Saturday, August 6, 2011

Lucille Ball at 100

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Lucille Ball, so it's no surprise that TCM is marking the occasion by making her today's star in their Summer Under the Stars programming. I've recommended several of today's movies before, but one that I haven't is The Big Street, airing at 9:45 PM.

The "Big Street" refers to Broadway, the "Great White Way" of New York, where Ball is a nightclub singer. But we don't see her at first. The movie starts off with an eating contest which busboy Pinks (Henry Fonda) is working for his boss Abels (Barton MacLane). However, Pinks sees a lovely woman's dog run out into the street, so he goes to save the dog, getting fired for his effort. The dog happened to belong to Gloria (Ball), the aforementioned nightclub singer who's working at another of Abels' places. She gets Pins a job at the club where she's working, unaware he's in love with her. She's in love with a millionaire, but is also the moll of Abels. When she tries to break away from Abels to be with the millionaire, Abels responds by pushing her down a flight of stairs and making certain everybody knows she was "drunk" and "tripped". The fall leaves Gloria paralyzed, but Pinks, being so infatuated with her, is willing to go into poverty to take care of her and get her the best medical help money can buy. For all this, Gloria is supremely ingrateful: she still wants those rich men.

Eventually, Pinks gets the idea of moving Gloria down to Florida for her health, although he's going to have to hitchhike to do so, since he doesn't have the money. Not that Gloria really appreciates it; she still hates Pinks and wants to meet a millionaire. Eventually she finds that the millionaire she was involved with in New York is in Florida, but time has passed and he's not so interested in her anymore now that she's paralyzed. So Pinks and his friends get an idea for an elaborate scheme that will find Gloria loveand solve all the money problems....

The Big Street is an interesting movie, but one that's not without some serious problems. The biggest problem is that the movie doesn't seem to know what genre it wants to be in. The idea of taking a wheelchair-bound woman to Florida by hitchhiking with her sounds like something that would have been a perfect plot for a screwball comedy. Ball would have been well-cast, and Fonda, just having done The Lady Eve, would have played off her exceedingly well. Much of the movie, however, is more of a melodrama, especially the long climactic finale. Ball and Fonda still do well, but there's something about the rest of the movie and cast that leaves an unsatisfying taste. The Big Street is based on a Damon Runyan story, and perhaps it's the odd Runyanesque characters responsible for this, but on the other hand, Lady for a Day is an excellent movie based on a Runyan story.

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