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"The Bowery", along with "Me and My Gal"(1932), is probably director Raoul
Walsh's best film at Fox. This is a one Walsh picture that will appeal to
all kinds of audiences and perhaps turn you into a devoted Walsh enthusiast.
I've always been a big Walsh fanatic and "Bowery" is one of few of his
pictures that has eluded for quite some time. I finally saw it and was blown
away by it.
"Bowery" is also Walsh's best film of 1933, easily eclipsing the ponderous "Going Hollywood". Inspired by Mae West's hugely successful comedy-riot "She Done Him Wrong", Walsh rightfully turned this pre-Code frolic into his own. All the Walsh touches are here in full bloom: the rousing ebullience & energy, the portrait of everyday life, the sheer innocence of its characters, the nostalgic evocation of the Gay 90s (Walsh's own impressionable years), and the unsophisticated resort to ribald humor, brawls, and jocularity. It also features John L. Sullavan, Errol Flynn's famous opponent in Walsh's 1942 boxing classic "Gentleman Jim".
George Raft and Wallace Beery are excellent as the two rivals in New York's Bowery of the 1890s. They are fighting for the love of Fay Wray (always a welcome sight). Jackie Cooper, playing the streetwise rascal, reunites with Beery after their successful teaming in Vidor's "The Champ" and it is great to watch them again.
Ultimately, though, it is Walsh's sheer exuberance that counts the most. "Bowery" is one of my all-time favorite films, the kind of picture that you would like to watch again and again. A must if you get a chance to see it.
A favourite of mine,this movie tells of two feuding New York
"characters", Steve Brodie(Raft) and "Chuck" Connors(Beery),who both
strive to be the "Main Guy" in the Bowery in the late Nineteenth
Brodie(1863-1901) and Connors(1852-1913),were real people,though this is a heavily fictionalized account of their antics(based on a play).Brodie's legendary(did he do it?- it's still a cause of argument!),jump from the Brooklyn bridge(1886),for which he became famous,is shown here as happening around the same time as the Spanish-American war(1898).Director Walsh clearly had a great affection for the period,so beautifully recreated here,and it includes a wild rumbustious ragtime number from saloon singer Trixie Odbray(a young Pert Kelton).Raft is at his slickest as Brodie,and Beery shows again what a clever actor he was,as tough, big hearted, and at times quite touching Connors.Pretty Fay Wray is the love interest both the boys are pursuing.
Full of life and energy,"The Bowery" moves at a fast pace(unlike many early "talkies").It is not an easy movie to find,but is well worth looking out for.
Culled from the real life exploits of Chuck Connors and Steve Brodie in
1890s New York, "The Bowery" is high energy and good natured.
But be warned: Casual racial epithets flow off the tongues of Wallace Beery and little Jackie Cooper. The very first shot might be startling. This is true to the time it was set and the time it was made. And it also speaks to the diversity of population in that neck of the woods. It certainly adds to the gritty flavor of the atmosphere.
Beery as Connors is the blustering thunder at the center of the action, a loud-mouth saloon keeper with his own fire brigade. And he has a soft spot for ornery orphan Cooper. Raft as Brodie is Connors' slicker, better looking rival in almost every endeavor. Brodie could never turn down a dare and loved attention, leading up to a jump off the Brooklyn Bridge (it is still debated whether he actually jumped or used a dummy).
Beery is as bombastic as ever with a put-on Irish-American accent. He is just the gruff sort of character to draw children, cats and ladies in distress. This is possibly the most boisterous character Raft ever played, and he even gets to throw in a little dancing (as well as a show of leg). And again he mistakes the leading lady (lovely Fay Wray) for a prostitute. Cooper is as tough as either of them, though he gets a chance to turn on the tears.
The highlight isn't the jump off the bridge but a no-holds-barred fistfight between Connors and Brodie that in closeup looks like a real brawl between the principals. It's sure someone bruised more than an ego.
