Friday 17 July 2009

Final Edition (1932)

Director: Howard Higgin
Stars: Pat O'Brien and Mae Clarke

The Front Page was the definitive newspaper film for the sound era and Pat O'Brien and Mae Clarke both contributed in no small part to its success. So it's no surprise to find them both, among others like James Donlan and Phil Tead, back a year later for Final Edition. O'Brien as Sam Bradshaw, the editor of the Daily Bulletin, and Clarke a sassy reporter he's hot for called Anne Woodman. And while the pair of them obviously have a history that we don't know too much about, up to and including a proposal of marriage and the inevitable firing first time we meet her, they have bigger fish to fry. There's a really big story to report on.

There's a new police commissioner in town, Jim Conroy by name, and he's an honest man with a mission. He know who's running the underworld and he has them promptly brought into his office to calmly and politely hurl accusations at them. He's confident he has proof that could put prominent lawyer Neil Selby behind bars for being the kingpin, and his lieutenants too, Sid Malvern and Patsy King. The catch is that he's so confident in what he has and the crooks are so confident in his confidence that they promptly rub him out.

And so the the Daily Bulletin gets to investigate, with our intrepid reporter Anne (or Ann when she signs telegrams) doing the top notch job nobody else seems able to do. Naturally she lands her stories with a deceptive ease, not just keeping on the trail of the elusive Sid Malvern but ingratiating herself into his company. And of course she infuriates her boss like nobody's business. You can't have a good newspaper story without the ace reporter getting fired every five minutes and threatening to go to the Record instead!

Last time I watched a Mae Clarke movie I wondered if she could ever be the memorable thing about a movie because she has a knack of being in great ones but also being outshone by her co-stars, whether they be Karloff the Uncanny or Edna May Oliver or even Jimmy Cagney and a grapefruit. Here she shines brighter than she did in the others and does a good job of keeping up with Pat O'Brien who is a better reporter than an editor, though he could do anything remotely fast paced without even blinking. She's still not the dynamic attention getter that she should be but she's fun to watch.

While Mary Doran has fun here as what really works out to be the precode equivalent of a crack whore, the real third name here is Bradley Page, who plays Sid Malvern. I saw him recently in another precode, 1932's Attorney for the Defense, and he was a decent weasel of a petty crook made good. Here, in his first credited role after a bit part in the Gable movie Sporting Blood, he's even better. He's a crook working for someone else but he's not petty in the slightest and he seems far more capable and competent, not to mention romantically sleazy, than his boss, the kingpin, played woodenly by Morgan Wallace.

I've seen a few of Page's precodes without realising it, such as The Wet Parade and Central Airport, in which he shared an uncredited status with no less a name than John Wayne. He continued in Hollywood until 1943 in a string of obvious B movies, from Shadows of Sing Sing to Hell Bent for Love, from Red Hot Tires to Chinatown Squad, from The Outcasts of Poker Flat to The Law West of Tombstone. It will be interesting to see how he developed over the years.

The film itself is a fun romp but it's totally inconsequential, just another watered down newspaper yarn. The best ones are the fastest ones, where the talk never stops and there's a dynamic lead to blitz his or her way through the big story. O'Brien was a great reporter, and so were Cagney and Gable and best of all, Lee Tracy, who was unbeatable as the fast talking newspaperman. Mae Clarke is fun to watch here partly because she's Mae Clarke and partly because she's a girl so brings something different to the formula. Bonita Granville was better in the Torchy Blane movies but I guess Clarke was there first.

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