The Big Street (1942) starring Lucille Ball, Henry Fonda, Barton MacLane, Agnes Moorehead, Ray Collins, Eugene Pallette
In The Big Street, a Broadway nightclub waiter falls in love with a crippled singer who selfishly accepts his help without loving him in return.
Editorial review of The Big Street (courtesy of Amazon.com)
With a curious mix of comedy and melodrama, The Big Street features Lucille Ball in one of the best roles of her big-screen career. Playing up her image as a brassy gal who knows what she wants, Lucy’s got a hard shell and a soft heart as Gloria Lyons, a self-centered nightclub singer who looks down upon the “little people” who enthusiastically support her career–none more than Augustus “Little Pinks” Pinkerton (Henry Fonda), a doting busboy so smitten with Gloria that he’s willing to put up with her dismissive and blustery behavior. (If the movie has a major weakness, it’s Pinkerton’s puppy-like devotion; this is an unusually wimpy role for Fonda, whose character seems a little too tolerant of Gloria’s abuse.)
When Gloria is paralyzed after her mobster boss (Barton MacLane) knocks her down a flight of stairs, “Little Pinks” does all he can to speed her recovery, aided by friends and colleagues played by a fine supporting cast of RKO regulars including Agnes Moorehead, Ray Collins, and Eugene Pallette.
Lucy’s character may be unlikable but her performance is not; it’s refreshing to see the future TV sitcom queen as a sassy and selfish diva, and Lucy gives the role a subtle dimension of sympathetic appeal. And while the movie’s pitiful depiction of disability is typically maudlin from a more enlightened present-day perspective, The Big Street is noteworthy as a Damon Runyon production, based on Runyon’s short story “Little Pinks” (originally published in Collier’s magazine) and featuring several of the characters (like Pallette’s Nicely-Nicely Johnson) who were later immortalized in Guys and Dolls and other tales of Runyonesque folly.
With a strangely downbeat ending, The Big Street may not be a crowd-pleaser, but it’s certainly worth watching as an unconventional showcase for its popular costars. Also available in The Lucille Ball Film Collection, this DVD includes two Warner Bros. short subjects from 1942: “Calling All Girls” is a 19-minute Vitaphone showcase for the lavish choreography of Busby Berkeley, featuring highlights from several major Broadway and Hollywood musicals; and “The Hep Cat” is a typically wacky “Merrie Melodies” cartoon, in which the title character will do just about anything to impress the kittenish object of his feline desires. –Jeff Shannon
- Henry Fonda (Yours Mine and Ours) … Little Pinks
- Lucille Ball (I Love Lucy, The Long Long Trailer) … Gloria Lyons
- Barton MacLane (The Mummy’s Ghost) … Case Ables
- Eugene Pallette (My Man Godfrey) … Nicely Nicely Johnson
- Agnes Moorehead (Bewitched, Our Vines Have Tender Grapes) … Violette Shumberg
- Sam Levene (After the Thin Man) … Horsethief
- Ray Collins (Summer Stock) … Professor B
- Marion Martin (Boom Town) … Mimi Venus
- William T. Orr … Decatur Reed
- George Cleveland (Pillow of Death) … Colonel Samuel Venus
- Vera Gordon … Mrs. Lefkowitz
- Ozzie Nelson and Orchestra … Night Club Orchestra
- Ozzie Nelson (Ozzie and Harriet) … Orchestra Leader
Trivia for The Big Street
- Lucille Ball’s favorite of her films. She felt her performance was unjustly ignored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Movie quotes from The Big Street
Gloria Lyons (Lucille Ball): Love is something that gets you one room, two chins and 3 kids.
Agustus ‘Little Pinks’ Pinkerton, II (Henry Fonda): She’s in bad shape, Doc. Can you do something?
Florida Doctor: I wish I could.
Agustus ‘Little Pinks’ Pinkerton, II (Henry Fonda): Why can’t you?
Florida Doctor: Did you ever hear of a thing called paranoia? No, I guess you didn’t. Well, it’s what happens to people when they get to believe they’re something they’re not.
Nicely Nicely Johnson (Eugene Pallette): Now you’re cooking with gas.
Violette Shumberg (Agnes Moorehead): Shut up, Nicely.
Nicely Nicely Johnson (Eugene Pallette): Don’t tell me to shut up.
Violette Shumberg (Agnes Moorehead): I’ll tell you to shut up anytime I feel like it, and I feel like it now.
Agustus ‘Little Pinks’ Pinkerton, II (Henry Fonda): Please go on, Doc.
Florida Doctor: They can go on for a long time and be okay, except when the illusion is shattered. Then they kind of wither up and… phht. Unless it’s restored.
Agustus ‘Little Pinks’ Pinkerton, II (Henry Fonda): But if it is…
Florida Doctor: I’m afraid what that young lady wants, she’ll never get.
Agustus ‘Little Pinks’ Pinkerton, II (Henry Fonda): But we can’t just stand around and let her die!
[the doctor walks away sadly]
Violette Shumberg (Agnes Moorehead): He ain’t a very good doctor, Pinks. Why, last months he treated Nicely for a cold, and it turned out to be chicken pox.
Agustus ‘Little Pinks’ Pinkerton, II (Henry Fonda): You don’t have to be telling everybody I had chicken pox at my age.
Violette Shumberg (Agnes Moorehead): If you had chicken pox, you had them. And you had them.