Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Final Edition (Columbia, rel. 1931, © 1932)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Charles and I wound up watching a movie, the third in that interesting run of early-1930’s “B” films (so far all of them have been from Columbia, unusual in itself given that almost nothing from their early-1930’s output is readily available on DVD’s; even most of the Frank Capra films before Lady for a Day have remained in home-video limbo, though the 1932 American Madness was included in the recent Capra box along with his more famous films from late in the decade) recently shown on TCM: The Final Edition, yet another interesting compounding of a gangster plot line with another genre. In this case, as the title implies, the gangster plot is overlaid on a newspaper drama, though it’s not apparent until the start of the second reel just where the newspaper bit will come in.

The film opens with a raid on the illegal casino run by gangster Sid Malvern (Bradley Page) and his girlfriend and partner, Patsy King (Mary Doran), who complain that they were just raided three weeks previously — implying that the earlier raid was just for show and they were paying off the cops to be protected from any serious law enforcement. All bets are off, however, now that a new, compulsively honest police commissioner, Jim Conroy (Wallis Clark), is in charge of the force; he’s out to smash the city’s entire organized crime ring and bust the head man of all the rackets, attorney Neil Selby (Morgan Wallace). Ostensibly Malvern and King are just his clients; really they’re working for him and he’s the real owner of their illegal casino. Conroy brings this terrible trio to his office and chews them out, and shortly thereafter he’s found murdered.

The film then cuts to the office of the Daily Bulletin and to a confrontation between managing editor Sam Bradshaw (Pat O’Brien, top-billed) and reporter Anne Woodman (Mae Clarke); it seems he sent her to a woman embroiled in a bitter divorce case in search of a story about it, the woman talked her out of printing anything, and the rival paper The Record (there’s a certain degree of nostalgia in this movie for the days in which cities could support competing newspapers!) scooped The Bulletin about it. Anne tries to assure Sam that the story was groundless, and by printing it The Record has set itself up for a big libel suit, but shortly thereafter the writers, Roy Chanslor (story) and Dorothy Howell (script), just drop this plot thread altogether and we never hear of it again.

Instead, either Sam fires Anne or she quits — and she decides to solve the Conroy murder herself and offer the story either to the Bulletin or the Record, depending on who’ll pay her more. To do this, she traces Malvern — whom she’s convinced (correctly, as things turn out), ordered the hit on Conroy — to the Lakeside Inn resort (Charles joked that the “lakeshore” on which this resort was built was obviously one of the Los Angeles area’s ocean beaches, and “Oceanside Inn” would have been a better name for it since the “lake” it fronted on was clearly the Pacific Ocean), where she figures that by cruising him she’ll be able to worm out of him the information Conroy had against him and Selby and for which they killed him. The two sunbathe on the beach — where Freddie (James Donlan), Sam’s comic-relief photographer, takes a picture of them together and brings it back to Sam, who decides to publish it — and then go up to Anne’s room, where she makes a fake phone call to the hotel desk to have a distraction so she won’t have to have sex with Malvern, and finally finds in his coat pocket (she’s left him on the beach and pleaded the need to change clothes) a claim check for the baggage room at Union Station and intuits that Malvern deposited the envelope of evidence there.

Malvern catches on when he can’t find the claim check, and he and two of his thugs tail Anne to Union Station and catch up with her just as she’s phoning the Bulletin’s office to let them know she has the information. Sam is out when she calls, so she has to trust Freddie to relay the information, but he gets enough of her message so that Sam, when he returns, realizes that Malvern has kidnapped Anne and is taking her to his own home. It all ends happily, of course, with Sam alerting the police, who surround the building and take Malvern, Patsy (who had a jealous hissy-fit when she saw the photo of Malvern and Anne in the Bulletin, which seems to have been Sam’s motive in running it) and his thugs into custody, recover Conroy’s evidence and give the Bulletin a big story — and in the final tag scene Anne agrees to give up her reportorial career to marry Conroy. (Had it not been for that final twist, this would seem like a prequel to His Girl Friday — a movie which, despite the recent comments on it in the Los Angeles Times that wrote it off as another sexist movie in which the powerful, independent woman is “tamed” by a man, is actually an anti-sexist movie; Rosalind Russell’s character rejects the man who wants her to give up her career and goes back to the man who wants her as a professional and a personal partner.)

Like Attorney for the Defense, The Final Edition isn’t exactly the freshest sort of storytelling (it wasn’t when it was new, either!), but it’s a great little movie for what it is and a perfectly acceptable way to kill 66 minutes even though Howard Higgin, the director, is fine in the newspaper scenes but directs the gangster sequences more slowly and sluggishly than they would have been staged in a Warners movie of the time — although this film actually anticipates later Warners vehicles like Mystery of the Wax Museum, Back in Circulation, Front Page Woman and the Torchy Blane films.