Review: Irving Reis’ “The Big Street,” Starring Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball

Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball in
Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball in "The Big Street"

One of the most unpleasant Hollywood experiences of the year, The Big Street is an hour and a half of the same note played over and over again. Henry Fonda stars as a simple busboy who falls madly in love with Lucille Ball’s selfish nightclub singer. When her mobster boyfriend pushes her down a flight of stairs she ends up crippled, but Fonda takes her in, caring for her every need despite her brazen disregard for him. It’s a constant loop of Fonda loving her, her rebuking him, on and on—depressing and repetitive, Andy Warhol once called it “the sickest film ever made.”1 Today it is best remembered as a breakout role for Ball (about a decade before I Love Lucy), and her performance is certainly committed. “Don’t soften it,” Charles Laughton told the actress. “If you play a bitch, play it!”2 She’s hateable, but by the end it’s unclear how the audience is meant to feel about her, Fonda, or their relationship. Should we be in awe of Fonda’s selfless devotion? Depressed by it? Angry at Ball for ruining his life? Neither director Irving Reis or writer Leonard Spiegelgass seem to have any opinion, rendering The Big Street both painful and pointless.

Where to Watch

Buy it on DVD

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For More on The Big Street

Read the review in The New York Times

Watch the Trailer

References   [ + ]

1, 2. Jeremy Arnold, “The Big Street,” Turner Classic Movies, accessed May 30, 2017.