George Raft as Steve Brodie, the carefree, dancing gambler who can
never refuse a dare, is pitted against the lumbering, sentimental,
Chuck Connors (Wallace Beery).A soft touch for every panhandler,
Connors impulsively adopts waifs and strays, notably runaway orphan
"Swipes" (Jackie Cooper, complete with kittens!) and the homeless Lucy
Calhoun, an out-of-town innocent with ambitions to become a writer.
In this male-dominated culture, communication takes place mostly in the form of violence (one sees why THE BOWERY is a Martin Scorsese favorite). Exploding cigars provide a running gag. "Swipes" enjoys throwing rocks through windows in Chinatown, on one occasion setting a laundry alight. (The simultaneous arrival of both Brodie's and Beery's volunteer fire companies leads to a brawl, during which the building burns to the ground.) Beery casually saps a troublesome girl, and thumps anyone who disagrees with him, including Brodie, whom he defeats, in a night-time fist fight on a moored barge, to regain control of his saloon, lost on a bet that Brodie wouldn't have the courage to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge. (Brodie does make the leap, but only because a subterfuge with a dummy fails at the last moment.)
As usual, Walsh fills the frame with detail, illustrating with relish the daily life of the tenderloin; singing waiters, bullying barmen, whores from Suicide Hall being hustled into the Black Maria, tailors collaring hapless hicks off the street and forcing them to buy suits they don't want. A minor but admirable little film.
Four words account for why this film was made - "She Done Him Wrong". The
huge commercial success of that Mae West vehicle convinced the studio
that Gay '90s melodramas were a viable proposition. Here we are rewarded
with a fast moving, well written romp which neatly targets the
of its stars.
Wallace Beery and George Raft are excellent as friendly rivals; Jackie Cooper is a little harder to take, but it is Fay Wray who steals the film with her stock-in-trade damsel in distress. With a strong director - as Walsh proves himself to be - Wray could carry a lot of punch, and she is utterly believable as the object of both Raft and Beery's affection.
Lots of atmosphere, beautifully designed, this is a forgotten film worthy of revival.
In Brooklyn a century ago, the rivalry between Chuck Connors and Steve
Brodie and their competing volunteer fire brigades leads to Brodie's famous
bet that he can jump off the Brooklyn Bridge. This is a story which will be
familiar to a lot of people through a Bugs Bunny spoof, "Bowery Bugs" from
This generally very enjoyable film would probably be more widely available if it were not for the notorious and unsettling scene involving some Chinese tenement dwellers -- a time capsule of antediluvian racial attitudes, giving the film a great deal of historical interest, in my view.
High energy Raoul Walsh classic from 1933, The Bowery places saloon owner and operator Wallace Beery against bitter rival and dandy, George Raft, with adopted street kid Jackie Cooper and good looking Faye Wray in roles that play in between their big rivalry. It's not clear exactly what the rivalry is all about, but everyone follows it in the daily tabloids. Plenty of wisecracks at the beginning, but the characters soften up as the film progresses. Apart from that is the sheer exuberance of the scenes in Beery's saloon. The various characters, sexy chorus line, lots of drinking, a perfect creation of a den of iniquity not too refrained by so-called pre-code restrictions, and then later come the Carrie Nations led by Carrie Nation herself. It all creates a very vivid picture of a life that's long gone. I don't like to compare eras, but this film is completely and totally different from anything one would see today. The film has plenty of heart and long lost innocence and is absolutlely a must see.
I love this freekin movie! Walsh is a true master of the cinematic
form, his film have been sometimes in my opinion, overlooked. But this
film is a favourite of mine because it really gives you the feel of the
time the film was set in.\
All the wonderful characters that existed, the lifestyle, the mode of dress, the way they spoke, OK they might be exaggerated, but it is good to know that there were occasion when two men tried to outdo each other with insane stunts.
I just felt it was apiece of history thats should be wathced by many people and appreciated because of that fact.
