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Little Pinks is in love with a nightclub singer named Gloria. But it is a unrequited love as she does not know that he exists. Pinks is a shy busboy and Gloria only goes out with men who are loaded. When she tries to dump Case for richer Reed, Case dumps her down the stairs. After months of treatment, she will never walk, but Pinks is the only one who takes care of her. He pays all her bills and sends her flowers with unsigned cards. But to Gloria, he is nothing in her eyes. When she wants to leave New York for Florida, to be with the money set, he takes her. Written by
Tony Fontana <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Some cast members in studio records/casting call lists did not appear or were not identifiable in the movie. These were (with their character names): Elliott Sullivan (Tramp), Al Hill (Tramp) and Donald Kirke (Surgeon). See more »
Opening credits: "Loser's Lane --- the sidewalk in front of Mindy's Restaurant on Broadway-- is not as high-toned a trading center as Wall Street, but the brokers are a lot more colorful. Generally they prefer to put their money on a prizefight or horserace, but when the action slows, anything can happen and it usually does. Tonight, for example, the citizens of the Lane are discussing the latest contest in their usual quiet way --" See more »
THE BIG STREET (RKO Radio, 1942), directed by Irving Reis, from the story by Damon Runyan, who also produced, stars Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball in a very offbeat film. It's a variation of sorts to W. Somerset Maugham's "Of Human Bondage," in focusing upon an egotistic, arrogant woman loved by an ever caring young man addressing her as "her highness," and taking all the verbal abuse he can handle. While the woman is question might have been played to the liking of overly melodramatic leading ladies as Bette Davis or Ida Lupino, it's surprisingly acted by comedienne Lucille Ball in a performance that can not be categorized as her best movie, but certainly the greatest acting challenge of her career.
The first half of the story is set in New York City around the busy district of Broadway, better known as "The Big Street," where various characters, obtaining typically yet unusual Runyan names as "Horsethief" (Sam Levine), Professor "B" (Ray Collins) and "Nicely-Nicely" (Eugene Palette), are introduced. Then comes a busboy from Mindy's Cafe called "Little Pinks" (Henry Fonda) who, during an eating contest sponsored by his employer, Case Abels (Barton MacLane), leaves his post to rescue a pekingese loose in heavy traffic belonging to Gloria Lyons (Lucille Ball), a self-centered nightclub singer and Abel's girlfriend. For neglecting his post, causing him to lose a $1,000 wager, Abels socks Pinks in the jaw for his trouble and fires him. In appreciation for saving her dog, "Thanks, kid!" Gloria provides Pinks with another job as busboy. Gloria, whose very much interested in a millionaire named Decatur Reed (William Orr), sees her opportunity in living the high life and breaking away from Abels. When she tells Abels she's walking out on him, he slaps her so forcibly, causing her fall backwards down a long flight of stairs, permanently crippling her. In spite of eye witnesses, Abels makes it known that Gloria "was drunk" and "the fall accidental." Abandoned and alone, the only one to remain loyal to Gloria is Pinks. He not only works extra hours to pay for her hospital bills, but offers her lodging in his apartment surrounded by neighbors "beneath her class." Pinks goes even further by taking her away from those long bitter New York winters by wheel-chairing and hitchhiking her down really big street to Miami, where the second half of the story is set. In spite of his good deeds, Gloria's goal is not on Pinks but in resuming her high society living by marrying rich men. Spotting Decatur Reed on the beach where she is sunbathing, the two become reacquainted, but once he finds her to be a cripple, he makes it clear he's no longer interested. This rejection causes Gloria to be bitter and nastier, even to a point of placing all the fault on Pinks. He walks out on her after she hits a nerve, by belittling his line of work. Pinks continues his busboy profession in a nightclub that so happens to be leased by Abels. When he learns that Gloria may be close to dying, Pinks weakens, comes to her aide again, doing everything possible, even to a point of stealing priceless jewelry and expensive dinner dress to offer her so she'll have the will to live and become the old girl, or "her highness" again. This, folks, is not the rest of the story. The climax, as truly moving as it is, may not earn any Academy Award nominations, but indicates how good Fonda and Ball are when it comes to something as challenging as this.
A tragic melodrama with some doses of comedy that at times puts this movie a little off balance, which is probably why the movie may not be for everyone's viewing pleasure, it's Lucille Ball, as a troubled woman, whose main problem is believing she's something she's not, who keeps the story together. By profession a comedienne, this is a welcome change of pace in her career. Those highly familiar by Ball's TV work on situation comedies, especially the legendary "I Love Lucy" (1951-57) show, will be simply surprised and amazed in her ability as an dramatic actress, even though the story gets to be a bit too much with its melodramatics and expecting its viewers to accept certain aspects that doesn't quite come off as logical. Overlooking these faults, it is Ball who has the key scenes worth noting: the expression on Gloria's face while sitting up on her hospital to find she's unable to feel and move her legs; her change of moods from laughter to tears while shivering in a cold damp apartment; and the most famous one of all set in the nightclub with the spotlight on Pinks dancing with the crippled Gloria. How this is accomplished is simply amazing and heartfelt.
Aside from singling out performances of both Fonda and Ball, the supporting players, especially Agnes Moorehead and Eugene Palette (the latter who loves to eat), come off second best in their amusing yet likable secondary couple; Ozzie Nelson and his Orchestra conducting to the tune of "Who Knows?" with dubbed vocalization on two different occasions by Ball; Louise Beavers as Gloria's maid, Ruby; along with Hans Conried, Marion Martin, Marion Martin and George Cleveland in smaller roles. While both Fonda and Ball had long and prolific careers, they didn't get to work together again until 26 years later with the domestic comedy success of YOURS, MINE AND OURS (UA, 1968).
Formerly available on video cassette in the 1990s as part of the "Lucille Ball Signature Collection," cable television broadcast history of THE BIG STREET consisted of frequent showings on American Movie Classics prior to 2001, and at present, Turner Classic Movies (**1/2) .
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