Warner Archive has released the 1931 dramatic crime film The Finger Points, manufactured on demand on a DVD-R. Is the film making you an offer you can’t refuse or should you leave it to sleep with the fishes? Read on to find out!
I was pretty excited when I saw this film come across the desk here at the website for review. I’m always itching to see more black and white crime films from the classic days of early Hollywood. I had never seen it before and was intrigued because Clark Gable was listed in the cast. He typically plays a more heroic figure so I was wondering what kind of range he could bring to the role.
In doing some research before beginning I looked up director John Francis Dillon and saw that he was credited with 131 director credits according to IMDB. He died at the age of 49, so in some cases, he was pumping out 4 films a year for the studio. If this leads you to believe that this film would then be a cookie cutter B-movie release without any real artistry, unfortunately, you would be correct. That’s not to say the film is bad per se but that it feels like just another story cranked off the factory assembly line.
It’s really a shame too because the talent behind the film is massive. You have a story written by John Monk Saunders (Wings, The Dawn Patrol) and W.R. Burnett (Scarface, Little Caesar, The Great Escape) which are two of my favorite Hollywood studio writers. And as a principal cast you have Richard Barthelmess (One of the founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences), Fay Wray (King Kong, Doctor X, Most Dangerous Game), character actor Regis Toomey (The Big Sleep, His Girl Friday), Robert Elliot (The Maltese Falcon but not the one you are thinking of) and the aforementioned Clark Gable (Gone with the Wind) as a gangster.
Richard Barthelmess is Breckenridge ‘Breck’ Lee, a guy trying to make it in the world who decides to write for a Chicago newspaper. He moves from the South into the windy city to get a job at The Press. His first assignment gets his name in the paper because of a police raid which does not make the crime community happy. Lee is put in the hospital which teaches him the lesson that it’s every man for himself in this line of work. So he starts getting paid off to not report what he finds out. However, his girlfriend finds out and she won’t accept marriage unless Lee goes straight.
Unfortunately, this release has two things going against it. First, since this film is before the Film Noir phase of great crime pictures it has a certain sense of a genre in its infancy. The players don’t quite seem to know how to convey characters involved in crime just right, it’s a fine balance between overacting, subtlety and believability and I don’t think it’s mastered yet in this early film. Considering there were many pulp novels out around the same time (some even by the film’s writers) there isn’t much excuse for getting so many things off.
The second thing I wasn’t thrilled about is that this seems to be an edited version of the film at 85 minutes. This might be the only print left in existence (courtesy of the Turner library print) but the original run time is 90 minutes. It may not really make any difference to the film or story but it would have been nice to have the complete version.
But that’s not to say the film is bad. The acting is a bit off, and I think a great deal of that has to be there is no great lead (you almost need an Edward G Robinson, Cagney or Bogart to carry a picture like this). The switch of the character motivation seems to happen instantaneously and it quickly becomes very unbelievable. I think how much you enjoy this film will depend on how much experience you have with stuff from this era.
The Finger Points Final Thoughts:
I am happy that Warner is releasing more pre-code films, especially those in the crime sub-genre. If you are interested in American film history or seeing some proto-noir I think The Finger Points is worth checking out. You can purchase a copy on Amazon. However, if you haven’t already seen the classics of this era of Hollywood I don’t think I would start here as it is not essential viewing.
Note: This DVD was sent to us for review. This has not affected our judgment or editorial process in any way. Please contact us if you have any questions regarding this process.