The Finger Points, 1931. 7/10

Crime drama with reporter Breck Lee (Richard Barthelmess) trying to break into the big time by exposing a bunch of gangsters. First, he literally winds up in the hospital, then the gangsters co-opt him; then his girlfriend Marcia (Fay Wray) pushes him to go straight. That’s easier said than done. Clark Gable plays the mobster Louis Blanco; Charlie (Breezy) Russell (Regis Toomey) is Breck’s friend/rival reporter. My first thought is, why do only the reporters get nicknames?

Hired in the big city, Breck’s told by his new boss that there will plenty of “temptations” at his job. Thanks to Breezy, He meets Marcia, the “best looking gal in the newspaper business.” The headlines are taken up with “Gang War Rages” and the like. But the owner exhorts that the newspaper can’t be “bought or intimidated.” He might have added that it can sure be ‘tempted’. Soon Breck in looking in on the Sphinx Club.

He should’ve brought back-up. Breck unwittingly inquires of Larry Hayes (Richard Bleckler) about a (undoubtedly illegal) casino project. They offer to blackmail him to buzz off, but Breck won’t budge. Anyway, he and Breezy go to have some fun with Marcia. When they discover that he’s been poking around Hayes’ club, they warn him off. Too late, as his scoop on the casino goes to press.

Like clockwork, the cops show up at the casino, causing a big ruckus. Hayes is arrested. Now Breck’s a sitting duck; sure enough, he’s ambushed in the street by Louie’s goons. Next day, Breezy and Marcia look in on him in the hospital. Already, Marcia has gravitated towards him, away from Breezy’s orbit; he’s just “poor old Breezy.” Geez, Breck’s proposing to her already.

Back in the office, she’s glad he’s back–but the hospital bills have piled up; plus his boss won’t believe that he didn’t just have an ordinary street brawl. This scene is too long, a little too much like a reality show. Anyway, he’s back to the club to see Louie Blanco; he’s desperate for cash-ola. Blanco offers him $20K to lay off the expose. That’s enormous. The only problem is that Breck has to keep his own paper in line. Still, Louis encourages him “We’ll shake this town down for a couple a million.”

Pretty soon, Breck has the need of a safe deposit box (hmm, what’s that about, money?). He shows at Marcia’s, but she’s wary, and has been avoiding him, because “something has spoiled everything between us.” She correctly surmised “that you’re not on the level anymore.” He’s got the pragmatic comeback that he basically didn’t have an alternative. She wants him to give up the crooked high-life. This is another overly long, talky scene.

The jist of it is they break up. Anyway, Blanco comes to look in on him: apparently, Breck’s getting “smart”; now he’s a “chizzler.” I suppose that means he’s shaking down the shake-down artists. Breck’s become a shot-caller of sorts. Breezy finds Marcia in a funk; she tells him about the mess with Breck. Rather amazingly, she brushes him off too, because he doesn’t “try.” He’s got a ready answer: he’ll do anything to get her.

Meanwhile, Breck’s literally ‘taken for a ride.’ Summoned to see “Number One” (the mafia don). The big-wig doesn’t want the heat on his new operation. They negotiate on the ‘protection’ amount. Breck holds out for $100k (wow, that’s not bad payola even ninety years later). The don counters with fifty, then seventy-five “G’s”. But, remarkably, he gives in to Breck’s maximum figure.

Now, however, Breezy throws a huge wrench in the works by picking up the story on the same racket that Breck’s paid to protect. Breck then doubles-down on the trainwreck by telling Marcia that he’s “terrifying the racketeers”. That’s hogwash, but she buys it (his obvious ulterior motive is to get her back and marry her). He hesitates, though, to truly commit to giving up the easy life. Marcia, not wasting a moment, declares she’ll marry him if he walks away from Blanco and his ilk, so he goes all in.

Both Marcia and Breck are AWOL from work; meanwhile, Breezy has done the expose story “Vice Center Exposed.” Uh, oh. Meanwhile, the happy couple plans their elopement. Breezy is let in on the marriage scoop, he’s instantly crest-fallen. Even though he’s met her conditions (been more assertive), he’s not going to win Marcia after all. Alone in the room, Breck imagines a montage of ghostly fingers pointing at him.

Looking in on Marcia, who’s very much a sleeping beauty, Breck’s seems to contemplate his status as a hunted man, and gets paranoid about the phone ringing. “Say your prayers…you fink” says the voice. Marcia wakes up, definitely worried about him. But he has to go to the bsnk to retrieve cash.

The streets, though nearly deserted, seem very menacing. Sure enough, a tommy-gun opens up, and Breck’s done for. Blanco and Breezy, from their respective milieus, give different impromptu eulogies. At least there’s going to be a new happy couple–Breezy and Marcia.

The Finger Points is more or less a morality tale: crime=bad, Fay Wray=good. That’s still good enough for an entertaining crime film. With the exception of the drawn-out scenes (made noticeable in this short feature), the pace keeps a good tempo, and the plot works.

It’s good that Breck spends most of the film conflicted and on-edge. His role is smoothly counter-balanced by the all-her-ducks-in-a-row Marcia, and the amiable, even goofy Breezy. Gable is not quite up to the speed he had a little later, but he’s all right. All in all, this is a decent mix of gangsters, good guys, and slice-of-life romantic triangle, with a few bits of comedy tossed in.

Farmermouse liked all the easy money changing hands. Seven newspaper exposes in the works for this. 7/10.

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