Monday, March 9, 2009

Five Star Final (1931)

Directed by: Mervyn LeRoy

Starring: Edward G. Robinson and Marian Marsh

Plot: A newspaper decides to dig up an older murder case with tragic consequences.

Thoughts: This was a really good film. People complain about tabloid (or yellow) journalism now, but it was appearently a problem back in the 1930s also. An aspect portrayed in this film was how not letting go of a scandal could end up hurting people who had nothing to do with it. The purpose of dredging up old, lurid news was solely to increase circulation and make money. The "Five Star Final" was the final issue of a newspaper for the day—this was back when multiple editions would be published, usually a morning and evening but sometimes one or two "extras" during the day.

Five Star Final would be Mervyn LeRoy's first shot at a Best Picture. The film was based on Louis Weitzenkorn's play and adapted by Byron Morgan. One of my favorite aspects was the appearance of Boris Karloff as a creepy reporter. It's odd how much he still looked like Frankenstein's Monster without the makeup. Although Edward G. Robinson shined as the newspaper editor attempting to gain respect, I felt he was slightly miscast. It's probably because of the gangster roles he later played.

The newspaper, The Gazette, was based on The New York Evening Graphic. The Graphic (nicknamed The Porno-Graphic by others in the press) was one of the most sensational papers of the day and had indeed been losing circulation at the time. It eventually folded in 1932 when, I guess, the public had grown tired of reading tabloid material day after day.

This film is not available on DVD and wasn't released on VHS or laserdisc either. The only place to see it is when it shows up on the Turner Classic Movies schedule rotation. So far, there are no plans to bring it to DVD.

Five Star Final only earned the sole nominated for Best Motion Picture, which is a shame. LeRoy's direction was certainly more interesting than Frank Borzage's work in Bad Girl and should have at least earned a Best Director nod.


  1. The film was based on Louis Weitzenkorn's play...

    Maybe it's just my imagination, but it seems like a LOT of the films you've covered so far have been based on plays.

    Which is not to judge them, at all, as it certainly makes a lot of sense.

    I simply find it interesting in light of the people who complain how many movies these days are based on novels, TV shows, other films and media, when it seems the presence of "adapated" screenplays alongside "original" ones has been around since the beginning of American cinema, more or less.

  2. You're right, it has been a recurring theme with the nominees so far. It's been nothing short of fascinating to see just how few of these films have been original screenplays.

  3. Conjecture here, but it seems to me that we're still pretty early in the "talkie" era of movies. Totally different writing required than for the silent era. To get the number of pictures the studios would want to produce in a year, I'd guess they needed to rely on secondary material...

    Just a thought.


  4. I had the same thought as Anonymous, and buried memories of old cinema history classes bear this out. Though by the 30s, you'd have thought they'd have gotten the hang of it.