The Big Street

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The Big Street, 1942 film starring Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball, one of her strongest performances

This page written and copyright by Will Johnson, freelance biographer and professional genealogist, 2008. If you'd like to comment on it, you may email me at



To get the role of Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath, Fonda had agreed to a seven-year contract which compelled him to play in several films that saw little commercial success. He was in the romantic-comedy The Lady Eve in 1941 with Barbara Stanwyck. In 1942 he was in The Male Animal, and also that year co-starred opposite Lucille Ball in The Big Street. The producer was Damon Runyan, and the director was Irving Reis.

In this film, Lucille Ball plays a hard, snobby, gold-digging, nightclub singer. Henry Fonda plays a busboy deeply in love with her. When Lucy tries to leave the man she's been dating, he pushes her down the stairs and she is confined to a wheelchair for the rest of the picture. Now destitute, she must rely on Fonda who takes care of her. The singing of "Who Knows" is not Lucy, it was dubbed in by Martha Mears. As one of the supporting cast in this movie notice Agnes Moorehead as Violette "with two t's and an e". Also notice the first appearance of Ozzie Nelson and His Orchestra. You can watch the entire movie, in nine parts, on Youtube. Henry first appears at time 2:52.

Part 1

Watch The Big Street, Part 1 on YouTube

Outside Mindy's restaurant on 50th and Broadway in New York City, in the midst of a group of horse-race gamblers, a pushing match has broken out between two men, the "Professor" and another man. The men are physically disagreeing about the eating contest that is about to begin inside. Among others Case Abels has wagered $20,000 on the Professor's man J. "Nicely Nicely" Johnson "the greatest eater alive", while the other unnamed man is the manager of the contender for the title, Joel Duffel of Boston.

Henry Fonda then appears in his role of "Little Pinks", calling the Professor to come inside to see Case Abels. The Professor and his trusty side-kick "Horsethief" then go inside to find that Nicely Johnson has terrible indigestion and cannot go on. At this point Little Pinks, mentions that a woman in his boarding-house is a voracious eater. Her name is Violette Shumberger. "For supper last night she ate a whole Virginia Ham, three plates of soup and quite a lot of potatoes and strudel."

We then learn that Joel Duffel of Boston weighs 337 pounds, while we get our first glimpse of Violette Shumberger "of this city, weight 100 pounds." And instantly we recognize Endora... I mean Agnes Moorehead. She is quite bashful of the large crowd, and tells Pinks that if he stays with her, she can win, "Just don't leave me." (I think you know what's coming.)

Just as they commence eating, in walks Lucille Ball as "Miss Gloria Lyons", dressed all elegant-like and carrying a tiny yapper who she calls "Baby". Her tough exterior breaks through when the crowd won't clear a path for her, and she threatens to "start breakin' arms". Baby decides to take this moment to run out into traffic. Little Pinks goes out after the dog, rescuing it from certain death. Violette noticing that Pinks is not beside her gets all nervous and loses the eating contest. This makes Case Abels mighty pissed off and he slugs Pinks, knocking him to the floor. Lucy states "You've shoved around a lot of guys, mostly bigger than you and that's all right with me, but when you start picking on mice I don't like it!" To which he responds, "You'll like what I tell you to like." Lucy says "Thanks kid" to Fonda who still lying on the floor smiles his best innocent-boy-next-door grin, rubs his jaw and says "Thank you Miss Lyon!"

Part 2

Watch The Big Street, Part 2 on YouTube

The next scene starts in Little Pink's (Fonda's) apartment where he is nailing up yet another picture of Miss Gloria Lyons (Lucy). "She's kinda like my ideal", he says. To which Violette (Agnes Moorehead) responds, "She's Case Able's sweet pea and I don't want any part of him." We learn that Little Pinks has lost his job over what happened. Coming knocking is Nicely Johnson who evidently knows Little Pinks, but has really come calling to see Violette because he's enamoured over her ability to eat as much as he does.

Nicely has also come to tell Little Pink's to "see Miss Gloria Lyons on the double-quick in reference to the payroll." Little Pinks rushes out and now Nicely and Violette makes some small talk including, "Would you like to come upstairs and see"

Now we cut to the nightclub where Gloria Lyons (Lucy) is performing the song Who Knows? (dubbed by Martha Mears). We now are introduced to Mr Decatur Reed a wealthy playboy who fancies to meet Gloria. Case Abels noticing this eludes an air of jealousy. The waiter makes it clear to Mr Reed however that Lucy is a girl "strictly interested in a higher income bracket" and so sure to be interested.

Now we cut backstage to Gloria's dressing room where she informs Little Pinks that she's now gotten him a job at that club. Then in walks another blonde very upset that Gloria was making eyes at Decatur Reed, "That's my special little pond so you keep your light out, or I'll scratch out your pretty little eyes." To which Gloria responds, "This is really absurd", in a very condescending tone. "Get her!", says the blonde, predating drag queens everywhere by a few decades, "making out like she's a duchess. Well listen your highness, I've got a left jab that will knock your royal teeth out!"

The blonde now flounces out of the room. After she is gone Gloria says, "That dame is a lump of mud." Henry, taking a cue, now starts calling Gloria "Your Highness" but of course with awe not scorn. This scene alone is worth watching this movie to see.

Now we cut to Little Pinks, paying to send flowers to Gloria, but he doesn't sign the card because "she would think I was silly sending her flowers." Violette (Agnes Moorehead) knows that Little Pinks is in love with Gloria and thinks he's being foolish, "You can't get near her without a million bucks". Gloria thinks the flowers came from Decatur Reed. Her black maid thinks she's leading Decatur on, "But you don't love him honey." To which Gloria replies, "Don't give me that love hooey, love is something that gives you one room, two chins and three kids." "A girl's best friend is a dollar."

Part 3

Watch The Big Street, Part 3 on YouTube

We open as Gloria (Lucy) and Decatur are leaving the club together. Case Abels steps in, they have words, and he smacks her hard enough to send her tumbling down the stairs. An associate of Cases' walks up then and Case says, "She was drunk...she fell...And get me fifteen eye-witnesses to prove it."

Next we cut to the hospital where the maid and Little Pinks (Fonda) are waiting for the doctor, who tells them that Gloria needs a long recovery. They start pawning off Gloria's jewels to pay her hospital bills. They run out of money. Case Abels has covered his bases with his "eye witnesses", so there's no hope of a lawsuit. Gloria is now broke. Horsethief pops up again and shakes down a couple thieves to help pay Gloria's hospital bill. Gloria is now concious but she thinks that Decatur has been sending her all the flowers to her room that Little Pinks has. She starts moving to the radio music and realizes that her legs are paralyzed.

Pinks tells her she is broke and she assumes that she'll be convalescing at Decatur Reed's fabulous estate. Instead Pinks offers that she share his small apartment and she gets livid and tries to throw him out. Pinks sits down and the scene fades. Evidently he now tells her at least part of the truth, because in the next scene we cut to his apartment. There, a crowd of Pinks friends has gathered to welcome Gloria out of the hospital and give her a party and gifts including a wheelchair from Horsethief.

Part 4

Watch The Big Street, Part 4 on YouTube

Little Pinks carries Gloria into his apartment where all the others have gathered to welcome her back. She orders Pinks to make them all leave. Pinks and Violette write it off to Gloria being "sick". Violette says "She'll get better once she get's used to it." Now we learn that Violette and Nicely Nicely are getting married and moving to Miami Beach.

Gloria now in a wheelchair starts to get hysterical and Pinks lies to her, telling her that the doctor thinks she'll get better in a few months. She says that when gets better she'll "pull Decatur Reed around by his wallet", and she'll make Pinks her butler. Gloria is barely holding on to her sanity in this scene, alternating between hysterical laughter and tears.

Now we cut to the dinner club where Pinks is working and we see him pouring all the left-over champagne into one bottle to take home to Gloria, and scouping up all the half-eaten cavier for her as well. Pinks walks home in the bitter New York winter wind and Gloria yells at him. But then she explains that she is afraid she'll never get out and she is so cold all the time. She wants to go to Florida, but they have no money. She suggest they walk to Florida, or at least that Pinks walks and pushes her. He says it's a thousand miles, but that doesn't faze her. "It's warm there. If I got the sun on me, I'd be the old girl again. And nobody could stop me."

Part 5

Watch The Big Street, Part 5 on YouTube

We open with the group of gamblers, including the Professor and Horsethief who are the friends of Little Pinks, contributing various sums toward getting Pinks and "Her Highness" a seat on the train to Florida. They raise $115.75 "and one gold watch, solid with Switzerland movement". They decide to "increase the sum" by waging it all on a horse-race.

Now we cut to Pinks apartment, where he and Gloria are getting ready for their trip. The Professor and horsethief rush in all excited because they think they are going to pay for the trip. Then they learn that their horse didn't come in, so they lost the money.

Next we see Pinks trying to push Gloria and her wheelchair through the Holland Tunnel. This is the stupidest scene in the entire movie. And whoever wrote it and directed it needs to be dug up and beaten. Anyway, a truck driver gives them a hitch to Washington, D.C. So after a combination of pushing and hitching rides, we next find them on Miami Beach.

They find their way to Violette and Nicely's Bar-B-Que stand where Gloria acts imperiously, then goes to her room. Violette (Agnes Moorehead) turns to Pinks and says, "She hasn't changed much has she?" "You're a fool, a terrible, terrible fool, and somebody ought to kick you around the block."

Part 6

Watch The Big Street, Part 6 on YouTube

We open on Miami Beach, where Little Pinks (Fonda) carries Gloria (Lucille Ball) to a shaded beach chair, and then leaves. Decatur Reed is there on the beach, and Lucy has some sort of undisclosed plan to get Decatur Reed interested in her again while concealing her condition from him. They talk briefly and then make plans to meet again tomorrow. Decatur goes back to his friends and we now meet old Col. Samuel and his very-much-younger blonde wife.

Cut to Pinks trying to find a job. The club he picks just happens to be owned coincidentally by Case Abels. The head waiter brushes him off but Case tells him no, to run after Pinks and hire him. Pinks does not learn that Case owns the club. And Case' reason for hiring him isn't made clear.

Now we cut back to Gloria on the beach and Pinks shows up with the Professor and Horsethief. But she wants nothing to do with them, "This is a class joint, and I'm strictly not from characters like you two!" On the way back from the beach, Decatur Reed and his party inadvertently bump into Pinks pushing Gloria in her wheelchair, and so her plan, whatever it was, is now ruined. Gloria blames Pinks and yells at him. This scene has perhaps the most-unintended funny lines: "I'm the best busboy there is, no one in the world is better at being a bus boy than I am." So, he finally wises-up and leaves the shrew.

Now we cut to Pinks at work and Violette comes in screaming that "Her Highness has collapsed and might die". Case Abels takes this opportunity to make it known that he runs the club, and Pinks slugs him and the other waiters beat up Pinks. Pinks shows up at Gloria's bedside a bit beaten-up, and knows that she has lost the will to live. Pinks seeing her on her last stand, reverts to his role of supporting and encouraging her.

Part 7

Watch The Big Street, Part 7 on YouTube

Gloria has lost the will to live. She describes to Little Pinks a vision she has had of a glorious soiree, then she breaks down sobbing that she's all washed-up just lying in bed waiting to die. The doctor explains to Pinks that Gloria has been living an illusion, when her illusion is shattered she'll wither up and die. So Pinks decides to try to restore it. There's some very dumb dialogue here between Violette and Nicely. I wish they would have re-written it. It's really lame.

