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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
To laugh at Lucy is not to know her as a dramatic actress, and in this
Damon Runyeon drama, she is at her dramatic, bitchiest best. The
wise-cracking girl of "Stage Door" (1937) has grown up, and here she is
a gangster's moll nightclub singer. Busboy Henry Fonda is enamored of
her to the point where he refers to her as "Your Highness", a nickname
Lucy's maid Louise Beavers goes mad over. "Coming, Your Highness!" she
responds to Ball's "Hey Ruby, move your big fat feet!", Beavers adding
on that boisterous laugh that jolts her own heart full of gold. But to
Lucy, Fonda's "Little Pinks" has a heart full of mush, something she'll
need when her "daddy" (Barton MacLane) pushes her down a flight of
stairs after she threatens to leave him and blames it on the fact that
she was drunk. Her Broadway pals all disappear on her with the
exception of Fonda and Beavers. Broke and desperate, Ball moves in to
Fonda's small apartment, continues to abuse him, and lives off the
champagne and caviar that he scrapes together nightly so she can
continue to live in her dream world. Her desire is to go to Florida so
she can see the man she really loves (William T. Orr), a socialite bore
not worthy of her time. Fonda quits his job and pushes her there in her
wheel chair, where his pals Violet (Agnes Moorehead) and Nicely Nicely
Johnson (Eugene Palette) have opened a ocean front burger dive. It is
there that Ball learns the true meaning of total unselfishness,
something she had earlier been ignoring in her own spirit.
Yes, the idea of Henry Fonda pushing Lucille Ball from New York to Florida in a wheelchair might sound absurd, but somehow, the movie pulls it off. To see Lucy playing such a hard character might be difficult for her comedy fans to accept. More than 20 years after her death, Lucy still reigns as TV's top female clown. But before that, she had a very versatile movie career, singing and dancing in "Best Foot Forward" and "DuBarry Was a Lady", and clowning around Lucy Ricardo style in "Her Husband's Affairs" and "The Fuller Brush Girl". This is Lucy at her cinematic best. Henry Fonda seems a bit out of sorts as the busboy whose unrequited love for her goes unnoticed. Two years after his dramatic triumph in "The Grapes of Wrath", this is almost a step down for him, but he does so with noble results. And that supporting cast. Wow. Agnes Moorehead goes from the shy Violet who replaces Eugene Palette in an eating contest to his nagging wife, and is very funny. Palette is adorable here, playing Nicely Nicely much different than Stubby Kaye would later do on Broadway and in the film version of "Guys and Dolls". MacLane is appropriately mean, Beavers loving, and Ray Collins the Greek Chorus of the plot. Add on Marion Martin as a Florida socalite and Sam Levene, who would be Nathan Detroit 8 years later when "Guys and Dolls" made it to Broadway. All in all, this is a film that can't be skipped.
Broadway busboy Henry Fonda (as Agustus "Little Pinks" Pinkerton)
idolizes self-centered lounge singer Lucille Ball (as Gloria "Your
Highness" Lyons). When Ms. Ball falls on hard times, Mr. Fonda gets to
lend a helping hand. The pair move to Florida, but tragedy follows
Although "Guys and Dolls" (1955) remains most representative, "The Big
Street" captures the spirit of writer Damon Runyon's characters better
than most Hollywood efforts, probably because Mr. Runyon produced.
They weren't the author's first choice for the leads, but Fonda's innocent charmer and Ball's selfish tragedienne are exemplary characterizations. Ball is especially noteworthy, as she did not receive many opportunities to play against type, and places herself squarely on par with the more successful "Golden Age:" actresses of the 1930s and 1940s; she is startling. Director Irving Reis coordinates his fine cast and crew very well, making camera angles and movement seem uncommonly fresh.
******** The Big Street (8/13/42) Damon Runyon : Irving Reis ~ Lucille Ball, Henry Fonda, Agnes Moorehead, Eugene Palette
A busboy (busman, really) so adores a nightclub singer that he devotes his life to caring for her after she becomes paralyzed; she treats him like dirt. It sounds like a good premise for a romantic comedy except that this is a serious drama. Ball plays such a self-centered, ungrateful jerk that it defies logic that anyone would voluntarily cater to her. Fonda loves her so much that he pushes her in a wheelchair from New York to Florida! And remember, this is not played for laughs. The finale is so utterly ridiculous that one figures it must be a comedy. No - still serious. The fine supporting cast features the likes of Palette, Moorehead, and Levene, but the script is lame.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Big Street is one of the few films that cast Lucille Ball as the
leading lady. She had an iffy relationship with films before fame found
her with "I Love Lucy" and watching this film I can see why. She has
this sparkle and this charm, but for some reason her power is not
charged to 100%. She plays the gangsters moll very well, and you can
easily see her fitting the part of the
villain's-girl-with-a-heart-of-gold, but that isn't who she is here.
She's just snarky and beneath everyone.
She is lovely to look at and she does attempt to encapsulate and encompass herself in the character, but it doesn't work. I unfortunately believe that Ball is more of a character actress than a leading lady. She steals the show as the Best Friend or wacky neighbor, but in the spotlight her sparkling light fails to shine through.
