Big Street, The (1942)

Big Street, The (1942)

“Love is something that gives you one room, two chins, and three kids.”

With the help of his gambling friends, a hopelessly smitten busboy (Henry Fonda) cares for a narcissistic showgirl (Lucille Ball) after she’s paralyzed by her brutish boyfriend (Barton MacLane) in an accident. He arranges to push her in a wheelchair from New York to Florida to see her former suitor (William Orr) — but will Ball ever learn to appreciate the sacrifices Fonda is making?

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Agnes Moorehead Films
  • Disabilities
  • Gangsters
  • Henry Fonda Films
  • Lucille Ball Films
  • Obsessive Love
  • Road Trip
  • Showgirls

Damon Runyon produced this dark fairy tale (based on his own short story “Little Pinks”) taking place in a unique milieu of kindly gamblers and gangsters with oddly articulate speech (as noted by the New York Times, “the weirdly named touts, gamblers, racketeers and hoodlums continue to distill an inordinate amount of homely humor from a too meticulous use of the English language”). There are plenty of Runyon-esque quirks to be had — including the presence of Agnes Moorehead as a competitive eater who meets her portly soulmate (Eugene Pallette) during the film’s opening sequences:

— but it’s challenging to feel much enthusiasm for hapless Fonda, whose blind adoration simply comes across as tragically misplaced gallantry. Ball’s character is intentionally bitchy, and despite her brutal accident, we don’t feel much sympathy for her until the very end:

In fact, as written, she’s a downright unpleasant character to spend time with. According to TCM’s article, Andy Warhol apparently referred to this as “the sickest film ever made”, and I suppose that case could be made — it’s easy to imagine John Waters turning this into an even darker and blacker “comedy”, starring Divine in the leading role.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Russell Metty’s cinematography

Must See?
No; I’d say this one is only must-see for Lucille Ball or Damon Runyon fans.


One thought on “Big Street, The (1942)

  1. Not must-see. It’s not actually all that enjoyable.

    I’d seen this once before and had completely forgotten it (never a good sign). We’re in Runyon’s ‘Guys and Dolls’ territory here (Nicely-Nicely is even here as a character) but this is nowhere near as much fun as the musical – not even close. Even allowing for Runyon’s ‘misfit fantasy’ premise, the story and its progression strain credulity (to say the least).

    The unlikely relationship between Fonda and Ball is nagged by the fact that it simply makes little sense. She’s a complete mess yet, for some inexplicable reason, he worships her. When she meets with an accident that cripples her, he sees to it that she gets to Miami for her health (like Ratso Rizzo in ‘Midnight Cowboy’ – only she actually gets there) – yet he’s still almost constantly treated like a doormat. He wants SO badly to believe in her – based on very very rare glimpses of humanity… and it all gets to be such a… stretch. Even when she briefly seems human, she’s still self-serving.

    Moorehead is largely the film’s saving grace – and, gee, it’s nice seeing Agnes in such a pleasant change-of-pace. But she’s not in the film enough (to suit me, anyway).

    The emotion of the film’s conclusion doesn’t feel all that plausible (it’s a nice, ultimately over-the-top try).

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