Monday, May 28, 2018

Five Star Final, Mervyn LeRoy, 1931

Edgar G. Robinson as a hard-nosed, but in the end of course only almost completely cynical newspaperman trying to cash in on a long-forgotten murder. The temporal difference is essential, because this basically is two films in one: On the one hand, a decidedly modern thriller-as-farce about capitalist pressure in the world of mass media (and the psychological side-effects which go along with it). On the other hand, a 19th century melodrama about a woman`s tarnished reputation.

LeRoy doesn`t try to bridge the gap, instead, he accentuates it. The fluid, fast-talking newspaper scenes form a harsh contrast to the theatrical, almost a bit zombie-like scenes set at the home of the "tarnished woman". Interestingly, the only link between both worlds is Karloff - who is, not at all surprisingly, much more believable as the faux priest of victorian melodrama than as the supposedly authentic nihilist reporter T. Vernon Isopod (the name alone… so many beautiful details in this).

One might take this sensationalist defense of journalistic ethics as just another example of commercial cinema having its cake and eating it, too. But LeRoy is much more interested in structure, gadgets (the split-screen scene!) and runaway performances (George E. Stone! One of those actors who only need five minutes) than in morals. Plus, if nothing else, the theme of female solidarity rings true, like so often in his films. In the end, the true center of the film isn`t Robinson, but Aline MacMahon (in her first role!), in charge of the newspaper phone lines, throwing knowing looks at everyone who enters the scene. She's the one introspective, reflexive element in a world otherwise completely made up of manic, selfish activity.

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