Five Star Final (1931): Mervyn LeRoy’s Oscar Nominated News Melodrama, Starring Edward G. Robinson and Boris Karloff

In Mervyn LeRoy’s Five Star Final, a well-acted newspaper melodrama, Edward G. Robinson plays an ambitious, greedy editor, and Boris Karloff a morally compromised reporter.

It’s one of the few films in the history of the Oscars that has been nominated for just one award, Best Picture (it didn’t win)

Byron Morgan and Robert Lord’s scenario is based on the sensationalistic stage play by Louis Weitzenkorn, which ran for 175 performances on Broadway. (Weitzenkorn was previously editor of the tabloid, “New York Evening Graphic”).

To boost readership, Robinson lets himself be persuaded to rerun a story about a scandal that leads to tragic result with suicide.

The first years of the sound era saw a number of newspaper melodramas, constituting a popular genre with the public with their critical probation of gutter (yellow) tabloid journalism.

Though much praised at the time due to LeRoy’s proficient helming, fast tempo, and the actors’ tough performances, “Five Star Final,” has not aged as well as Lewis Milestone’s “The Front Page.”

The Actors

The versatile Robinson later made considerable contribution to the crime-gangster genre, and Karloff to noir and horror features. Here Karloff plays a shady reporter with a shady past, having been kicked out of a divinity school for sexual misconduct (which remains vague in the saga).

Note:

If you want to know more about the history and politics of Oscars, please read my book:

Oscar Nominations: 1

Best Picture (MGM), produced by Hal B. Wallis.

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

The Best Picture went to MGM’s all-star melodrama, “Grand Hotel,” which was one of eight nominated films in 1931-2: “Arrowsmith,” “Bad Girl,” “The Champ,” “Five Star Final,” “One Hour With You,” “Shanghai Express,” and “The Smiling Lieutenant.”

Note:

I am grateful to TCM for showing this film on February 13, 2020, allowing me to refresh my memory and update my notes.