Director: Samuel Fuller
Cast: Gene Evans, Mary Welch
One of Hollywood’s true maverick filmmakers was Sam Fuller, writer/director of some of the most primitive, gritty low budgets films to come out of the studio system. His best known film, and also one of his best, is Pickup on South Street, a political thriller about a pickpocket who inadvertently becomes involved with communist agents. Amazingly the film was attacked by both the FBI and the Communist Party as propaganda for the other side. The film gave Richard Widmark one of his best roles. The year before Pickup, Fuller made a film called Park Row, his personal favorite. Park Row was made on an extremely low budget, originally for 20th Century Fox, until Darryl F. Zanuck wanted to turn the film into a musical. Fuller, using his own money bought the film and made it under his own production company. Unfortunately, the film died at the box office and Fuller lost all of his investment.
Park Row is a history of the newspaper business in New York when newspapers ruled the news media. This was in the 1880’s, a long time before Radio, TV and The Web. Fuller started out as a copyboy for a newspaper in Massachusetts and eventually became a crime reporter for the New York Graphic at the age of 17. Park Row was his love story to the newspaper life he loved.
Phineas Mitchell (Gene Evans) starts a newspaper called The Globe, dedicated to telling nothing but the truth and takes on the more powerful papers on New York’s famed Park Row, including The Star, run by Charity Hackett (Mary Welch). Of course, Charity is beautiful and there is a romantic angle that develops but the center of the story is the newspaper business: the battle of the independent Globe vs. the more established callous papers on the street. Fuller films are blunt, some say melodramatic, and here among other things he tackles corporate corruption, biased journalism and censorship. Mitchell and his paper represent integrity, ethics and the honesty of the real newspaperman and not the yellow journalism of his more powerful competition.
Fuller manages to get a lot of mileage within the confines of a small set, and a limited budget, due to some incredible camera movements that make the set look a lot larger than it actually was. Also, pay attention and you will hear some dialogue about the Dead Rabbits, and the Plug Uglies and other Gangs that became better known in Scorsese’s The Gangs of New York. This is no coincidence. Back in 1938 Fuller wrote a screenplay based on the same Herbert Asbury book. The screenplay was made into a film with the same name, and was directed by James Cruze starring Charles Bickford and Ann Dorvak.
Park Row was cigar chewing Gene Evans second film with Sam Fuller. In 1951 he made The Steel Helmet, in which he played cigar chewing Sgt Zack (hopefully the budgets allowed for Evans to have a different cigar for each film). Evans also was in Fullers’ 1953 World War Two film Fixed Bayonets.
Park Row is Fuller’s 83 minute valentine to the newspaper business he loved done in the pulp style he was most noted for.
By John Greco