Five Star Final is basically a vehicle for star Edward G. Robinson, as if the poster wasn’t a blatant indication of exactly that; the opening credits become kinda amusing when Robinson is the only recognizable name, save for a small role for Boris Karloff (who does not manage to overcome looking like Frankenstein for every second he’s on screen, but that’s just a testament to the other film in question). It also is a fairly evident indication of the topic and style of film this attempts to be, though it may not be obvious at first glance until you start the film and see that it deals with the newspaper business and a particularly unscrupulous editor, and then the black-and-white editorial style poster makes perfect sense. In terms of merit, however, it seems the film tried a little too hard to focus on this style of presentation, as it threatened to overtake the story the film tells on multiple occasions, but it’s still a fairly decent film regardless.
Robinson is Mr. Randall, the editor of The Gazette, one of many tabloid newspapers scattered about the city. In order to boost circulation numbers, the other honchos of the paper decide to dig up an old murder case and do a series on the people involved as they are now, some 20-odd years after the trial. Turns out, the subject in question, Nancy Voorhees, is happily married with a grown daughter who’s about to be married herself, and who doesn’t know her mother’s lurid past. Cue Randall’s and his employees’ attempts to publish the story regardless, which doesn’t turn out well for almost anyone involved, and which forces Randall to answer some questions about where he wants his future to go. I had a damn good feeling about where this film was going to go from the opening, and aside from a curveball or two I was pretty much on the money, mostly thanks to how it started. The treatment of Robinson’s character seemed to try too hard to build him up in the beginning, as virtually the entire opening of the film consists of characters discussing or otherwise looking for Mr. Randall, who is deliberately kept offscreen until ten minutes into the film. It might’ve been more effective at what it was trying to do if it hadn’t been so obvious with what it was doing, and it clued me in a little too hard about how telegraphed the rest of the film was going to be for someone like myself who’s seen a few films or so. Still, judging the film by itself, it was fairly well done, though it would seem that this year’s crop is a slight bit underwhelming if this managed to get a Best Picture nom; not to hold it against the film too much, but it was too by-the-numbers to really be the best picture of the year, in my opinion.
I think the biggest problem with Five Star Final is that it tries a little too much to be an all-around picture. It’s got an idea in mind of what kind of film it needs to be, instead of what it should or ought to be, and it colors inside the lines so thickly to adhere to this idea as strongly as it can. I know it’s still technically the early sound era, but I still would’ve preferred the film to do a little bit of risk-taking or breaking-the-mold to see what it could’ve been, instead of sticking to the format so strongly. But, I can’t get everything I want every time, and for what this film had to offer, it was pretty good at it, so I’ll consider it a W. It’s watchable for Robinson and for its plot, but if you’re expecting a lot more, you might come up a little empty-handed.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10