Friday, February 23, 2018

Tonight's Movie: The Finger Points (1931) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Newspapermen battling -- and being tempted by -- the Mob are the themes of THE FINGER POINTS (1931), a pre-Code drama just released on DVD by the Warner Archive.

Richard Barthelmess plays Breckenridge "Breck" Lee, a reporter from the South who gets a big break working on the most prominent big city paper in the North, The Press.

Breck works hard on stories aimed to help rid the town of mobsters and corruption, but his attitude changes after he ends up in the hospital for his efforts and the newspaper won't help cover his medical bills.

Mobster Louis Blanco (Clark Gable) shows Breck how to pay off his bills and then some, by killing stories that will hurt the mob, keeping them from publication. Breck accepts the payoffs and dives into a luxurious new lifestyle, though it costs him the affection of Marcia (Fay Wray), the newspaper columnist he hopes to marry. Marcia happens to see Breck taking money out of his safe deposit box and puts two and two together with the fact that Breck is clearly no longer living on $35 a week plus carfare.

Breck eventually convinces Marcia that he's actually been battling the mobsters behind the scenes by infiltrating them, casting himself in a brave new light, and she agrees to marry him and run away to a safer location. Breck has every intention of clearing the cash out of his safe deposit box first, of course. And what Breck doesn't know is that fellow reporter Breezy (Regis Toomey) is about to bust wide open a story for which Breck took a huge payoff, committing to keep it out of the paper.

There are a lot of things about this little film to like, starting with the newspaper setting. I loved the big signs on the wall, such as "IS IT INTERESTING?" Though I must say it's the filthiest newsroom I've ever seen in a movie; the actors have to wade through piles of trash all over the floor!

The story itself, by John Monk Saunders and W.R. Burnett, is an interesting premise, though unfortunately it's nearly killed by Barthelmess, a colorless, slow-speaking actor who periodically grinds the film to a halt with his plodding line readings. I found it interesting that in one dramatic scene in particular, the camera only shows the side or back of his head, remaining on the more interesting Wray's face throughout.

Fortunately the film is saved not only by a decent story and setting but a superb supporting cast in Wray, Toomey, and Gable. Wray is simply gorgeous as a smart cookie making her own way in a newspaper career, and I've always liked Toomey. In a scene where he feeds Wray donuts and coffee and asks what it will take for her to "go" for him, I was silently urging her that Toomey was a better choice than Barthelmess!

As for Gable, he's positively electric. He dominates all his scenes with the ostensible "star," Barthelmess; they seem to be playing two completely different games, so to speak. It's fascinating to see the charismatic star power Gable exudes even in a very early role. I found the film particularly valuable to see in the context of Gable's career.

THE FINGER POINTS was directed by John Francis Dillon and filmed by Ernest Haller. The supporting cast includes Robert Elliott, Oscar Apfel, and Robert Gleckler.

IMDb lists the film as 90 minutes long, but the Warner Archive disc runs 85 minutes. I didn't notice anything which overtly seemed to be missing storywise, and frankly the movie could easily have been speeded up, if only by having Barthelmess talk faster!

The print of this 1931 film is soft but overall it looks fine. The sound has more static than I would have wished for, though I didn't have any difficulty understanding the dialogue. There are no extras.

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.


Blogger barrylane said...

I have seen this film and my view is far harsher than yours. it is flat out terrible, and while Fay Wray is attractive and competent, she cannot even carry the scenes she is in, much less the entire film. Of course she has to work with Barthelmess. Who is not only a mess, but a bore. On the other hand, Clark Gable is alive. Enough said. Had he played the lead, you might have something to see.

3:22 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

We're in agreement Barthelmess was a boring mess in this, LOL. As you read, I got more out of the film than you did, ultimately glad I saw it, but I can understand if Wray, Gable, and the newspaper storyline aren't enough for some viewers.

Best wishes,

4:14 PM  

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