The script is also promising, but the last forty five minutes or so derail the story and you're wondering what went wrong. Henry Fonda is horribly cast and isn't very believable as the gullible chump who is infatuated with Ball's character. He's gaunt and sallow and looks far too menacing to be the good guy.
This movie sounded promising, and you will watch it eagerly for the cast and premise but it will only let you down. This is a prime example of mediocrity during the Golden Age of film, and will prove the point that not all "old movies" are "classics". 5.7/10
Damon Runyon's short story "Little Pinks" is turned by RKO into a solid acting showcase for Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball, also utilizing a troupe of colorful supporting players to their best advantage. Supper-club singer in New York City is crippled in a fall--and promptly loses her free ticket into high society. The only person who still cares for her is a smitten, well-meaning busboy; he hitchhikes all the way to Miami with the wheelchair-bound chanteuse, where they cross paths again with the well-heeled gangster who caused her unfortunate accident. The melodrama inherent in the main plot is suffused (and some may say strengthened) by the comedic overtures of the character turns, most especially by Eugene Palette and Agnes Moorehead as a couple who love to eat and argue. Ball, floundering at RKO in 1942, was quickly snapped up by MGM after this performance, and its clear why: her narcissistic songbird is self-centered and often ridiculously delusional, but your heart goes out to her anyhow. *** from ****
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I'm going to overlook a few minor flaws this film had and conclude,
overall, it was great. It is a story of the unselfish love a 'Little'
Busboy (Fonda) has for a beautiful and extremely popular nightclub
singer (Ball). Ball initially has every rich man in town at her feet,
from a powerful gangster to a wealthy glamor boy who she plans to
marry. Her defining line of dialog is, "A girl's best friend is a
dollar." She is somehow both cruel and yet sympathetic. She is fair to
the busboy who saves her dog, thanking him and getting him a job, but
then does not give him the time of day. She lives by the customs of
society--and that does not include mixing in certain circles of
'little' people, such as busboys and maids.
I think the more sensitive audiences will pick up on Ball's vulnerability. Why is she so concerned with money? Why does she snub people who are kind to her? If you follow the movie closely enough, the answers become apparent.
When Ball's character is struck down by the gangster after she chooses to leave him, she is paralyzed from the waist down. It is revealed to the audience that she has no family or loved ones besides her dog that are willing to care for her. A sensitive audience would notice that detail and immediately understand her character. She has no one--that is why she is so hard. She is playing the social game to win--to snare a wealthy husband so she doesn't have to be frightened any more.
The man she had her eyes on, after her accident, no longer had any interest in her. This is one of the most brutal and sad scenes in the film. We understand then why Ball was so eager not to be seen with the 'little' people; it was part of the social game she needed to play. When that same young man sees her with a group of her lowly friends, and in a wheelchair, a look of disgust enters his face, and Ball's heart shatters into a million pieces. As noted in the film, "That glamor boy doesn't have a sympathetic bone in his body." All of this is by way of countering arguments made by subsequent viewers that Ball's character is completely unsympathetic. Just the opposite is true. Her character is complex, deep, and vulnerable to the carelessness of the world around her. A world in which she has no family and no one loves her--that is, except Pinkerton (Fonda).
Another magical scene occurs at the end of the film where it is revealed Ball can actually walk. The society that had judged and forgotten her so harshly because she was no longer able to walk stares on in amazement. But the fact she can walk proves she didn't need their acceptance at all. They were a superficial lot of people who didn't care about her at all.
It is a magical and moving love story for the ages. A+ She
For fans of Lucy, Ball's role here takes real getting used to. "Her
Highness" character is shrewish and generally not very likable. Ball
does, however, get to show some very real chops outside her usual
comedic range. As a result, I've got a new appreciation of her as an
actress as well as a comedienne.
The movie itself is undermined by a weak central focus. Neither Ball's Her Highness nor Fonda's servile bus boy is easy to identify with. Thus, it's hard to sympathize with the overbearing HH even after she's crippled. Nor is Little Pink's (Fonda) utterly selfless devotion understandable given the imperious way she treats him. As a result, the movie's core flounders. A charitable view might take the movie as a fairy tale where the unlikely bus boy, a prince in his sudden formal wear, rescues the crippled princess if only for a moment.
Of course, being a Damon Runyon creation, there's the usual number of street-smart Broadway mugs. So the margins shine with such colorful types as Palette, Levene, Collins, et al. Also, catch dragon lady Agnes Moorehead in a rare sympathetic role (Shumberg); plus premier eccentric Hans Conreid as the grumpy headwaiter. And for folks interested in 50's TV, there's Wm. T. Orr as handsome socialite Decatur Reed. This is the same Orr who produced many of the popular hour-long TV shows of the late 50's, such as Maverick, 77 Sunset Strip, Lawman, et al. I've seen his name for years, never thinking he might show up on screen.
