Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Park Row (1952): Sam Fuller's love letter to journalism

Samuel Fuller got his start in the newspaper business at age 12 working as a copy boy.  He eventually worked his way up the ladder to crime reporter by 17.  He went on to become a novelist, screenwriter and filmmaker, but journalism was always his first true love and Park Row (1952) is his sensational love letter to journalism.

In the 1886, on Park Row in the New York City, home to the many newspaper outfits of the Big Apple, Phineas Mitchell (Gene Evans), a down on his luck reporter dreams of one day running his own paper. While drowning his sorrows at the bar where all the newspapermen come to wet their whistles, it just so happens Charles A. Leach (Forrest Taylor), an investor and owner of a printing press, overhears Mitchell's grand ideas about running his own newspaper and offers him a partnership.  Leach will handle the printing and the business side of things, and Mitchell will be the editor-in-chief.  Mitchell takes him up on his offer and hires a motley crew from right there in the bar: Josiah Davenport (Herbert Heyes), a legendary reporter who came up with Horace Greely, Jeff Hudson (Dick Elliott) a fellow editor, Thomas Guest (Neyle Morrow) an out of work cartoonist, and Rusty (Dee Pollock), a plucky kid who volunteers to be the Printer's Devil, which is newspaper slang for apprentice.

Thus The Globe is off and running.  Their first story is of Steve Brodie (George O'Hanlon), the first man to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge and survive.  Brodie is thrown in jail for this feat. Their second story: "The Globe Frees Brodie". At first, they're so poor the first issue is printed on butcher paper, the second on wrapping paper. But one look down Park Row and it's clear everyone is reading The Globe.  It isn't long before they're giving "the oldest newspaper in New York", The Star, a run for its money. The Star is run by Charity Hackett (Mary Welch), a strong-willed publisher who is always one step behind The Globe, and has it out for Mitchell. The two newspapers quickly come head to head.

Sam Fuller made this film with his own money, which is always rare in the movie business, but practically unheard of back in 1952.  I have been a fan of Fuller's work for years, since I first saw Pickup on South Street (1953) and the reconstructed version of The Big Red One (1980). His films often have a pulpy feel and operate on a level akin to melodrama, but there's a certain bold truth to them I find irresistible.  For my money, this is his best film, hands down.  And that's saying a lot because he's made some great films, but this one is brimming with love for its subject matter, so much so that it's infectious and there's a joy palpable in every frame.  It is perhaps his most personal film, as you can glean from his background in journalism which I mentioned in the opening, or if not, the closest to his heart.

Fuller makes brilliant use of the crab dolly, often shooting whole scenes in a single take, his roving camera following the action from various angles, energizing the story, all the more important since it is a story of the written word, one which could easily become static and boring.  But not with Fuller at the helm, you can almost see him behind the camera, chomping on a cigar, and yelling for the camera to move faster, for the action to be bigger.  He was a larger than life figure, and it can be felt in a film like this, though I don't mean to say it's overdone, merely that it's imbued with a loving exaggeration that lives up to his feelings of what it was like to be a copy boy at a newspaper in those exciting times when the printed word really had the power to change the world.

I love this film.  See it if you get the chance, I promise you'll be hooked almost immediately.

My Rating:  30 out of 30

The Trailer:


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