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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on DVDs. Pick of the Week: Classic. Park Row.


Park Row (Three and a Half Stars)

U.S.: Samuel Fuller, 1952 (MGM Limited Edition Collection)

Sam Fuller, one of the toughest of the tough guy auteur/directors, is best known for his two-fisted war movies (The Big Red One) and his hard-as-nails film noirs (Pickup on South Street). But the show he often called his best and favorite work focuses on a profession seemingly much less violent, albeit one Fuller once practiced and knew very well: journalism.

Park Row, which Fuller wrote and directed in 1952, is set in the 1880s, on New York‘s fabled Newspaper Row, and it begins with a tribute to all the daily American newspapers then operating in ’52: a showy complex crane shot that takes in statues of two journalism or print icons — Benjamin Franklin and Gutenberg — while also sweeping over the bustling streets and sidewalks of New York, in Fuller’s bravura recreation of the ’80s, with men in derbies and fancy vests downing beers in rowdy saloons, while horse-drawn buggies clip-clop outside, all in a world that seems to scream out those immortal lines “Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

Just because Fuller isn’t making a movie about war or crime this time out though, doesn’t mean he won’t work in a war (circulation, that is) somewhere, show us a few crimes and lots of fisticuffs and steep us once again in that special brand of Fullerian violence that made him a B-movie legend.


 Gene Evans, the husky, surly-mugged Tennessean and Bronze Star and Purple Heart-winning World War II vet who played Sgt. Zack in Fuller‘s great Korean War low-budget shocker The Steel Helmet, here puts a ruthless shine on Phineas Mitchell, a taciturn, extremely idealistic journalist (insults to Horace Greeley are fighting words for Phineas), who insults his boss (Mary Welch as the beautiful but dangerous Charity Hackett), quits his paper, and starts up his own hard-hitting journal, The Globe, to compete with her and hers.

On the way, Phineas suggests to Steve Brodie (George O’Hanlon) that he make himself famous by jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge (he does), oversees the invention of the linotype machine by Ottmar Mergenthaler (Bela Kovacs), spurs a public campaign to raise money for the Statue of Liberty, survives the circulation wars and a bomb or two (and lots of booze ) and gives not just Charity but Joseph Pulitzer himself a run for the Park Row roses. The movie ends as you knew it would, as any veteran newsman from the dear dead days of print and linotype would end it: with that newsmen’s classic typewriter signoff, -30-

Fuller was at his best in the ’50s — the golden noirish decade when he also made Pickup on South Street (a Venice Film Festival prizewinner), as well as The Steel Helmet, Fixed Bayonets, The Baron of Arizona, Hell and High Water, House of Bamboo, Run of the Arrow, Forty Guns, The Crimson Kimono and China Gate, all hard-boiled, high-style movies beloved by hard-core auteurists — and he fills Park Row with bravura visuals: swooping crane shots and nosey tracks gliding through crowded newsrooms and noisy taverns. (Sidling up to the bar regularly is one of John Ford’s favorite Irish tipplers, J. M. Kerrigan, the little man who led Victor McLaglen astray in The Informer).

Park Row may not really be his best movie. (Fuller financed it himself and lost his shirt, which may perversely be one of the reasons he treasures it.) But this movie will take you into Sam Fuller’s newspaperman‘s heart and soul, the way few others can. It’s also one of the few movies I can think of that would really work well on a double bill with Citizen Kane — which is certainly one of the pictures that inspired Sam. If you’ve got printer’s ink in your veins (or wish you had, or even if you don‘t), Park Row is one boisterous, precious old front-page file you’ll be happy MGM pulled out of the morgue. (No Extras!)  Made on demand from major online venues. Browse


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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon