The great Edward G. Robinson is the hard-boiled editor of a big-city tabloid. The owner of the paper comes up with the idea of boosting circulation by pursuing a lurid expose on the fate of a woman convicted of a crime of passion 10 years earlier, with tragic consequences. Directed by the distinguished Mervyn LeRoy, Five Star Final is an early Warner ‘social protest’ movie, and the sort of movie that epitomises the pre-Code talkies: sharp dialog, sexual innuendo, irreverent satire, and social criticism. While the picture is marred by the stagy treatment of the melodrama involving the family destroyed by the tragedy that ensues, the immensity of the tragedy and its putrid genesis sustain a powerful and still relevant narrative. Boris Karloff is a hoot as an amoral ‘undercover’ reporter: Edward G. calls him “the most blasphemous thing I’ve ever seen”.
But is it a film noir? I think there are sufficient noir elements to sustain a strong case: the theme of the corrupt brutality of ‘business’, individual entrapment, the futility of trying to escape a dark past, and a downbeat ending.
The final three minutes are brilliant and can be savoured from this clip: