Celebrating a late-19th-century newsman trampling his female rival

The fifth movie (from 1952) made by writer/director Sam Fuller (1911-1997), and, alas, not available even on VHS, let alone DVD, “Park Row” is at once very sentimental and quite misogynist. “War” is not a metaphor in the description “newspaper war” as Fuller portrays publishing in the New York City of the 1880s. Phineas Mitchell (Gene Evans) envisions better ways of doing things, including sponsoring the invention of linotype, inventing newspaper stands, and launching a campaign to raise funds to put up the Statue of Liberty (accepted by Congress without any appropriation of tax dollars for erecting it in New York Harbor).

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Across the street from his marginal facility for The Globe is the established Star, published by a ruthless woman misnamed “Charity” but with a fitting last name (Hackett). What seems like a Joan Crawford or Gale Sondergard role was played passionately by newcomer Mary Welch. (Sondergard was blacklisted. Welch made no other movies and died in childbirth in 1958.)

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An old sidekick of Horace Greeley named Josiah Davenport (Herbert Heyes) encourages Mitchell’s innovations and encourages Ms. Hackett to get out of a man’s business. After all such antagonism between a man and a woman can only mean they are in love, right?

Although the movie is difficult to get into and is filled with stock characters and hackneyed attitudes (starting with rampant misogyny), the look of the old-time machinery and Fuller’s talent for filming mayhem make an interesting spectacle. “Citizen Kane,” it ain’t, but Fuller did a lot without much budget or cast talent. Ordinary material and often cliched dialogue were filmed from some striking angles with very fluid (often tracking) camerawork (credited to Jack Russell, who would later film “Psycho” for Alfred Hitchcock).

Fuller also put a statue of Ben Franklin to interesting use.

“Park Row” is notably upbeat compared to some other Fuller movies such as “Shock Corridor” and “Steel Helmet,” and not as wild as others, such as “Run of the Arrow.”

©2017, Stephen O. Murray

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