Any....way. Little Pinks now decides he is going to get a beautiful dress for Gloria, by doing a dress heist. We meet "Gentleman George" a former jewel thief who declines to get involved because of the number of fraudulent heists that are really insurance scams.

Now we cut to Little Pinks climbing in through a bedroom window. He filches a dress from the closet, then overhears in the next room, how they are going to setup a fake jewel heist to get insurance money anyway. So he takes the jewels too. The woman he's robbing just turns out to be that beautiful young blonde wife of Col. Samuel who is being pressured by her lover to go along with the fake robbery. The lover comments that Case Abels invented this sort of scheme and is behind it. But Little Pinks drops a Social Security card leaving it behind.

Little Pinks now confronts Case Abels, blackmailing him that Pinks will go to the police with what he kows until Case agrees to a deal. What Pinks wants is the use of the club for tomorrow night, plus food, wine, and the best guests in Miami all to be invited.

Part 8

Watch The Big Street, Part 8 on YouTube

Now we open back in the office of Case Ables, where they are finalizing the deal. Little Pinks now lets us know that his full name is "Augustus Pinkerton the Third".

Cut to Nicely and Violettes Bar-B-Que stand where they are discussing the situation Pinks has gotten himself into. The men think it's going to be a bust that this idea will never work. Violette however whips them around with talk of love and dreams and saving Her Highness' life.

Now we cut to the Professor and Horsethief and their cronies and learn that the rumour has been spread that the party is for "Her Highness the Princess of Carrollea"

A fly in the ointment is that Decatur won't come because he's going to be with another woman. Nicely Nicely and Horsethief go out to "persuade" Decatur to come to the party. All these crooks then go out and rent top hats and tails so they'll look in-place at the party.

Next we cut to the party in progress, with all of Miami's finest in attendance thinking they are going to meet a princess. We learn that the Col's blonde wife is named Mamie. Now the police show up, having figured out that Pinkerton is their jewel heist suspect. Now at time 8:30 we see Ozzie Nelson.

The Col and Mamie recognize Gloria wearing their jewels and dress and want her arrested. Under threat, Decatur goes over and says a few kind words to Gloria.

Part 9

Watch The Big Street, Part 9 on YouTube

Ozzie Nelson now introduces that Gloria will sing. The blue-bloods recognize that Gloria is not the Princess of Carrollea and get up to leave. The kind-hearted crooks threaten them with bodily harm, and order them back to their tables. Gloria then sings her trademark song Who Knows?

The Col and the cops want to arrest Gloria and Pinks right then, but the Professor comes in to explain that Case Abels is the reason Gloria is in the wheelchair. He also explains that Case was on the make for the jewels in the first place, and since Pinks got them first, they are actually safe... on Gloria, right there in the nightclub. (It's screwy! Don't ask me!)

At any rate, the Col is so impressed by the tale, that he makes Decatur Reed change clothes with Pinks, he confronts his wife about her philandering and forces her to go over to Gloria. "You go over to that girl and make a fuss over her, and make all your friends do the same!" Gloria now learns that Pinks stole the dress and jewels she is wearing, and then Pinks walks over dressed in Decatur's clothing.

Try not to burst out sobbing, when Gloria wishes she could dance and Pinks lifts her up and dances around the room holding her up. Gloria in this scene appears to finally accept her altered condition and position.

Part 10

Watch The Big Street, Part 10 on YouTube

Little Pinks (Fonda) and Gloria (Ball) are dancing, or rather he is holding her up, while he dances. (He must be awfully strong!) At any rate, she decides she wants to walk up the stairs and he encourages her to try. She makes a tremendous effort and takes one step then dies. Pinks carries her limp corpse out while Violette (Agnes Moorehead) bursts into tears.

The End !

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