Edward G. Robinson is in great form as the city-editor of a sleazy tabloid who lives to regret bowing to the gods of circulation & dropping his principles when he runs a feature series that drags up a twenty year-old murder case. The play it’s taken from isn’t exactly a subtle thing, Robinson spends half the film washing his ‘dirty’ hands. (Who needs symbolism?) Anyway, the film is so loaded with tasty Warner Bros. character types that the pacey interplay & verbal smackdowns leave little time for second-guessing. 1931 was still early Talkie days and there’s a fascinating discrepancy in the acting styles that has the newspaper guys & gals all talking like mugs (Aline MacMahon a particular stand-out as Robinson’s secretary*) while the nice family who are being victimized by a mother's sordid past still play in a stiff, stage-bound style. Our immediate response favors the slangy locutions of those ink-stained wretches, but don’t sell those old-fashioned elocutionists short. Once you adjust to the pearly vowels, they really come thru with a big confrontation scene for the wronged, blameless daughter at the climax, and a truly dazzling/desperate split-screen phone conversation for Mom as she fights for her family’s reputation while cracking up before our eyes in the middle panel. It’s a fine imaginative touch from megger Mervyn Leroy who was at his considerable best in the early Talkie years, before moving on to bigger budgets & a bland corporate style. He really put lenser Sol Polito on his toes with serpentine moves for that bulky camera.
DOUBLE-BILL: *Little remembered these days, Aline MacMahon was a stage & screen actress of unusual looks & ability. (At the end of FSF she looks ready to pick up Robinson & tote him away.) Try HEAT LIGHTNING/’34, Mervyn Leroy’s fascinating early feminist drama set in a desert garage about half a block down from THE PETRIFIED FOREST . . . and equally stage-bound. Aline’s the mechanic, natch.