The Big Street (1942)

Film Title: The Big Streetthe-big-street

Year: 1942

Studio: RKO Radio Pictures

Silent or Talkie: Talkie

Genre: Drama


  • Henry Fonda
  • Lucille Ball
  • Barton MacLane
  • Eugene Pallette
  • Agnes Moorehead


Lucille Ball is an icon to say the least. Millions of Americans fell in love with her in the 1950s as Lucy Ricardo, the sharp-witted, scheming wife of her famous husband Ricky. Her comedic genius has yet to be challenged; and though she is forever immortalized at 623 East 68th Street in New York City, her address ten years prior was a bit different. In 1942, Ball joined Henry Fonda in The Big Street where we found this no deposit page

Written by Damon Runyan and directed by Irving Reis, The Big Street stars Lucille Ball as Gloria Lyons, a nightclub singer who prides herself on being a member of high society. Her attitude is condescending, and she has no reservations about verbally bashing anyone who dares to question her superiority. During a local eating contest, Lyons strolls through the crowd with her small dog in hand. In the blink of an eye, the dog escapes her grip and runs into the street outside. Agustus ‘Pinks’ Pinkerton, played by Henry Fonda, is completely taken with Gloria. He sees her as a goddess, incapable of wrong-doing. He is the only one to witness to the dog running and grabs it out of harm’s way in the nick of time. Gloria is grateful to Pinks and gets him a job at an upscale club to show her appreciation. Before long, Pinks can not stop thinking about her. He sends her flowers and lovingly refers to her as “your highness”, a term which she obviously believes she deserves. Before long, an altercation arises between Gloria and the owner of the club that she frequents. She tells him off in typical Gloria Lyons fashion and tries to walk away when he strikes her in the face, sending her tumbling down a flight of steps. She sustains an injury that leaves her a mere shadow of her former self. “Pinks” steps in and assumes the role of caretaker, even spending his own money to keep Gloria as comfortable as possible. However, with her cold and callous demeanor comes expectation. Nothing seems to be good enough for her. She is a star, a spectacle, a sight to behold, in her own mind. Does Pinks’ unending devotion have the strength to overcome Gloria’s perpetual need for adoration? After all, she defines love as that which gives you “one room, two chins and three kids.”

There were a few things that immediately jumped out in The Big Street. The first being Henry Fonda’s character. He plays a very quiet and timid man in “Pinks”. Had Fonda not assumed this role, one would expect someone like Elisha Cook, Jr. to fill the spot. He rarely speaks his mind; but rather, internalizes the pain of interacting with shallow people. Gloria Lyons is one such person. The viewer easily notices his love for her, and wishes along with him that she could see life through realistic eyes. He is the rarely-found caliber of man who takes feelings into consideration, and she is his opposite. If opposites do indeed attract, the viewer expects a wedding invitation at any moment. To the contrary, it’s Pinks’ reserved manner that always leaves him one step behind making a bold move. The second highlight was Lucille Ball’s persona. Though she is full of herself, one gets the impression that it’s all a facade, and that an extremely fragile rose of a woman lay beneath the rough exterior. This is likely a woman who grew up with nothing, only to find success and shiver at the thought of returning to nothing. Pinks and his friends are the representation of such low status in Gloria’s evaluation. The fact that she is under his protective wing is more of an insult to her than it is a blessing. Her greatest misconception, however, is that the crowds who supported her in triumph would support her in crisis. This misconception often kept her from giving in to her illness, but it also kept her from overcoming it. In a fashion true to real life, the applause vanished in the face of misfortune and took her safety net with it. The symbolism in Gloria’s illness (a “paralysis” of sorts) was a brilliant commentary on her life. She was unable to stand on her own. The years she spent in the limelight were not of her own doing, but rather with the assistance of those she refused to credit. Some would call her fall from grace a classic account of poetic justice, and while the audience prepares its “I-told-you-so” speech, they are distracted by the sympathy they feel. Only a talented actress like Lucille Ball could evoke such a twisted flurry of emotion from the viewer, and she does so effortlessly.

Gloria Lyons and Agustus ‘Pinks’ Pinkerton are the poster children for so many. In their own way, they both represent fear. Gloria fears that reality is not in accordance with the grandeur she has built up in her own mind, and that no matter how much she resists, she will have to face it someday. Pinks fears that he is substandard. He can not manage to feel like the man he wants to be. He wants to be the knight that rides in on a white horse and saves the girl. Whether it’s his own lack of esteem or just the unfortunate hand he was dealt, the result is always the same – coming up just short of being respected.

On Video

The Big Street is not available on DVD at the present time. However, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) is often the go-to source for such films. *UPDATE* – This film was released on DVD by Warner Brothers on June 19, 2007.


The title of the movie is both indicative and symbolic. The Big Street describes the street of life and it’s many twists and turns. It reminds us that potholes can appear as easily as open highways. Those who take the smooth lanes for granted will usually find turbulence. This is a tale of greed, hope, love, impatience and determination. The road less traveled may be less popular, but it’s also less congested.

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