Tuesday, November 19, 2013

THE FAMOUS FERGUSON CASE (1932)

After an opening crawl warning about the evils of using scavenger journalism to sell newspapers, we meet young Bruce Foster (Tom Brown) who runs the paper in the small town of Cornwall with some help from his girl friend Toni (Adrienne Dore). It seems to be common knowledge that wealthy Mrs. Ferguson is having an affair with banker Judd Brooks, and when Mr. Ferguson arrives home early from a business trip, he almost catches the two of them. That night, Ferguson is shot to death and his wife is found bound and gagged. She claims that robbers broke in and gives police a description of them, but some believe that she and her lover may have committed the crime and made look like robbery. The news, reported by Bruce in the local paper, brings a flock of big-city reporters to town. One batch, led by the slightly seedy Bob Parks (Kenneth Thomson), is out to make as many scandalous headlines as possible, and they wind up railroading the DA into charging Mrs. Ferguson despite virtually no physical evidence. The others, led by Martin Collins (Grant Mitchell), are disgusted by Parks' tactics. In the middle is Maizie Dickson (Joan Blondell), Parks' former lover; she hangs out with Parks and the scandal mongers but her heart is with Collins' group. When Maizie realizes that small-town Toni is falling for Parks, she tries to intervene, but can’t stop their affair. But the real question is, can Bruce, the small-town reporter, find out the truth behind the murder which the big-city pros seem disinclined to find?

This is another Warner Bros. movie, like FIVE STAR FINAL from the year before, that takes a critical view of the newspaper business. That earlier film focused on scandal sheets that dig up old dirt just to sell papers. In this one, the "bad" reporters actually influence the way the case is handled by the state, rushing to judgment for the sake of headlines. This is worth seeing for a number of reasons. It moves along at a nice clip, the plot takes a couple of unexpected detours—especially the thread involving Blondell—and the performances are quite good. Brown (pictured with Blondell above) looks like he's 15, but he does a nice job at seeming both charmingly na├»ve and slyly clever. Thomson, an actor with whom I was not familiar, is good as the world-weary, slightly decadent type—we discover that he doesn't even write his own copy anymore. Leon Ames stands out in the small role of Brooks, the lover. [TCM]

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