Criterion Prediction #138: Park Row, by Alexander Miller
Title: Park Row
Director: Samuel Fuller
Cast: Gene Evans, Mary Welch, Bela Kovacs, Tina Pine, Herbert Heyes
Synopsis: It’s 1886 and New York’s newspaper district has become a small warzone between an idealistic self-made publisher, Phineas Mitchell (Evans), and a larger paper at the hands of Charity Hackett (Welch), the cold heiress in charge.
Critique: Samuel Fuller belongs to that subset of testosterone driven, old-guard directors like Sam Peckinpah, Robert Aldrich, Howard Hawks, and Don Siegel who are artists in their own right but would rather eat glass before ever admitting it; they didn’t make movies, they made “movin’ pictures!” But Fuller’s pictures don’t just move, they pop, jump and even explode. While the masculine journeyman made hard-hitting genre films, they maintained a courtly manner. They still followed the “rules.” Well, Samuel Fuller says “fuck the rules” and plays it fast and loose. Shots are framed in strange angles, the cuts smash together. Some scenes are quiet and methodical, others are combative. Even upon repeated viewings, something unexpected crops up and hits you in the face.
Park Row opens with a scrolling collage of newspaper titles with a title card that reads “These are the 1,772 daily newspapers in the United States. One of them is the paper you read. All of them are the stars of this story. This film is dedicated to American journalism.” As a former newspaperman Fuller’s filmic DNA was forged in tabloid journalism newspapers, and headlines. His punchy films are personal, his noirs are extensions of his days of a pulp novelist and crime reporter, his warm films are inspired by his service in the United States Army where he saw active duty, and his westerns are historically revisionist allegorical jumping points. But Park Row feels like one his most personal, and it’s carried by his recurring performer (and more often than not on screen alter ego) Gene Evans. He’s a thick actor, his voice booms, he looks, acts, and sounds tough, he’s the perfect leading actor to helm a Fuller film, and the lingo and phrasing feel true to the world of journalism from the period.
For instance, if you’re a “printer’s devil” that means you’re cutting your teeth by typesetting from a box of miscellaneous type (aka a “hell box”). It’s little details like these that make the period feel authentic, realized and immersive. Park Row is, like all of Fuller’s films, robust, fast and rough around the edges but it’s those edges that set him apart and reinforce his rebellious sense of authenticity.
Why It Belongs in the Collection: The folks at the Criterion Collection admire Samuel Fuller. His work has been an active part of their catalog since the LaserDisc days and it’s been a while since they’ve inaugurated one of the director’s movies into the collection. Whole Twilight Time is distributing The Crimson Kimono, Hell and High Water, House of Bamboo, and Underworld USA; Park Row still isn’t available on Blu-Ray in the US. But there’s a sign of hope for a Criterion release since Park Row is available in the Masters of Cinema series.