The New Pictures, Sep. 7, 1942

  • Share
  • Read Later

The Big Street (RKO-Radio) is a pleasant bit of paranoia that cannot possibly displease anyone, but may baffle some cinemaddicts for a while. It is also the first of Damon Runyon's homely tales about Times Square to be produced by him.

When Her Highness (Lucille Ball), an imperious nightclub queen, gets publicly slapped downstairs and fetches up at the bottom hopelessly crippled, it looks as if she or Author-Producer Damon Runyon were crazy. It turns out that she is. A doctor explains that Her Highness is a paranoiac, which means, he says, that she wants to be what she can't be, and if she can't be, she will die. So Pinks (Henry Fonda), a lovelogged busboy, takes care of her.

Pinks feeds her on leftover champagne and caviar from the nightclub where he works. He plays butler for her, trundles her all the way from Manhattan to Miami in her wheel chair, plants her in the path of the playboy she is trailing. Risking a 20-year jail turn, Pinks blackmails the crook who slapped her (Barton MacLane) into a one-night loan of a nightclub (complete with Ozzie Nelson), stages a blowout to bolster Her Highness' fading delusions of grandeur. To cap the climax, Pinks appears in full dress, and Her Highness sees him for the first time as he really is. Galvanized by his love (and hers), she dances a few miraculous steps with him only to die, happy, in his arms.

This harmless charade has a certain honky-tonk charm for which those who liked Damon Runyon's Butch Minds the Baby will be warmly prepared. The talk is the patented Runyon brand of Times Square Swahili, in which a worn-out race horse is "practically mucilage," and marriage is described as "one room, two chins, three kids." There is the usual Runyon corps de ballet of ham-hearted grifters, heisters and passers, played by a friendly crowd of veterans from Hollywood (Eugene Pallette, Louise Beavers) and Broadway (Sam Levene, Millard Mitchell). Carefully solemn Henry Fonda has the dignity of a wax grape of wrath among satiated little foxes. Pretty Lucille Ball, who was born for the parts Ginger Rogers sweats over, tackles her "emotional" role as if it were sirloin and she didn't care who was looking. There is also a headwaiter played by sinister, saturnine Hans Conried. He packs so much cold, superb style into his half minute that he makes everybody else's fun look forced.

Good shot: Miss Ball, crippled and propped up in bed, trying to do a conga from the hips up. She does it very nicely.

Hollywood's best bet on why Damon Runyon became a producer is that he glumly watched Mark Hellinger move up from script writing to producing, swore that he could do anything Hellinger could do and do it better. At first he so loathed California that his wife bet him a dozen of his famed cacophonous Charvet ties that he wouldn't last four weeks. He stuck it out five months at RKO, signed a contract with 20th Century-Fox, and has since become, in most respects, an acclimated if eccentric Hollywoodsman.

  1. Previous Page
  2. 1
  3. 2