Monday, October 3, 2011

Film | The Big Street (1942)


"Damon Runyon's thrill-packed story of Broadway . . . 
as only he could tell it !"

Henry Fonda - Agustus 'Little Pinks' Pinkerton, II
Lucille Ball - Gloria Lyons
Barton MacLane - Case Ables
Eugene Pallette - Nicely Nicely Johnson
Agnes Moorehead - Violette Shumberg


Shy busboy "Little Pinks" (Henry Fonda) has a crush on haughty nightclub chanteuse Gloria (Lucille Ball), who doesn't even know he exists. When her jealous boyfriend (Barton MacLane) pushes her down the stairs, Gloria is crippled for life. Pinks takes care of the ungrateful star, paying her bills and sending anonymous bouquets, all in hopes of making her his. [Netflix]

When I picked up the Lucille Ball Film Collection at Barnes and Noble a few weeks ago, I was most excited to see The Big Street. I had heard it was her personal favorite film role, even though shooting had not been all that much fun for her. From what I've read, her director (Irving Reis) was a novice, ex-boyfriend Henry Fonda was cold and unhelpful, and on top of that a jealous Desi Arnaz hung around the set to make sure nothing happened between Fonda and Ball.

The role of the hard edged Gloria Lyons was originally intended for Carole Lombard. Lombard felt she could not be cold enough to properly play the role and suggested her friend Lucille Ball for the part. Only being a B picture star, RKO wasn't sure Ball was a big enough star to carry the film. Having Henry Fonda on loan from 20th Century Fox, they went ahead with the film that went on to win rave reviews from the critics. When Carole Lombard died in a plan crash in 1942, it made Lucille want to prove herself as an actor in the role her close friend suggested her for. She even went to friend Charles Laughton who told her "Don't soften it, if you play a bitch, play it!"... and play it she did.

Having only seen Lucille in Stage Door and on I Love Lucy, this was the perfect introduction to Ball's earlier works. She plays the part with what seems like such ease. Her acting was perfect in this role. In the beginning she was hard and almost unlikeable. It made you ask yourself what, Henry Fonda's character was so in love with. Later in the film you start to see that ice around her heart melt. Even when she is trying to be brave and hard-headed, Lucille Ball was able to use her eyes to show her vulnerability. I would have never guessed she would be such a great dramatic actress.

Henry Fonda is always a pleasure to watch. He plays Little Pinks so elegantly. His portrayal of this head-over-heels in love man with such a huge generous heart was spot on. His soft voice and innocent face add to the facade that he would do anything to help Gloria. I really felt for him when he finally gains her love and then loses it at the same instant.

I felt this was a great film with both of its leading stars delivering solid performances.

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