Probably the most explosive, high-energy film ever made about something as seemingly pedestrian and banal as the newspaper. Samuel Fuller’s passion-project (he was a journalist himself before becoming a filmmaker) clocks in at just over 80-minutes – not a single frame is wasted. Gene Evans’ Mitchell forms his own newspaper, The Globe, and quickly comes into competition with rival paper, the sensationalist Star, run by Charity Hackett (Mary Welch, who steals every scene she’s in).
This is Fuller’s ode to American journalism, pulped up and stripped of all nuance and subtlety. There’s enough violence and greed and explosiveness to jettison it past most film noir, however. Mitchell is fighting a war. After all, as the film opens, the narrator discusses the titular location as being born of “ink and blood” and Fuller realizes this image on many occasions in the messy, battleground newsroom. Park Row is surprisingly optimistic and idealistic for Fuller, who usually seems to deal with the uglier side of America and humanity at large. Characters talk in big ideas rather than specifics (except for when Fuller details the printing process), and these big ideas are a belief in American journalism, despite the cut throat greed that constantly threatens to bury it. Freedom of the press is indeed a great freedom, but Fuller’s surprisingly violent picture suggests that this very freedom is often a threat to itself. As one, wise, old character comments: “the press is good or evil according to the character of those who direct it.”
Therefore, its purity must be fought for against the powers of corruption and greed. Sentimentality and idealism might not be typical Fuller traits, but pulp is. Park Row is typically muscular in its style – Fuller’s camera is always moving and zooming to accentuate lines of dialogue or big action moments. In typical Fuller fashion, he lays his themes bare in powerful images – in a literal fight for the purity of journalism, Mitchell beats a saboteur brutally against a statue of Benjamin Franklin. Park Row’s physicality is invigorating. It is a great film.