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Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Classic Film Review: The Big Street (1942)

The Big Street tells the story of Little Pinks (Henry Fonda), a busboy who falls in love with singer Gloria Lyons (Lucille Ball). When she's injured in an argument with her boyfriend and benefactor Case Abels (Barton MacLane) he takes care of her, paying her hospital fees and having her stay with him until she's better. The trouble is, Gloria is ungrateful and mean - she has her sights set on a rich playboy Decatur Reed (William T. Orr) and she'll have Little Pinks push her in her wheelchair from New York to Florida to get her way. The supporting case includes Agnes Moorehead as Little Pinks' friend Violette and Eugene Pallette as Nicely Nicely Johnson.

Based on a Damon Runyon story, this is a reasonably good film. It manages to bring to life the gambling and hustling of New York whilst still showing the hearts of those involved - there is a splendid scene where a group is pitching in money to help Pinks get Gloria to Florida, even though they don't like her and she's treated them like dirt. In this film, Gloria is the unreasonable one, pushing and pushing Pinks until he can't take it any more.

Lucille Ball, however, is excellent in the role. There are a few over-dramatic moments, particularly during the argument with Abels, but her moments of weakness as she struggles to acknowledge her injury, make up for this. She's a difficult character to like but it is a performance you can respect. With Henry Fonda, its the other way round: he's an altogether good character, easy to like but too liable to allow himself to be walked over. His defining moments come in the final minutes, which make up for his weaknesses as a character earlier. In addition, Agnes Moorehead is brilliant throughout, becoming a sounding board for Little Pinks but also enjoying a whirlwind romance with Eugene Pallette as Nicely Nicely.

All in all, this is an interesting little film that avoids the simpering ending I anticipated. Some of the dialogue is difficult to swallow but, on the whole, this is a bit of a lost diamond.

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