Saturday, May 19, 2018

Tonight's Movie: The Famous Ferguson Case (1932) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

THE FAMOUS FERGUSON CASE (1932), a pre-Code newspaper drama, remains as timely today as it was the year it was filmed. It was just released on DVD by the Warner Archive.

When Mrs. Ferguson (Vivienne Osborne) is found tied up next to the dead body of her wealthy banker husband (Purnell Pratt) at their summer home, the New York newspaper media descend on the small town of Cornwall en masse.

Some reporters, especially Martin Collins (Grant Mitchell), are committed to doing an honest and accurate job of reporting, simply being a "mirror" reflecting the facts.

Other reporters, like alcoholic Bob Parks (Kenneth Thomson) and his pal Jim Perrin (Leslie Fenton), are more interested in being able to write sensational stories. They manipulate the county attorney (Clarence Wilson), badger the pregnant wife (Miriam Seegar) of a suspect (Leon Ames, billed as Leon Waycoff), and generally try to shape the story and create what we might today call "fake news."

It all comes crashing down on the unethical reporters thanks to the dogged work of young small-town reporter Bruce Foster (Tom Brown).

I haven't yet mentioned top-billed Joan Blondell, who starts out as one of the hard-bitten crew who arrives in town but gradually has second thoughts about her life and career. She also tries to warn off Bruce's colleague Toni (Adrienne Dore) about the insincere and unreliable Bob, but Toni chalks it up to jealousy.

Blondell often ends up near the top of the list for the actress whose films I see most in a given year, and fast-paced, zippy films like this one are a big part of the reason why. I really enjoy a story which can be told in a quick 74 minutes, and it goes without saying that Blondell is always compelling.

Mitchell and Ames, always pros, are also quite good.

The film begins with a card saying the film is "built upon the contrast between legitimate journalism and unprincipled scandal-mongering," and this is the most interesting aspect of the film; indeed, the focus on this angle pushes aside the actual details of the crime, which receive fairly scant attention.

While I enjoyed the film and found it worthwhile, it's not perfect. The "gee whiz" Brown is okay but on the bland side, and I've always found Fenton annoying. I also thought the conclusion was a bit hard to buy, as it seems unlikely that even being embarrassed by blowing reporting on the case could sufficiently impact Thomson's Parks to make him a better reporter, let alone give up the bottle.

Flaws aside, anyone interested in the media or "newspaper films" should find this worth a look. The main theme really resonated with me, and it's both fascinating and rather sad that "the more things change, the more they stay the same," close to 90 years after this was made.

THE FAMOUS FERGUSON CASE was directed by Lloyd Bacon and filmed by Dev Jennings.

The picture is somewhat soft, as DVD prints of films from this era are apt to be, but it's without major defects and has a strong soundtrack. The disc includes the trailer.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

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