Thursday, March 31, 2016

Exclusive Story (1936)

Exclusive Story is a 1936 drama directed by George B. Seitz (who directed the Andy Hardy series as well as another Franchot film, Between Two Women). The film stars Franchot Tone, Madge Evans, Stuart Erwin, J. Farrell MacDonald, Joseph Calleia, and Robert Barrat. This is a film that I always forget about when I'm in the mood for a Franchot movie night until I stumble on it again and am impressed by the plot and the work of the extremely gifted actors. It's just a "little program picture", but has a powerful story and a nail-biting ship rescue scene.
(Side Note: I recently read Edward J. Funk's book Eavesdropping: Loretta Young Talks About Her Movie Years and Loretta referred to one of my favorite films The Unguarded Hour as "just a little program picture" and now I seem to be working that phrase into all of my personal film reviews. I tend to love "little program pictures" and I also highly recommend the book if you're a LY fan!)
The film revolves around racketeering and a newspaperman's efforts to expose it. Gangsters first take over Harlem and then move on to small-time grocers and other shop owners. With threats of violence, the gangsters intimidate these local businessmen into selling tickets for a big lottery scam. Of course, the merchants are never able to sell enough to please the racketeers, so their businesses, families, and own lives are constantly placed in more danger.

Reporter Timothy Higgins (played wittily by Stuart Erwin) knows that there is something fishy going on, but cannot expose the scam without more cooperation. Dick Barton (Franchot Tone) is a wealthy society lawyer who would rather keep his nose out of scandal and his focus on his equally wealthy fiancee and a carefree lifestyle. His disinterest is clearly visible in this photo:

Franchot is unimpressed.

Franchot is slightly more impressed.
One day, Ann Devlin (Madge Evans) provides Higgins with the scoop he's been after. Ann shares the story of how the gangsters took control of her father Michael Devlin's store. J. Farrell MacDonald, an effective character actor who has over 300 acting credits listed in his IMDb filmography, gives my favorite performance in the film as the kind, hard-working merchant up against the tough, powerful mob of racketeers.

J. Farrell MacDonald as Michael Devlin

Shortly after Ann teams up with reporter Higgins (Erwin) and slowly wins over attorney Barton (Tone, whose character has been appointed special prosecutor on the case), a man is murdered on her doorstep after her father Michael attempts to sell the store. Michael then escapes to an ocean liner where he will be allowed to do honest work.

When a disastrous fire breaks out on the ship, Higgins and Barton volunteer to capture photos and the story from the air. Barton transforms from a bystander to a hero when he ends up parachuting from the plane to the water. Quick to react, he gets on the burning ship to help the victims escape. Michael Devlin is one of the survivors thanks to Barton risking his own life to pull him out of the wreckage. It is exciting to watch Franchot's character (someone who did not want to get involved in any way at the start of the film) jump into action and take on this heroic role.

Realizing that the ship fire is no accident but an involved criminal plot, Barton dedicates himself to exposing the local crime ring. A love affair and heartbreaking death involving some of the characters occur before the film ends. The bad guys in the film are played brilliantly by Joseph Calleia and Robert Barrat.

Thankfully, this film that flies under the radar but packs a lot of punch is available on DVD through Warner Archive.

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