Some friends and I got together with the purpose of watching some ‘30s films, and when discussing what to watch, there was a unanimous vote to watch something with Edward G. Robinson. Robinson, then as well as today, is best known for his gangster roles, but he is also great as a man with trouble on his mind and a grimace on his face.
In Five Star Final, he plays Randall, the city editor of a tabloid newspaper whose publisher is relentlessly pushing to increase circulation, including approving a fixed taxi race through the streets despite the danger to the public. He is given the task of digging up an old story to sensationalize and comes across a 20-year-old case of a woman that shot the man who got her pregnant and refused to marry her. Randall and his staff are street smart and resourceful, and quickly locate the woman, who has married another man and is Boris Karloff plays a drunk, lecherous and completely unscrupulous reporter who poses as a priest to meet and get information from the woman, whose illegitimate daughter is just about the son of a prominent family.
The scandal drives the woman in question to kill herself in her bathroom. When her husband (H.B. Warner) discovers her, he is prepared to follow her until his daughter and fiancé drop by on their way to the chapel. He has to put on a normal face and pretend all is well, so the young couple will go on with their wedding. The scene in which he pretends to cheerfully take a call from his wife, who lay dead in the next room, proves that performs in early talks, despite often overacting, can actually perform circles around most actors working today. Randall stirs up the scandal and boost circulation, but soon regrets his actions, and the scene of him brooding in a speakeasy are a key moment in Robinson’s whole career and is the actor at his finest.