Bowery, The (1933)

“Remember what I always tells ya: this is a man’s world.”

Synopsis:
In 1890s New York, saloon-owner Chuck Connors (Wallace Beery) and suave gambler Steve Brodie (George Raft), continue their lifelong rivalry by vying for the affections of a street urchin (Jackie Cooper) and a beautiful young woman (Fay Wray).

Genres:

Review:
Raoul Walsh’s bawdy interpretation of life on the Bowery in 1890s New York comes across today as misogynistic and racist, with little to redeem it as a worthwhile drama. While some may argue that such unsavory sentiments are authentic to the era, it’s literally painful to watch an early “humorous” scene in which Chinese men are trapped in their burning laundromat while volunteer firemen brigades engage in a street brawl rather than putting out the fire — and to know that the fire itself was caused by Cooper being given “permission” by Beery to “throw just a tiny rock in the Chinks’ window” (naturally, not a shred of guilt is expressed by either party). Regardless of these hideously uncomfortable scenes, however, Connor and Brodie’s lifelong rivalry simply doesn’t sustain a narrative; the “high point” of the story occurs when Brodie jumps off the Brooklyn Bridge on a dare, and Connor loses his saloon as a result — but who really cares about these louts anyway? Fay Wray is sympathetic but wasted as Brodie’s love interest, while Cooper seems to be simply reprising his earlier role opposite Beery in The Champ (1931).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • An interesting (albeit historically suspect) glimpse at how Carrie Nation and her minions carried out their abolitionist agenda
    Bowery Carrie Nation

Must See?
No; this one can easily be skipped. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.

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One Response to “Bowery, The (1933)”

  1. Not a must; in agreement with the assessment.

    What was probably meant as broad, commercial entertainment at the time now looks wrong-headed for reasons stated. Though director Walsh does an efficient-enough job, the whole thing plods along from episode to episode – with the stringing, running gag of an exploding cigar, meant to symbolize (I suppose) the fact that Raft maintains the upper hand over Beery, even though – gosh, darnit – they’ll always be pals no matter what. The racial slurs are so rampant here that one saloon actually boasts the name ‘Nigger Joe’s’.

    Oddly enough, the fetching Fay Wray lends a little class and walks off with the picture in her thankless role.

    The Beery/Cooper combo and elements of films of this sort were parodied in the Coen Brothers’ film ‘Barton Fink’ (a must and a personal fave).

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