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On the Bowery (1956)

7.3
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Ratings: 7.3/10 from 416 users  
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The Bowery is a neighborhood in New York City populated largely by the down and out, and largely by transients. Those that can work generally can only find short term employment on a day to... See full summary »

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Title: On the Bowery (1956)

On the Bowery (1956) on IMDb 7.3/10

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Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 2 wins. See more awards »

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The Bowery is a neighborhood in New York City populated largely by the down and out, and largely by transients. Those that can work generally can only find short term employment on a day to day basis, their daily earnings which primarily go into booze. Those that can't or won't work generally sponge off whoever they can, especially for that next drink. New to the neighborhood is Ray, who most recently had been working the rails in New Jersey. He is one of those who can and still does work, but like the others spends what little money he has on booze, which means he usually sleeps on the streets in a drunken stupor. The only person he would probably consider a friend in the neighborhood is the elderly Gorman, who in turn takes advantage of his new friend at whatever opportunity. When he's sober, Ray understands that alcohol is ruining his life, and as such states that he will try to stop drinking. The questions become whether Ray has either the will or the support necessary to fulfill ... Written by Huggo

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Documentary

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19 July 1962 (Hungary)  »

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On the Bowery  »

Box Office

Opening Weekend:

$13,236 (USA) (17 September 2010)

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$13,236 (USA) (17 September 2010)
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Referenced in Mr. Hoover and I (1989) See more »

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Striking record of off-grid life 55 years ago
13 December 2009 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

This movie must have seemed very startling to audiences at the time, when "homelessness" wasn't yet a concept (only the somewhat more abstract, accusatory "bums" or "winos").

Like many "documentaries" made before the 1960s, when a more purist approach was introduced, it is partly staged and acted, albeit by nonprofessional principals who were purportedly playing themselves, surrounded on real locations by real people who clearly aren't following any script. Thus the line between staged drama, improv and documentary is thoroughly blurred.

You could call this falsification by strict verite standards, but that would deny "In the Bowery's" extraordinary capture of a particular underside that mainstream society (let alone movies) preferred to ignore until the 60s myriad social-change movements focused more attention on the urban poor and disenfranchised.

The loose "story" focuses on ruggedly handsome thirtysomething ex-railroad worker Ray. He lands in NYC, buys drinks for some Bowery drunks, passes out on the street and has his threadbare suitcase of possessions stolen by Gorman, the one who'd befriended him. Ray does day-laboring gigs, attends a rescue mission sermon, sleeps at a charity flophouse (where most sleep on newspapers on the floor) and tries to avoid the demon alcohol--but he free-falls nonetheless.

It's worth reading the Wikipedia article about the movie, which offers a number of interesting facts about its creation and reception. (It won a Venice Fest award and an Oscar nomination, though the unflattering if poignant expose of Skid Row also got it attacked by the New York Times and other significant voices.) Supposedly Ray Salyer was "offered a Hollywood contract but chose to remain on the Bowery"--which sounds just-possible, but also unlikely enough to require further proof.

This is a unique and striking memento of a disappeared world (though the issues remain very relevant--only the neighborhoods and racial mix have changed).


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