BRANNAVAN GNANALINGAM reports from the Wellington Film Society. This week: Fuller’s personal favourite.

SAM FULLER started off in journalism at the age of twelve. He was a copy boy, then a crime reporter by the age of seventeen. You can feel his newspaper experience seeping into this film, a passion for the ink, the machinery the people. While Park Row is certainly minor Fuller, and a little problematic, it is also possibly the most purely enjoyable film of this year’s Film Society programme thus far.

The film immediately opens itself with a dedication to American print journalism. Running contrary to the current media’s wearying conglomerisation/Murdochisation, this is certainly an admirable and idealistic viewpoint to take of the Fourth Estate. Perhaps, a little too idealistic (after all, one of the film’s heroes Joseph Pulitzer, can also be credited as one of the founders of yellow journalism. Though it’d be also fair to say that Nellie Bly, a renowned reporter for Pulitzer, was probably the inspiration for Fuller’s later Shock Corridor).

The film watches a small-scale media war that occurred on Park Row, New York (the street renowned as housing many of New York’s major newspapers) in 1886. Gene Evans plays Phineas Mitchell, a man fired from Charity Hackett’s (Mary Welch) The Star after he accused her of bottom-dwelling journalism. He receives financial help following a drunken, idealistic rant, and starts his own newspaper. Coupled with some inventive help from a character based on printing inventor Ottmar Mergenthaler, and some good old fashioned guts, Mitchell starts making a name for himself as a noble editor of The Globe. However, Charity Hackett is not particularly impressed, and seeks to destroy the potential rival to her newspaper. In the middle of this, there is also a romance being played out between Mitchell and Hackett.

The film takes a jingoistic look at the American Dream, touching on the courage, the determination, and the endeavour of early American pioneers. Constant reference is made to some of America’s icons such as Benjamin Franklin, and the characters in the film rally around the cause of finding a pedestal to that beacon of American freedom, the Statue of Liberty (in real-life, it was Pulitzer who founded the campaign to mount Lady Liberty). In fact, the film also pays homage to the immigrants who made America what it is – the tenacity of the likes of Mergenthaler, the inventor of linotype which revolutionised newspaper printing, and Mr. Angelo, who despite being unable to read was able to set typeface faster than anybody else. It is certainly interesting to think what a later Fuller would have made of this material. There are a couple of the great Fullerian flourishes – particularly a long-take street-fight scene, and an excellent use of deep-focus camerawork.

Charity Hackett is not treated particularly well – there are allusions constantly made to her femininity, and there’s a strong undercurrent that she should not be participating in this business. Her ruthlessness appears a bit like the Wicked Witch from Wizard of Oz (costume-wise and in mannerisms), and the ending makes no pretence of what she should be doing instead. All this aside, although Park Row is ultimately not as resonant or morally intriguing as Fuller at his best, it is an enjoyable piece, and a paean to (especially given modern times) a long-lost idealistic era of journalism.