Can I get it somewhere on DVD? I have only seen it on TV. But for anyone wanting a slice of life movie about that period of time this is the perfect one.
In his new 20th Century Pictures Corporation which was at the time
releasing its product with United Artists, Darryl F. Zanuck almost had
an MGM trifecta for his stars. Wallace Beery and Jackie Cooper came
from MGM and Clark Gable almost did. But according to the biography of
George Raft from James Parrish, Raft wanted very much to do this film
and Zanuck accommodated him and got him from Paramount.
It was a wise move on Zanuck's part because Steve Brodie of the Bowery was a part Raft was born to play. And why not since Raft grew up in the Hell's Kitchen area of New York and knew the scene well.
As did Raoul Walsh who was born and raised in Rockaway Beach, New York and also knew the red light areas of the city well. The best thing that The Bowery has going for it was is the incredible detail in terms of creating the atmosphere of the Gay Nineties in one of New York's most colorful areas. In fact so much detail was presented that the film is rarely seen today for all the racial epithets it has. But that would be true of the era. Racial and ethnic stereotyping was the rule of the day. In fact Ragtime is also quite graphic in that, the difference being the point of view that film takes.
What The Bowery has in atmosphere with its sets, dialog with the idioms of the day, and costumes, it loses in accuracy. Set in 1897-98 before the Spanish American War it has the legendary Steve Brodie doing his jump off the Brooklyn Bridge at that time. In point of fact it was in 1886.
Raft as Brodie and Beery as Chuck Connors are a pair of friendly if caustic rivals of The Bowery area in lower Manhattan. The two are forever trying to top each other and that is given as the reason for Raft doing his famous dive off the Brooklyn Bridge and living to tell about it. Actually there is cause in real life to think Brodie never did the deed. And in fact some question is raised in Beery's mind which leads to the climax of The Bowery.
Jackie Cooper's well known antipathy to Beery has been documented, but in the Parrish book on Raft during a fight scene Beery got a little rougher than the script called for. Raft then responded with what is described as a roundhouse right into the family jewels. Beery reacted normally as one does when one is hit there.
If one values political correctness than do not see this film. But otherwise it is an all too accurate a look on a bygone era.
My summary is NOT meant to be hostile, but an accurate summation of my
feelings about the film. While the plot is very silly and the film has
many strikes against it, there is a certain likability about the film
that made it enjoyable. The biggest deficits were the amazingly racist
nature of the first portion of the film and the other was that the
people in the film seemed more like caricatures instead of real people.
As for the racism, while usually I hate politically correct types who dismiss a film entirely, this time they would have a good point. In the first 15 minutes, you hear just about every racial slur you can imagine (even the unthinkable "N-bomb"--a word which, in recent years, is worse to mutter than any previous word uttered by mankind or ever to be uttered). Plus the whole throwing rocks at the Chinese bit is pretty sick. For kicks, young Jackie Cooper likes to throw rocks through windows belonging to Chinese immigrants. In one instance, the rock smashes a lamp and burns down a building. During this raging fire, you see lots of Chinese men on the top floor screaming for help--yet this scene, believe it or not, is played for laughs!! Apparently back in the 1930s, roasting Chinese people was a real laugh riot (see the Wikipedia entry on "Nanking" for more on this).
The main characters in the film are Chuck Conners (Wallace Beery) and Steve Brodie (George Raft)--two rivals who spend almost the entire film at each other's throats. These two gamblers are determined to be THE biggest and most beloved resident of the Bowery and are constantly trying to one-up each other. Most of this is pretty funny and there is a certain stupid likability about their antics. In many ways, it's all like a cartoon and you know you'd NEVER see people like this in real life--but still an endearing and cute cartoon. Plus, having Cooper and Pert Kelton along for the ride just added to the silly charm of this cartoony version of Gay 90s New York.
Overall, very watchable and fun--but also ridiculously unbelievable and racist. Worth seeing but far from a must-see.
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