All in all, the only reason to catch this 80-minute pastiche is for Lucy's surprising performance and the colorful peripheral characters. Otherwise, it's pretty forgettable, especially for fans of Fonda.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a double tragedy. Having just watched "Dance, Girl, Dance",
also released by RKO, 2 years before, I couldn't help noticing that
both films were dramas, featuring the romantic designs of a
superaggressive, heartless, gold digging, Broadway club entertainer or
burlesque queen, played by Lucille Ball. The main difference is that
,in the present film, Lucy's character(Gloria) is the only significant
female character, whereas in "Dance, Girl, Dance", she shares the
spotlight with Maureen O'Hara in a good/bad girl competition and
cooperation. Also, in that film, they compete for a wealthy patron,
whereas in the present film, it's the men who initially compete for
Gloria's romantic attention.
Rather early in the film, Gloria is rendered a cripple by falling backwards down a flight of stairs after a push from her jealous gangster boyfriend and employer, after learning that she plans to marry wealthy playboy Decatur Reed. Thereafter, the powerful men in her life ignore her. Her only consistent friend is an overaged bus boy: Little Pink(Henry Fonda). Despite all the things he does for her to make her life bearable, she usually treats him like trash. Nonetheless, he continues to address her as "Your Highness", denoting his continued respect. He even lets her sleep in his low class basement apartment.
Perhaps the most implausible aspect of the screenplay is that Little Pink supposedly somehow gets her with her wheelchair from NYC to a plush seaside resort in Florida, without money for public transport. Several instances of hitchhiking are shown, along with periodic shots of Little Pink pushing Gloria along a highway. No word on how they managed to live and sleep during this marathon!?
When it becomes evident that Gloria will likely never walk again, she goes into a greater depression and seemingly wills a gradual degeneration of her body. Gloria tells Little Pink she has a wish before she dies that she is dressed in a fancy expensive dress and expensive jewelry, and can look over the ocean. Well, there's no money forthcoming to fulfil this request. So, crazy Little Pink breaks into a house and steals the items Gloria requested. She wears the items to a party in a restaurant, apparently not questioning where Little Pink got them. When Gloria finds out that Little Pink stole the items she is wearing, and that the police are on their way to arrest Little Pink for grand larceny, she softens her attitude toward him. Little Pink asks her to dance with him. She doesn't think she can, but he holds her up initially, then lets go of her, and she stands. She is elated. I will leave you to see the conclusion of this film.
Lucy showed that she could do convincing tragic drama, playing an unsympathetic character. Fonda was also excellent in his unusual role as a crazy young man, including dashing into NYC traffic to save Gloria's Pekingese. However, he seemed too old and sophisticated to be a busboy. Supporting actors included some familiar faces: Eugene Palette, Agnes Morehead, Ray Collins, George Cleveland, Louise Beavers, and Ozzie Nelson's band.
Lucille Ball plays a callous chorine named Gloria Lyons who is
undeservedly adored by a busboy named "Little Pinks" Pinkerton (Henry
Fonda). She treats him--and most other people--like dirt, but he is
willing to take abuse from the woman he worships.
When Gloria faces adversity, Pinks is there to see her through it, but she remains a resolute bitch. Ball never acted better than in this role. Fonda portrays a favorite from his repertoire--the earnest man.
Adapted from a story by Damon Runyon, the film is populated in part by those from the other side of the (race)track. Another reviewer implied that few would be familiar with the patois of Runyan, but any of the millions upon millions who have seen "Guys and Dolls" are already infinitely familiar with his peculiar but lovable vernacular.
How does it all end? Will Pinks finally grow tired of his unappreciative goddess? Will he finally get the girl then regret it? I won't say. But it ends rather nicely nicely.
It's always fun to spend time around the colorful characters of Damon
Runyon's stories. He always wrote about eccentric New York City
gamblers with hearts of gold and stylish lingo ("Guys and Dolls",
"Little Miss Marker", "Lady for a Day"/"Pocketful of Miracles").
Here the lovable mugs are played by an excellent cast including Ray Collins, Sam Levene, Eugene Palette, Agnes Moorehead, Millard Mitchell, and Hans Conried. Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball star, with Barton MacLane as the heavy.
Runyon wrote the original story and produced this film, which tells the story of a humble busboy (Fonda) who is devoted to a selfish night club singer (Ball), even when she falls on hard times. It's got that sort of fairy tale spark evident in other Runyon stories, with the gambling community pooling their resources to help make someone's dream come true. In a way it's a love story, and in another way it's a very sad, tragic tale.
Fonda's character comes across as pathetic, fawning over Ball's ungrateful diva when it is clear she is ugly on the inside. But his friends feel sorry for him and do all they can to help him help her.
The greatest performances come from Ray Collins and Sam Levene as The Professor and Horsethief, respectively: the two most vocal Broadway mugs. Collins in particular is delightfully colorful. Bullfrog-throated Eugene Palette plays the part of Nicely-Nicely Johnson, made famous by Stubby Kaye in the musical "Guys and Dolls". Agnes Moorehead, in only her third film (after two Orson Welles pictures), lends lovable support. Lucille Ball is lovely and puts in a rather nice performance in an unconventional role for her.
Damon Runyon's characters are always fun, and the scenes with Collins & co. buoy the story weaknesses.
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