This 1942 film was our least favorite of Cher's four TCM choices. Cher called it a woman’s film and said she cried when she saw it. Lucille Ball plays Gloria Lyons, one mean bitch throughout the whole movie. As Cher says, she came up the hard way. Cher calls "Little Pinks" played by Henry Fonda sweet and also said she loves Eugene Pallette who plays a man named Nicely Nicely. He was indeed a very nice fellow. Robert Osbourne called the movie "offbeat" and noted that it's hard to care what happens to Lucille's character. It is.
The movie started with a competitive eating scene. Great, I thought. My husband loves competitive eating contests. But it went wacky from there. Gloria plays a bitchy coming-up Diva who is sporadically nice to Pinks, her number one fan. She pushes her mobster boyfriend too far and he pushes her down a flight of stairs. She suffers a mysterious old-Hollywood movie illness after that. Is it a spinal injury?
She lays in bed for many scenes and then talks Henry Fonda into walking her wheelchair from NYC to Florida. That must be the big street. John and I found it hard to care about either Gloria or Pinks (or their enabling friends). But our one disagreement was over the Lucy Issue. I feel that Lucille Ball plays nasty like an artist, a natural. Which is what has always made her sitcom I Love Lucy so maddening for me to watch. I don't really like the bumbling ditz character to begin with (see Gomer Pyle). But many Gen X gals find Lucy Ricardo hard to identify with as she was so dependent on Ricky and he treated her more like a child than a wife. It's a generational thing. I can’t see myself rewatching those old shows again unless it’s to try to catch Cher’s Mom in the Paris episode where Cher noted she played one of the models. Cher said she played extras in other episodes as well.
Cher knew Lucille from these times and from running into her at a club or Jack Benny party (the famous Johnny-Carson-bans-Cher-into-another-room story, in this TCM version she elaborates about meeting Rosalind Russell in the other room and Roselind telling her she could be an actress someday).
So for Lucy, I love her in her small movie parts (Stage Door especially). She deserved more movie vehicles in which to shine. But she was too mean in this one. Not enough moments of reformation. For this kind of character, Jack Nicholson nailed it in As Good As it Gets. You can see the character working through it.
John however does not like Lucille Ball in any capacity. Period. He also finds writer Damon Runyon’s penchant for creating quirky and quaint crooks annoyingly naive and old-fashioned. He also complained not a little bit about the fantastical premise.
Then there's the celebrity obsession issue. Even as a person who has been often caught up in a celebrity obsession or two, I wanted to slap Henry Fonda and tell him to snap out of it. He abandons and exploits a hellofalotta friends for his questionable star. He needs to question where he finds value in his life. And re-evaluate his on-the-ground relationships. At least they could have made him a waiter.
The star-wannabie Gloria is herself stalking a rich guy all the way to Florida; they even kidnap him for the final scene (creepy). Kidnapping a man she claimed she didn’t even love early on in the movie. She just saw him as a ticket from poverty.
Then there's the Henry Fonda Issue. He's not my favorite actor. He was always so serious. That said, I loved him in the sentimental On Golden Pond and in the very heady 12 Angry Men. It is great to see how that jury works. Inspired by it, I used its tactics on the one jury trial I was on. And it worked! Miraculously! We moved from most votes guilty to one hold-out guilty in just three voting rounds. That last guy held out for two more rounds. There was no evidence in our trial but the hold-out-guy felt the guy “seemed guilty.”
The Big Street is also about failed dreams and class issues in the way that stardom can take you out of the yucky class. It's also a story about not having health insurance. Gloria has to sell off all her jewelry to pay her hospital bills and then must move in with her number one fan.
The wheelchair-bound Lucy reminded me of the Cher character in Faithful…it was a prop that inhibited their performances. Which brings me back to the old-hollywood movie mystery illness, where all the gals die of heartbreak. Gloria falls down the stairs and the doctors label her "very sick" not "injured." She slowly dies of it. In the final death throes, the doctor says she has delusions of grandeur (maybe Fonda exacerbated that by getting everyone to call her Your Highness). The doctor's final diagnosis is paranoia, which he says means "she believes she’s something she’s not." (The Princess Bride character Inigo Montoya would say: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.")
Gloria does not believe in love and her switch-to-sweet at the end is a little too little, a little too late. Early on she says, “Love is something that gives you one room, two chins and three kids." On the other hand, no love gets you wheelchairs and paranoia.
This was my first Agnes Moorehead movie (that I know of). And I’ve decided I really like Agnes Moorehead.
At the end of the four films, Robert and Cher talked about Cher's favorite films: Gaslight, On Borrowed Time. Cher says she has movies playing in the background when getting ready to work. She says it's calming. She likes Moon Over Miami, Road to Morrocco…all Road movies, Fred & Ginger movies, Gene Kelly movies, Meet Me in St. Louis, which she says has a perfect story and actors (growing up in STL, I loved this movie,especially Judy Garland singing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." This is one of my favorite movie scenes AND favorite Christmas song performances. It's so heart-hurting. I love the sad Xmas songs. Cher also loves Now Voyager, All Through the Night with Bogart. Cher asks "Where is Lionel Barrymore when you need him?" They end talking about Casablanca and Cher calls this TMC hosting project “my holiday from myself.”
I loved this very Cher-like holiday from Cher. It was great fun. And I thought it took some balls to pick some imperfect but rarely-shown movies instead of the Classics with a big C. It shows she is really in the trenches of classic-movie-fandom.