Being a cynical journalist at heart, I’ve always preferred the movies that take a dark view of what goes on in a newsroom. And let me tell you, they don’t come any darker than “Five Star Final.”
Journalists love newspaper movies, especially the ones that either glorify their profession (“All the President’s Men”) or make it seem like an endless series of wacky-but-ennobling moments (“The Paper.”) But being a cynical journalist at heart, I’ve always preferred the movies that take a dark view of what goes on in a newsroom. And let me tell you, they don’t come any darker than “Five Star Final.”
Released in 1931, “Five Star Final” is the story of the New York Gazette, a sleazy tabloid desperate to boost circulation. Hinchecliffe (Oscar Apfel), its sanctimonious publisher, orders Randall (Edward G. Robinson), his whip-smart editor, to dredge up a 20-year-old murder story and splash it all over the front page. Trouble is, the woman acquitted in that crime has a daughter getting married the next day. In no time at all there are a pair of suicides, a furious set of in-laws and a hysterical young woman threatening to shoot Hinchecliffe and Randall right there in the newsroom.
And believe me, that’s only the barest bones of the plot. I haven’t even mentioned Boris Karloff (the same year he starred in “Frankenstein”) playing a drunken reporter who was kicked out of divinity school for getting a girl pregnant. Or Ziggie Feinstein (George E. Stone), the Gazette’s “contest editor” who divides his time between ordering violent attacks on news dealers and organizing a citywide taxi race that Randall says should “only kill about 100 people.”
Randall, beautifully played by Robinson, is the moral center of the “Five Star Final,” but he’s no saint. In fact, he’s all too willing to wallow in sleaze, and he’s the one who orders Karloff to slip on his old minister outfit and lie his way to the big story. By the end, though, Randall realizes how low he’s sunk, and his blistering speech to Hinchecliffe is a masterpiece of fury: “I want you to wake up in the night and see your own squashed, putrid little soul. I want you to know that every human being that works for you knows what a diseased hypocrite you are.”
The best moment comes even later, when Randall gets news of another sleazy story and, for a second, pretends to be excited. Then he tells the editor to tell Hinchecliffe to “shove it up his …” and tosses the phone through a window. Call me crazy, I don’t think the last word in Randall’s sentence was “nose.”
“Five Star Final” hit theaters in 1931, three years before Hollywood’s Production Code cracked down on film content. Like many precode movies, “Final” was able to get away with that last line — and a lot of other questionable content, too. That’s one of the things that makes “Five Star Final” such a wild movie to watch.
And I’m happy to finally be able to recommend it. “Five Star Final” has just arrived on disc courtesy of Warner Bros.’ on-demand Archive Collection (wbshop.com). It’s a bare-bones DVD with only the trailer as an extra, but with a film as bold and bracing as “Five Star Final,” you don’t need anything else.
Will Pfeifer writes about DVDs for the Rockford Register Star. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 815-987-1244. Read his blog at blogs.e-rockford.com/movie man/.
From the Vault: Check out these other newsroom films
If you’ve seen “All the President’s Men,” “The Paper” and “His Girl Friday” and are looking for something more in the way of newsroom drama, here are a few offbeat suggestions:
“Picture Snatcher” (1933) Jimmy Cagney plays a gangster-turned-photog in this fast-and-furious newspaper flick. The twist is his new profession is even less moral than his previous one. (Available in Warner Bros. “Gangster Collection Vol. 3”)
“Ace in the Hole” (1951) Billy Wilder directed this dark drama about a shameless reporter (Kirk Douglas, never better) willing to do anything — and I mean anything — to fuel the story of a trapped mine worker. (Available on DVD from Criterion)
“Scandal Sheet” (1952) A hard-boiled newspaper editor (Broderick Crawford) kills a woman, and his two top reporters (John Derek and Donna Reed) try to track down the murderer, not realizing it’s their boss. (Available in Sony’s “Sam Fuller Collection”)
“Deadline USA” (1952) A crusading editor (Humphrey Bogart) and his staff work to send a crime lord to jail at the same time the paper is being sold. One of the most entertaining newspaper movies ever made. Too bad it’s not on DVD.
Make room in your collection
Some DVDs out Tuesday…
“Chloe”: Julianne Moore, Liam Neeson and Amanda Seyfried star in this twisted erotic drama about a suspicious wife, a wandering husband and the young woman that comes between them
“Film Noir Classic Collection, Vol. 5”: Eight classic noir films including “Armored Car Robbery,” “Cornered” and the oddly spelled but utterly compelling “Phenix City Story.”
“Shark Week: Jaws of Steel Collection”: Now you can celebrate Shark Week any time of the year.
“Don’t You Forget About Me”: A group of young filmmakers try to land an interview with the reclusive director of “Sixteen Candles,” “The Breakfast Club” and “Pretty in Pink.” (Needless to say, this was filmed before Hughes’ death.).
“Mystery Science Theater 3000, Vol. XVIII”: The wisecracking guys from Minnesota mock such cinema classics as “Lost Continent,” “Crash of the Moons,” “Jack Frost” and “The Beast of Yucca Flats.”
Sting, “Symphonicities”: A collection of Police tunes played by a symphony orchestra. It got rave reviews, but nothing can make up for that awful title.
Soundtrack, “Knight and Day”: I’ll ask the same question I did a few weeks ago for the “A-Team” soundtrack. What happens if your CD comes out after the movie has already tanked?
New Politics, “New Politics”: I was worried no one would claim this week’s “Most Boring CD Title” award, but then New Politics saved the day at the last minute.
R.E.M., “Fables of the Reconstruction 25th Anniversary Set”: As someone who bought this when it was new (on cassette!), I can officially declare myself an old man.
Sources: dvdtalk.com, tophitsonline.com