Warner Archive once again proves the timelessness of Golden Age films with the May 1, 2018 DVD of the 1932 dramedy "The Famous Ferguson Case." The only difference regarding the yellow journalism and the scum who practice it between then and now is that modern "news" gets reported much more quickly and has a correspondingly rapid impact.
The written crawl that opens "Ferguson" gives folks who pay attention a good sense of the conclusion of this feature-film quality B-movie. The gist of this text is the opening statement of an introductory lecture in a Journalism 101 class.
The message starts out by defining "news" and goes onto describe what disreputable members of the fourth estate label as that commodity. The amazing thing is that this statement is even more true in this era in which CNN, Fox News. and other 24-hour news channel must fill the air with programming that must have a large audience even when nothing news-worthy that is of interest to average Americans is occurring.
Orson Welles provides a variation of this sentiment in arguably the second most famous line in "Citizen Kane." The titular William Randolph Hearst character tells an underling "you supply the pictures, I'll supply the war."
A more amusing perspective on "Ferguson" is that it plays out like the darkest ever episode of "The Andy Griffith Show." The sophisticated city folks come to the hick town believing that the locals are morons only to have the local sheriff reveal the urbanites to be the actual fools.
The primary action in "Ferguson" begins on a typical morning in the small upstate New York community of Cornwall. Bruce Foster (Tom Brown) of the Cornwall Courier newspaper is coincidentally on hand when part-time resident New York banker George Ferguson unexpectedly arrives in town. This also coincides with wife Marcia Ferguson being at the station with friend with presumed benefits local banker Judd Brooks. Meanwhile, Mrs. Brooks is at home pregnant with her little dividend.
Everything seemingly being jake leads to Brown returning to the office to flirt with colleague/girlfriend Antoinette "Toni" Martin. Toni particularly dreams of the couple moving on up to live in a deluxe apartment in in the sky in Manhattan.
Everything changes when hot lead cuts both the life and the vacation of George short, This occurs in his bedroom, and Marcia is found bound and gagged nearby. Her story (and she is sticking to it) is that armed intruders are the culprits. However, the clear response of folks who would know is that the lady of the house is lying.
This shooting propels Tom into action; he uses the wire service of the day to send his story to the big guys. This leads to Manhattan-based newsmen (and one woman) arriving en masse. The most notable of the group are smoothing-talking admitted alcoholic Bob Parks, honorable news veteran Martin Collins, and loose Lois Lane Maizie Dickson. Star Joan Blondell gives an award-worthy performance as this woman who has experienced a lifetime of sins in a few years of adulthood.
The new kids on the block waste no time making themselves at home and shamelessly manipulating developments to further their objectives; this extends to blatantly pulling the strings regarding the development of the criminal case.
Additional fun comes regarding Bob seducing Toni on both a professional and personal level. The stars that he puts in her eyes include both making a name for herself among Manhattan reporters and becoming at least his common-law wife. The aforementioned strong performance of Blondell includes her reactions to witnessing what she has seen (and personally experienced) before and futilely tries to convince Toni to not make the same mistakes. One particularly strong scene reveals the extent to which her life has affected Maizie.
For his part, newshound Tom increasingly becomes aware that Toni is just not that into him anymore and no longer is a girl whom he can bring home to mother. He later learns the extent to which you can keep 'em down on the farm after they have given the city slicker the milk for free. The astounding thing is that these used goods seemingly still interest him.
A surprising game changer occurs roughly 15 minutes before the end of "Ferguson." The "pros" awesomely are caught with their pants down and are repeatedly forced to confront the consequences of their actions. All of this ends on a cynical note that shows that everyone is both disposable and replaceable. We further wonder if Tom will ever have the same good instincts regarding women that he has regarding the news game.