Two Against the World (1936): McGann’s Radio Melodrama, Starring Bogart (Remake of Five Star Final, Starring Edward G. Robinson)

William C. McGann directed Two Against the World (aka One Fatal Hour), a media melodrama starring Humphrey Bogart, Beverly Roberts and Linda Perry.

Based on the 1930 play “Five Star Final” by Louis Weitzenkorn, the film is much shorter remake of the 1931 Five Star Final, which starred Edward G. Robinson.

The setting has been changed from a newspaper to nationwide radio network whose owner, Bertram Reynolds, hungry for larger audiences, decides “in the name of public good” to revive the memory of an old murder case, resulting in tragic consequences.

As a result, cynical manager of programming, Sherry Scott (Bogart), experiences crisis of conscience when faced with the deadly results.

Abetted by his marketing manager, Mr. Banning, United Broadcasting Company owner Bertram C. Reynolds decides to sacrifice quality for profitable sensationalism by broadcasting a serial based on the twenty-year-old “Gloria Pembrook murder case.”

Sherry Scott, cynical manager of programming for the radio network, promises Reynolds “the hottest play you ever heard,” giving the assignment to a team that includes Dr. Leavenworth, a devious reporter. When Scott asks secretary Alma Ross for her opinion of the project, she replies, “I think you can always get people interested in the crucifixion of a woman.”

After the jury found she was justified in shooting her first husband, Gloria Pembroke had a daughter, Edith, and remarried; she is now Martha Carstairs. Edith, who knows nothing, is about to marry Billy Sims, scion of a socially prominent family.

When the UBC announces the series on Gloria Pembroke, they alert Martha and devoted husband Jim to the potential threat to their family’s happiness.

Isolated from family and friends since marriage, the Carstairs seek help, while the young people remain ignorant. The Carstairs mistake Leavenworth for a pastor’s associate and unburden themselves. After he leaves their place, they are horrified to hear the radio advertising “Sin Doesn’t Pay by Dr. Martin Leavenworth.”

Scott welcomes Leavenworth’s report, and when Ross challenges him, he retorts that now he only cares about financial security. The Sims hear Leavenworth’s broadcast and come to the Carstairs to cancel the wedding, without speaking to Malcolm. Martha calls UBC and appeals to Reynolds, who hangs up on her. In despair, she drinks poison.

Carstairs finds an ally in Dr. McGuire, their pastor, whose appeal to the Association of Broadcasters leads the chair to promise action. The Federal Communications Commission will put Reynolds and his like out of business.

When Jim returns home, he finds his wife’s body. He sends Edith and Malcolm to the church, promising to follow with Martha, and kills himself. Scott and Ross hear the news of the suicides. Later, Malcolm’s parents browbeat Edith about ending the engagement; Malcolm comes in and defies them.

Reynolds wants to cancel the series and flee to England, but Banning feels it is too profitable to cancel. Scott raises the specter of FCC investigation of Reynold’s muckraking. Leavenworth suggests giving Edith money, and they admit her to the office. Grief-stricken but under control, Edith demands of each of the four men, “Why did you kill my mother?” Scott answers truthfully, “for financial reasons… to sell time on the air.“

Distraught, she draws a gun and shoots. Malcolm bursts in and takes her in his arms, telling her “They’ll go on with their filthy broadcasts, sacrificing little people who can’t fight back,” but warning the men that he will kill them if they use his name or his wife’s again.

Scott tells Reynolds: “You thought up these murders and I committed them…All my life I’ll see that girl standing there… I want you to wake up in the night and see your own squashy, putrid little soul… We take your money and we do your work because we are afraid to starve… I’m not.” Scott quits, taking Ross with him.

In the last scene, when the phone rings, it is the FCC. He eagerly agrees to testify, and when Reynold’s “Voice of the People” broadcast begins, he throws paperweight at the wall, smashing Reynold’s portrait and the speaker behind it.

The film is shorter than the original, running for 64 as opposed to 89 minutes. Although much of the dialogue is identical to that in Five Star Final (1931), that was a pre-code film.

The first film ends with Edward G. Robinson’s character telling his boss to “shove it up his—,“ throwing the phone through a glass door on the last word.

Although the fatal tragedy remains, the promised intervention of the newly formed Federal Communications Commission adds some hope for the future, which is absent from Five Star Final.

Comparing this film to the original play, some critics noted that it “lacks the sincerity of purpose that distinguished the earlier work.”

Cast
Humphrey Bogart as Sherry Scott, in charge of the UBC network
Beverly Roberts as Alma Ross, Scott’s secretary
Linda Perry as Edith Carstairs, Martha’s daughter
Carlyle Moore, Jr. (credited as Carlisle Moore Jr.) as Malcolm Sims, Jr., aka Mal, Edith’s fiancé
Henry O’Neill as Jim Carstairs, Martha’s husband of 20 years
Helen MacKellar (credited as Helen McKellar), as Martha Carstairs, formerly Gloria Pembroke
Claire Dodd as Cora Latimer
Hobart Cavanaugh as Tippy Mantus
Harry Hayden as Dr. Martin Leavenworth, UBC reporter
Robert Middlemass as Bertram C. Reynolds, owner of UBC
Clay Clement as Mr. Banning, UBC marketing manager
Douglas Wood as Malcolm Sims, Sr., steel magnate
Virginia Brissac as Marion Sims, his wife and Mal’s mother
Paula Stone as Miss Symonds
Robert Gordon as Herman Mills
Frank Orth as Tommy, Bartender
Howard C. Hickman as Dr. Maguire, pastor of the Carstairs’ church.
Ferdinand Schumann-Heink as Sound Mixer