When Phineas Mitchell (Gene Evans), a visionary newspaperman, launches his own title The Globe, his eye-catching headlines and approach quickly ignite with the New York readership. But less impressed is Charity Hackett (Mary Welch), proprietor of long-established rival The Star, and attempts to undercut The Globe soon escalate into all-out war.
Who Wants Yesterday's Papers?
- Park Row review by Count Otto Black
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Samuel Fuller is best known for making gritty, uncompromising dramas about subjects which were sometimes extremely controversial back in the day, such as racism and prostitution, along with several films pointing out that war is very nasty indeed and should be avoided if at all possible, and a number of westerns that were quite ferocious for their time.
Unfortunately this movie of none of the above. It's very atypical for a Sam Fuller film, being so lightweight that it was nearly made as a musical. When, three-quarters of the way through, a thug gets a brutal beating he thoroughly deserves for doing something far worse, it's as jarring as Mary Poppins suddenly pulling out a gun. It's also one of the very few scenes which can honestly be called action. Most dramas about newspapers involve reporters chasing down major stories. "Park Row" (the title, by the way, refers to the US equivalent of Fleet Street) does its best to hide its miniscule budget by making ingenious use of its rather small main set - Fuller's skill as a director is most apparent here - but, apart from several other even smaller interior sets, it can't afford to take us anywhere else, so nearly every newsworthy event happens offscreen and we're told how spectacular it was, in the grand Shakespearean tradition of two soldiers coming in and telling the king they're an army of 50,000 men, most of whom are waiting outside.
Shakespearean is not the word I'd use for the dialogue. It's one of those historical dramas in which everybody somehow manages to constantly mention famous people and events so that you know how historical it is, even though normal conversations aren't like that at all. Some of the dialogue literally consists of somebody listing all the famous people who were present at a glittering event that was too expensive for us to actually see. There are also rather a lot of quirky ethnic stereotypes. Their purpose is obviously to show how cosmopolitan and unprejudiced this new journal is compared to all the rest, but quirky is a thing you can tire of very quickly indeed. As for the lengthy discussions about such riveting topics as the technical difficulties involved in building an automatic typesetting machine, I wish it had been a musical after all, because some of the songs would have been Pythonesque in the extreme - I'm sure Eric Idle would have enjoyed composing the lyrics to: "Oh Dear, We've Run Out Of Paper!"
It means well, but it's incredibly clunky, and very little actually happens. As for the romantic subplot, well, put it this way. When the male and female leads dislike each other intensely at the start of the movie, but she's the only significant female character in the film, and they're shown kissing on the poster, what do you suppose will happen? As with nearly everyone who got the dreaded "And Introducing..." credit, Mary Welch sank without trace, this being her only movie. I'm not surprised; she's a mediocre actress who has a peculiarly irritating smirk on her face almost every moment she's on screen. And there's something oddly unlikable about the hero too. This was Sam Fuller's favorite of his own movies, but having seen well over half of them, it's my least favorite so far.