Judge Paul Pritchard has ink in his veins; it's slowly poisoning him.
Streets of rogues…reporters…and romance!
When journalist Phineas Mitchell (Gene Evans) protests against what he believes to be the unethical actions of his employer, The Star, its owner Charity Hackett (Mary Welch) fires him immediately. Along with a handful of colleagues who back his stand, Mitchell starts his own rival newspaper when local printer Charles Leach (Forrest Taylor) expresses his admiration for Mitchell's work and offers to fund him.
Mitchell's and his cohorts quickly launch The Globe, which attracts a good deal of public interest when it publishes an article about a local man who survived a jump from the Brooklyn Bridge. When veteran reporter Josiah Davenport (Herbert Heyes) discovers that the American government has refused to set aside funding to build a podium for the Statue of Liberty which has been given as a gift by the French, Mitchell launches a campaign to raise the necessary funds. This further raises interest in The Globe, and begins a ruthless war with Mitchell's old employer, who sets out to destroy the new upstart once and for all.
The opening act of Sam Fuller's Park Row contains so many coincidences that it almost derails the film before it has had a chance to get going. In the space of just a few short minutes, we see Phineas Mitchell get himself fired; start up his own newspaper, complete with a conveniently available staff; have a front-page story fall into his lap, and have his first edition printed and on sale. That all these events take place within a single evening means that Fuller asks a great deal of leniency on behalf of the viewer. Although such narrative weakness continues to plague the film, Fuller's direction—not to mention his sparkling dialogue—coupled with the performances of his cast ensure that Park Row is never anything less than wholly entertaining.
Fuller uses a number of intricate techniques, including an excellent tracking shot to capture a mass street brawl, and interesting angles to keep the film flowing with a real intensity. Indeed, the film's opening, in which its title is slammed into the screen as the score swells is as attention grabbing as any CGI-assisted summer blockbuster. Fuller's energetic direction is matched by the performances of his leads, Gene Evans and Mary Welch. It's as well Fuller had two such charismatic performers to fall back on, as the melodrama is laid on faster and thicker than I'd normally care for. Evans, not the most subtle of performers, plays Mitchell with a fiery intensity that sees him shouting the majority of his dialogue, and risking the hearing of his co-stars in the process. Welch also shows little restraint, although her portrayal of the ruthless Charity Hackett undoubtedly benefits from this—that is until the fumbled finale sees a dramatic change of heart.
Of course, the story is irrelevant, as Fuller's film (as has been well-documented) is a love letter to American journalism, and it is an unabashed in its depiction of newspapermen as heroes as one can stand—even if their morals are frequently brought into question. Even the "heroic" Phineas Mitchell is not beyond reproach, happily exploiting situations to sell more papers, and in one scene apparently encouraging plagiarism when he hands a colleague a rival paper before instructing him, "Steal everything you can, but make it fresh." Then there's the character of Josiah Davenport, played brilliantly by Herbert Heyes. Davenport is the film's moral compass, and the one man who truly understands the importance of reporting the news in an honest way. Sadly, along with his wisdom comes incessant moralizing and lengthy speeches on the importance of a free press. Before long, Davenport's arrival on screen becomes synonymous with preachy monologues, that is until he too suffers a ridiculously curt finale.
Comparisons to Orson Welles' Citizen Kane are inevitable, but not always warranted. Whereas Kane has depth and a far more interesting structure, Park Row is much a visceral experience, relying on the over-spilling emotions of Evans and Welch to fill in the cracks in its narrative. Unlike Kane, in which every element is vital, Park Row features plot developments that are clearly forced—and none more so than the romance between Mitchell and Hackett. Though the two actors do their best to sell the love-hate relationship, it doesn't add anything of substance to the film, and could have been excised completely. While it wouldn't be completely unfair to call Fuller's film the B-movie equivalent to Citizen Kane, as it offers a less demanding—not to mention a less fulfilling—picture, it still has enough charm to win most audiences over.
Eureka's Park Row (Region 2) DVD sports a solid black-and-white transfer. Though there are instances of softness, the print is generally sharp with a good level of detail. Grain is apparent, as one would expect for a film dating back to 1952, but this is never distracting. It's hard to see how the mono soundtrack could really be much better, as it delivers clear dialogue next to the film's score. The screener sent for review included the option of playing the film with an isolated music track, though nothing else in the extras department. The final retail copy promises to include a booklet containing writings on the film and rare production stills.
Reading back my comments on Park Row, I'm amazed at how negative this review has turned out. Yet while I stand by my every criticism, I would still encourage anyone even remotely interested to watch Park Row at the earliest given opportunity. It's perfect for a lazy Saturday afternoon, marrying an undemanding story with memorable characters, while bringing forth a vivacity so rarely seen. Even the poor sets can't diminish the impact of Fuller's direction, which so much more than his weak script captures the shared idealism of a group of journalists aching to achieve something more than just peddling sensationalist crap. Such romanticism soon becomes infectious, and it isn't difficult at all to become invested in Mitchell's mission to be something better.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Eureka Entertainment
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