BIG STREET, THE
director: Irving Reis; screenwriters: based on the Collier’s Magazine story “Little Pinks” by Damon Runyon/Leonard Spigelgass; cinematographer: Russell Metty; editor: William Hamilton; music: Roy Webb; cast: Henry Fonda (Little Pinks), Lucille Ball (Gloria Lyons), Barton Maclane (Case Ables), Sam Levene (Horsethief), Eugene Pallette (Nicely Nicely Johnson), Agnes Moorehead (Violette Shumberg), Marion Martin (Mimi Venus), Ray Collins (Professor B), William T. Orr (Decatur Reed), Louise Beavers (Ruby, maid), George Cleveland (Colonel Samuel Venus), Ozzie Nelson (Orchestra leader); Runtime: 88; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Damon Runyon/Leonard Spigelgass; RKO; 1942-B/W)
“A dispiriting tale.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A harmless, tearjerker, sentimental crime comedy directed by Irving Reis (“All My Sons “/”Crack-Up”) and adapted to the screen by writer Leonard Spigelgass from the 1940 Collier’s Magazine story “Little Pinks” by Damon Runyon. It fully captures the colorful low-life characters depicted in the Broadway scene, but too often sinks into becoming a dispiriting tale. Its mawkish story might have worked on paper but was a turnoff on the screen.
Little Pinks (Henry Fonda), the timid busboy at Mindy’s hangout restaurant, has a secret crush on the nightclub chanteuse Gloria (Lucille Ball). After Pinks saves her dog, he accepts her offer to be a busboy at the club where she works in order to be near her.
Gloria is a gold digger who breaks up with the Broadway gangster club owner Case Ables (Barton Maclane), having her eye on the rich playboy Decatur (William T. Orr). Case has a jealous fit. So he slaps her hard and she tumbles down the stairs, and ends up in the hospital. In order to pay her bills, her loyal maid (Louise Beavers) pawns her jewelry and Pinks pays her bills with the money from the pawned jewels and from money out of his pocket. Meanwhile Pinks devotes himself to caring for her when it turns out she’s crippled and in a wheelchair. The sap even goes with the embittered Gloria to Miami, as she seeks to recuperate there.
The unlikely duo hitch a car ride there (which I guess is how the film got its pedestrian title). In Florida, the busboy pushes her around and she selfishly never even thanks him for his help or realizes how much he cares for her.
They meet in Miami the old crowd of grifters from Mindy’s — Horsehead (Sam Levene), Nicely Nicely Johnson (Eugene Pallette) and Professor B (Ray Collins). Nicely Nicely has married the skinny Violette (Agnes Moorehead) and they have opened a food stand on the beach. Gloria meets there the rich playboy Decatur, who rejects her when he sees she’s a cripple.
Gloria is depressed after Decatur’s rejection and her doctor telling her she’s dying. She makes one last request to perform again in a nightclub.
It turns out Case has opened another club in Miami, where he’s running an insurance fraud scheme.
When Pinks learns Case has stolen jewels he robbed from the socialite Mimi Venus (Marion Martin), he robs them in a mask and offers Case back the jewels if he lets him use his club for just one night. Pinks sets it up so Gloria performs there one last time before she dies in his arms and at last says thank you.
REVIEWED ON 11/28/2020 GRADE: C+