EXCLUSIVE (Paramount, 1937), directed by Alexander Hall, hence its title, is a newspaper story taken from the play credited by John C. Moffitt. Following the pattern of journalism on film with such titles as "The Front Page" (1931), "The Final Edition" (1932), "Exclusive Story" (1936) or "Back in Circulation" (1937), among many others, EXCLUSIVE is one of those long unseen forgotten ones that's as good as it appears. Starring Fred MacMurray and Frances Farmer for the first and only time, it also features Charlie Ruggles, better known for comedy, being more serious here as an aging reporter sporting wire glasses and mustache. With the story belonging to MacMurray, co-stars Frances Farmer and Lloyd Nolan hold their own with their attention-grabbing performances.
Set in the town of Mountain City, reporters at The World newspaper await for the jury verdict of racketeer Charles Gillette (Lloyd Nolan). With the upset going for "not guilty," Ralph Houston (Fred MacMurray), the assistant city editor, knows the jury must have been bribed. Entering the newsroom along with his henchmen, the ever confident Gillette comes up with the news for Colonel Bogardus (Edward H. Robins), the newspaper owner; Horace Mitchell (Ralph Morgan) a candidate for mayor and Mr. Franklin (Willard Robertson), owner of the Franklin Department Store, of his forming a rival newspaper nearby called The Sentinel. Now the head man there, Gillette offers to hire The World employees, doubling their current salaries. Ralph turns down his offer of $200 a week because dirty or "yellow" journalism isn't in his league. Tod Swain (Charles Ruggles), his partner and close friend, however, is tempted with his $100 a week, but refuses as well. Ralph is engaged to Tod's daughter, Vina (Frances Farmer), who has just quit her present job. When she learns of Ralph's refusal for the additional money so they can get married, she becomes upset. Learning from her father of Ralph secretly put his own money for her college education, Vina decides to pay him back by working for Gillette at top salary. However, Ralph disapproves of Vina's association with Gillette as her boss. An argument ensues forcing Vina to call off their engagement. Vina becomes an exceptional reporter doing undercover work, exposing stories on Gillette's enemies. On in particular being Horace Mitchell, whose past has been exposed that ruins his chances campaigning for mayor. Following Mitchell's confrontation with Vina, she finds herself unable to go through with her tabloid reporting, but Gillette talks her out of it. Eventually Vina gets too deep with her story material on defective elevators from the Franklin Departmnent Store that she gets sued for libel. To prove her story true, Beak McArdel (Horace MacMahon), one of Gillette's henchmen, fixes an elevator to fall, injuring numerous passengers, including Ralph. Afraid of being exposed, Gillette sends Vina on an out of town assignment with Beak as her "bodyguard." Realizing what truly happening, Tod finds Vina's life could be in danger.
Featured in the supporting cast are: Fay Holden (Mrs. Effie Swain); Harlan Briggs (Springer); Chester Clute (Garner, a bill collector for the Strand Credit Company); and Irving Bacon (Doctor Boomgarten). Look fast for Billy Lee (Billy McArdel) and Libby Taylor (The Maid) in smaller roles. Charlie Ruggles stands out among the others as a drunken, middle-aged reporter. Aside from getting a black eye from one of the thugs early in the story, he gets his moment of glory demonstrating to the equally drunken Ralph (MacMurray) whether or not the light bulb inside the refrigerator remains on after closing the door by having Ralph sit inside the refrigerator to find out. This plays better than it reads, yet humorous scenes such as this lighten the tension, but often unbalances the dramatic texture of the story. Fay Holden, better known as Emily Hardy in the "Andy Hardy" family series for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, performs familiar duties as both wife and mother to Ruggles and Farmer's characters. Lloyd Nolan, who can play good guys or comedic detectives in believable manner, demonstrates his ability here as the villain who would stop at nothing to ruin his enemies, even by using the girlfriend of a rival reporter who refuses to be intimidated by him. Though Farmer's character is both tempermental and naive, her Vina, eager to better herself, does so for the wrong reasons working for a racketeer to earn some easy money. By not doing this, however, there would be no story with added suspense.
Not regularly broadcast on commercial television in decades, and unseen on New York City television since it's final broadcast in 1972 on WPIX, Channel 11, EXCLUSIVE, happens to be one of the finer newspaper dramas to come out in the 1930s, and one that should still be entertaining for its fine acting, good story, and fast-pace direction during its 78 minutes. -30- (***).