Masters Of Cinema #119 - Park Row - DVD Review

'Is Mitchell the shining light of journalism his director presents him as? He thinks nothing of manufacturing a story'

How, in 2012, do you approach a film glorifying the journalistic profession? With Rupert Murdoch's empire latterly on the brink of tatters and The Leveson Inquiry shining an uncomfortable light onto the realities of modern day practices, Samuel Fuller's Park Row presents a sometimes confused picture of a job now dangerously close to permanent residence in the gutter.

And so, at the heart of Fuller's film we have Phineas Mitchell (a stunning and confident Gene Evans). A good man? Fuller seems sure of it. But look closer. Is Mitchell the shining light of journalism his director presents him as? He thinks nothing of manufacturing a story, literally having a man arrested so that he can report on his release and triumphant return. Mitchell also comes spectacularly close to establishing his empire. Before a conflict with Charity Hackett (Mary Welch) appears, he has built the first newsstands, and is well on his way to increasing circulation via a populist drive for funding The Statue Of Liberty. Is he Murdoch in disguise?

There is, of course, another side to Mitchell, which successfully runs the show for the most part. His early decision to leave Hackett's Star is idealised by Fuller, as Evans hand is shown pounding an epitaph onto the grave of a man he believes the paper helped murder. As his hand sweeps in to and out of the camera, the effect is given of Mitchell being righteous judge, banging down the hammer, even if it is already too late: The Star has already carried out the execution.

Mitchell's staunch desire to defend his press and the rights of freedom of speech are delivered with increasing frequency by Fuller as the film progresses. Late on he literally dashes all aggressors at the feet of Gutenberg and Franklin, brass saviours held up by the residents of Park Row. Their iconicity is secured by Mitchell himself inside his newspaper's production house, where a space on the wall seems to be reserved for his portrait.

'Park Row eventually feels similar to a critical essay; it's passionate, a treatise almost, and quite well argued, but can you fall in love with it?'

Once the end titles role, revisiting Mitchell's early manipulation of a story, with the help of Fuller's words, included in the Masters Of Cinema booklet, reveals the apparent error of corrupt morals to be merely Fuller's forthright optimism at play. Yes, sure, Mitchell concocts a story, but he does so to build a man up into a hero, not to send him to the hangman's noose. The progression of Hackett's character shows the same operation at play. That she could or would be turned round to the notions of liberty and honesty at the film's opening is unthinkable. That she could or would by the time the final third starts is pretty much expected. Fuller's optimism may not be fashionable now but it is a refreshing change, and he approaches it with significant honesty.

But honesty and optimism can feel cold and empty too, just as pessimism and harsh critique more often do. As reported by Fuller himself, studio boss Darryl Zanuck felt the film lacked heart; 'your hero is in love with a Linotype machine'. Fuller eventually moved away from the studio system to produce the film he wanted, and for artistic vision it is doubtless all the better for it, but Zanuck definitely has a point. The band of men at the film's centre are obsessed with type sets, printing presses, large point fonts, Franklin and Gutenberg. When Charity enters Mitchell's mix their relationship is given short shrift. Guiding light Josiah Davenport (Herbert Heyes), described in the booklet as 'an angel, [he] hovers constantly, physically draping himself over always accepting shoulders', dismisses their relationship, such as it is, with something as close as the film gets to scorn.

That leaves the film feeling distant, like a headline held at arm's length. The emotional weight is carried by the care you come to feel for the characters but even that seems mishandled sometimes. We never again see Rusty (Dee Pollock) after his accident, for example, and when Davenport exits too, his guiding light is missed. Park Row eventually feels similar to a critical essay; it's passionate, a treatise almost, and quite well argued, but can you fall in love with it?





Founded in 2004, The Masters of Cinema Series is an independent, carefully curated, UK-based Blu-ray and DVD label, now consisting of over 150 films. Films are presented in their original aspect ratio (OAR), in meticulous transfers created from recent restorations and / or the most pristine film elements available.

Park Row is released in the UK on Monday 22nd October 2012

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