't be working for you then"!!! - to start a clean life away from the gutter of the scandal rag that has "more huddles on this paper than on the Notre Dame team!!!!"
The door that was broken was the door to the owner's office - not the door out of the office.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This film was made in 1931, but deals with issues that we still face
today. How far should journalists probe into the private lives of
others, simply for the sake of higher circulation? Should there be
standards of integrity and honesty in reporting?
The plot concerns a trashy newspaper with dwindling circulation. The editor and owner decide to rake up an old murder case, because that's the kind of trash their low-life readers enjoy. The problem is that the murder in question was committed by a woman who is now leading a respectable life. (We're never given all the details on how she got out of prison, etc., or the real parentage of her child.) Is the paper willing to sacrifice the happiness of a family for the sake of more sales? There are a lot of interesting characters here, such as the conflicted editor (Robinson), a sneaky reporter (Karloff), and the grief-stricken father (Warner). Warner has the best scene, as he tries to maintain his composure while talking to his daughter and her fiancé on their wedding day, while his wife is lying dead in the next room. (Speaking of that, watch his hand as he opens the bedroom door and discovers his wife's lifeless body.) There are plenty of comic relief characters, with names like Ziggie and Kitty, and even a droning switchboard operator with a recurring part.
The Hays code obviously hadn't completely kicked in yet, because there is dialog here that is racier than films of the later 30s (such as fairly open discussions about illegitimacy). Take for instance Robinson's final line, accompanied by a telephone thrown through his boss's glass door.
It's all played for melodrama, but it works, helped along by clever camera work and lighting, and a no-frills script.
The story holds true just as much today as it did when it was made. Powerful newspapers will stop at nothing, it seems, in the name of circulation. Scandal sells. The best scene in the whole movie is when Jenny confronts each of the three protagonists with the question, "Why did you kill my mother?". Randall, realizing what he has caused to happen, attempts to kill the story, then turns in his resignation. (Or maybe he realized just how much power he held in his hands and wanted no more of it.) This movie shows that the pen, indeed, is mightier than the sword.
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