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Film / Five Star Final

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"No wonder the paper is rotten. We need more drunkards."

Five Star Final is a 1931 film directed by Mervyn LeRoy, starring Edward G. Robinson.

Robinson plays Joseph W. Randall, the editor of a city newspaper, the Gazette. The Gazette has typically been a trashy tabloid. but Randall has generally ethical instincts and prefers to cover serious, hard news. The newspaper's owner, Mr. Hinchecliffe, does not agree, and furthermore is upset by the Gazette's declining circulation. Hinchecliffe orders Randall to sleaze up the paper again in order to bring readers back.

The staff at the Gazette hit on an idea: re-visit the Nancy Voorhees case. Nancy Voorhees was a stenographer who, twenty years ago, shot a man after he knocked her up and refused to marry her. She was acquitted at trial, and the newspapers discover that she subsequently got married and has been living for years as Nancy Townsend. Nancy has buried her past well enough that Jenny Townsend, the daughter of her unfortunate liason, thinks that Nancy's husband Michael Townsend is her father. This happiness is endangered when the Gazette starts snooping into Nancy Townsend's life.


Five Star Final was made hard on the heels of Little Caesar, the film that made Robinson a star. It features Boris Karloff as Isopod the sleazy reporter; Karloff's own Star-Making Role in Frankenstein came out two months later.

Was remade in 1936 as Two Against the World (aka One Fatal Hour), moving the setting to a radio station, and starring Humphrey Bogart.


  • Buxom Is Better: Discussed Trope. Taylor is appalled by the hiring of sexy Kitty Carmody.
    "They fired Julia Murphy because she was flat-chested. Now they're gonna put this girl on because she's—" (makes "big breasts" gesture with hands)
  • Character Tic: Randall is constantly washing his hands. This is symptomatic of his guilt over his sleazy paper.
  • Driven to Suicide: The Townsends realize that Nancy is about to be exposed and their lives are ruined. To top it off, Jenny Townsend's respective in-laws stop by to say that they are forbidding the marriage. Nancy Townsend kills herself with poison. Michael Townsend comes home, finds her dead, and kills himself with the same poison.
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  • Drowning My Sorrows: Randall gets good and hammered in the corner speakeasy after he's told of the Townsends killing themselves.
  • Exact Words: Michael Townsend comes home and finds Nancy dead. He is reeling over this when Jenny and her fiance come in at exactly the wrong time. Michael doesn't tell them, but pretends that Nancy has gone out. He tells them to head to the church and says "I'm going to join your mother"—by which he means Together in Death.
  • Extra! Extra! Read All About It!: These words are heard over the opening credits. Then, as the Gazette is reporting on the Townsend tragedy, newsboys in the street shout "Extra, extra, all about the big suicide!"
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Lampshaded when the staff is talking about a story.
    "I think the part about the illegitimate child isn't made quite clear enough."
  • Head-Turning Beauty: Many people at the Gazette notice how hot Kitty Carmody is.
  • Hired for Their Looks: Kitty Carmody, the new-hire reporter who is put on the Voorhees story. Her attractiveness is a popular topic of conversation at the Gazette.
  • Liquid Courage: Taylor comes back to the office drunk, and when Arthur asks her why, she says she had to get drunk to tell Randall what she wanted to say. And she does, telling Randall that they are doing a terrible thing to Nancy Townsend.
  • Lurid Tales of Doom: Trope Maker? Randall, on Hinchecliffe's orders, sets out to make the Gazette back into a sleazy tabloid in order to attract readers.
  • Mooks: The thugs that the Gazette routinely sends out to rough up newsstand owners that don't display their papers prominently enough.
  • No Romantic Resolution: Others at the Gazette note that Taylor has a thing for Randall, but Taylor never does tell Randall this. At the end he quits, and she follows after him, and the movie ends.
  • Oblivious to Love: Everyone at the Gazette knows that Miss Taylor is in love with Randall, except for Randall. He never does figure it out.
  • Paparazzi: All the reporters at the Gazette. Isopod dresses as a minister in order to gain entrance into the Townsend home and trick them into an interview. Kitty and her photographer climb through a window, and when they find the bodies, Kitty tells the photographer to get pictures.
  • Show Some Leg: Kitty Carmody sits down in a chair in Randall's office and rather deliberately flaunts her legs. Arthur the dimwitted reporter simply goggles.
  • Split-Screen Phone Call: A unique example. A distraught Nancy Townsend tries to call Hinchecliffe at the paper. But Hinchecliffe is on the line with Randall, so the screen shows Nancy in the middle as Hinchecliffe and Randall are on each side talking to each other. When Nancy gets bounced back and forth between the two of them, either the right side or the left side goes black.
  • Strawman News Media: The entire plot. The Gazette is a trashy tabloid which does not hesitate to ruin a human life in order to sell more papers. Randall and his secretary Taylor are the only ones who even have a hint of conscience about exposing Nancy Townsend to public shame and ruining her life.
  • Take This Job and Shove It: A distraught Jenny confronts Randall and pulls a gun on him, demanding to know why he killed her parents. She's talked down by her fiance, but a guilt-stricken Randall resolves to quit, and does so, but not before unloading on Henchecliffe.
    Randall: Now you listen to me, Hinchecliffe. It'll be for the last time. I'm through with your dirty rag, and I'm through with you. Oh, I'm not ducking any of the blame for this thing. You thought of the murder and I committed it. But I did it for smaller profit. For wages. You did for circulation.
    Hinchecliffe: You must be mad.
    Randall: Mad. Yes I am. All my life I'll be mad. Because all my life I'll be seeing Nancy Voorhees' daughter standing there. And asking me why I killed her mother. And I want you, Hinchecliffe, to enjoy the picture with me. I want you to wake up in the night and see your own squashed, putrid little soul. I want you know that every human being that works for you knows what a diseased hypocrite you are. We all know what you are! But we take your money and do your work, because we're afraid to starve. You'll have my resignation and release of my contact on your desk immediately.
  • Title Drop: A newsstand owner tells a customer that "The five-star final won't be out until 11:30", and Randall later says "Write me a story for the five-star final." This is a reference to ye olden times when urban newspapers would publish more than one edition per day, with the last one marked with five stars and the word "FINAL".
  • Together in Death: Michael Townsend finds Nancy a suicide, and kills himself the same way in the same room.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The Gazette was closely inspired on the New York Evening Graphic, an incredibly sleazy tabloid that ran between 1924 and 1932.
  • Video Credits: At the beginning of the movie, as was house style for Warner Brothers in the early 1930s.

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