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Five Star Final (Remastered) (DVD Review)

12 Jul, 2010 By: Mike Clark

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
$24.95 DVD, $14.95 Download
Not rated.
Stars Edward G. Robinson, Marian Marsh, Boris Karloff.

Though a couple of its supporting performances have their overwrought moments, this pioneer best picture Oscar nominee from 1931 is still the real deal when it comes to a the screen’s most acidic portrayals of the tabloid press. And there’s nothing overwrought about Edward G. Robinson, who proved to audiences (and to Final director Mervyn LeRoy) that the actor’s range went well beyond playing iconic hood “Rico” in LeRoy’s Little Caesar, which had made an overnight star of the Broadway import earlier in the year.

Said to be based on the experiences of a vengeful former newshound, this play-to-film casts Robinson as the managing editor of a rag called the New York Evening Gazette that’s run by a spineless owner with no apparent convictions but obviously eager to sell more papers. With the sales force wanting more sensationalism, Robinson reluctantly gives it to them by dredging up a society shooting from 20 years before — one whose perpetrator (left pregnant by the caddish male) now lives under a new name out of the limelight with the man she eventually married and the now-grown daughter, who’s about to be married.

The groom is a society type himself — decent but with parents so snobbish that it only makes the Gazette exposé all the juicier from its amoral point of view. The bride’s own parents (guileless) then foolishly spill the beans to one of the rag’s reporters under the impression that he’s the minister’s assistant. Of all people, the role went to Boris Karloff — the very year he rose to stardom by playing Frankenstein for the first time. Any woman who shares a taxi with this creep is guaranteed to have bruised knees, as does the female colleague who specifically learns this lesson. Ona Munson has the role — eight years before she was memorably cast as Dixie brothel madam Belle Watling in the screen version of Gone With the Wind, though she’s not un-memorable here. 

What follows is escalating tragedy that turns the stomach of Robinson — who, in an effective symbolic gesture, is always seen sudsing up his hands with hot water, as if to excise layers of Gazette dirt. Even his hide is penetrated by the plight of the daughter played by Marian Marsh — an actress who also starred the same year opposite John Barrymore in Svengali and as the motivator in Warner’s provocatively titled pre-Production Code drama Under 18). Unlike a lot of actresses from movies of 80 years vintage, Marsh has looks that easily hold up today. And speaking of cosmetics, the print restored print here does do a Clearasil job on the old TV version I recorded years ago.

Robinson’s final speech to his boss is one of the best, surpassed only by one I once heard about a former work colleague.  Reportedly, the latter asked his superior: “Do you want a letter of resignation, or will a simple ‘$#%@ you’ suffice?”

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