Monday, July 2, 2007

THE BIG STREET (RKO 1942) Warner Home Video

Irving Reis’ tragic film noir, The Big Street (1942) is an engrossing character study in toxic relationships; a dark and brooding examination of a tragic woman who is evil in her intent, yet strangely sympathetic in her flawed understanding of human frailty and love.

The film stars Lucille Ball as Gloria Lyons – a hot-to-trot nightclub singer who is utterly adored by busboy, Augustus ‘Little Pinks’ Pinkerton (Henry Fonda – playing convincingly against type as the starry-eyed fop).

Gloria loves no one – not even herself. She uses her boyfriend, the thuggish Case Ables (Barton MacLane) until she sets her eyes on a more handsome prospect; playboy, Decatur Reed (William Orr). Unfortunately, for Gloria, Ables decides to teach her a lesson – slapping her down a flight of stairs. The resulting fall leads to irreversible and crippling paralysis.

Discarded and embittered, Gloria’s recovery is embraced and funded by ‘Pinks’ and his band of faithful well-wishers; fronted by restaurateur Violet Shumberg (Agnes Moorehead) and playful gambler, Professor B (Ray Collins). But Gloria cannot stand the lot of them. Her seething contempt for poverty and those who work to live conceal her deeper fear – that her own life is over and that, without the use of her legs, she will never be able to land the rich meal ticket she believes she deserves.

Based on the short story by Damon Runyon (who would later script the glorious Guys and Dolls), the screenplay by Leonard Spiegelgass adeptly moves the action from New York to Florida where Gloria continues to ridicule Pinks and the rest of those who seem to care more for her than even she does for herself. As Gloria, Ball is a revelation – a character so maniacal and oppressive in her discontent that she surely seems to be the most wicked and unflattering of all female leads.

Yet, Ball manages to infuse something of a ‘little girl lost’ into her performance, allowing us to see flashes of insecurity behind the sadism that will ultimately doom her to a tragic end. Gloria’s motto may indeed be that ‘a girl’s best friend is a dollar’ – but the infinite wisdom of the film is a more enlightened philosophy; selfless compassion is the admirable redeemer of fallen idols.

Warner Home Video’s DVD is fairly impressive. The B&W image is relatively grain free with a minimal amount of age related damage. Contrast levels appear slightly weak at times, but overall the gray scale exhibits a fine tonality with solid deep blacks and relatively clean whites. Occasionally, a slight hint of edge enhancement is detected, as well as pixelization in background details, but on the whole the image quality in this presentation will surely NOT disappoint. Extras are limited to two vintage short subjects and the film’s theatrical trailer.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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