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Sidewalks of New York (1923)

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Cast

Credited cast:
Hanna Lee
Bernard Siegel
Templar Saxe
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Nita Martan ...
Rosa (as Manilla Martan)
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Drama | Sport

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6 August 1923 (USA)  »

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Obscure cast in surprisingly good film.
26 March 2010 | by (Minffordd, North Wales) – See all my reviews

There must be at least a hundred boxing movies about the scrappy ethnic kid who hopes that prizefighting will be a ticket out of the slums. Here's the mixture as before ... except that this time the prizefighting kid is female.

'Sidewalks of New York' (what an original title!) was a low-budget independent American production, apparently shot in New York City. I'm not aware that it was ever released in Europe. I managed to Steenbeck a print in the possession of a European collector: parts of the film had deteriorated, and some of the intertitles had been cut out ... apparently by someone intending to edit this movie for European audiences by inserting translated titles. Because of the print's condition, I can't be certain of the names of all the characters (these were often changed when silent films were translated), nor the names of all the actors in the cast. Here goes.

Rosa (played by Manilla Martan) is the motherless daughter of an elderly tailor (Bernard Siegel) on Manhattan's lower East Side. The tailor is a pacifist with an utter abhorrence of violence. (So why does he live in New York City?) He wants Rosa to marry Sylvester, a nice young man just off the boat from Italy. But Rosa's not having any: she's secretly planning to punch her way out of poverty and pauperdom by donning boxing gloves and becoming a prizefighter. We see actress Martan stripped down to boxing togs: she's healthy enough but clearly no athlete. Not remotely like Hilary Swank as a toned and buff she-boxer in 'Million Dollar Baby'.

Abovestairs to the tailor's shop is a gym run by a villainous chap with the wonderful name Spike Muggins (played by an actor with the vastly less wonderful name Templar Saxe, who has no Saxe appeal). Muggins by name but no muggins by nature, he has a little daughter Mary whom he beats, mistreats and nearly works to death in a subplot right out of Dickens. Mary Muggins is played by a child actress cried Hanna Lee, who looks about ten years old here. Rosa is training in Spike's gym for the championship bout against a visiting boxer from England. The champ is a woman, too.

When the tailor learns that his daughter is (gasp!) a pugilist, he throws her out into the street! This is utterly ridiculous. Considering the other livelihoods available to a young woman in the slums, why is prizefighting so shameful?

SPOILERS AHEAD. The climax, of course, is the boxing match. Rosa and the English boxer (I didn't get her name) square off in the ring, wearing no discernible chest protection apart from singlets and (apparently) brassieres. They don't seem to be wearing mouth protectors, either. They trade punches in boxing gloves, but seem to be avoiding direct booms to each other's bazooms. Rosa, of course, wins by a knockout. The referee has an annoying little moustache; I was hoping Rosa would punch him in the upper lip..

All ends happily, with Rosa finding love ... no, not with Sylvester, nor with the Englishwoman. (Despite both of them being female athletes.) Oh, and little Mary's subplot becomes even more Dickensian when she's reunited with her real parents, from whom Spike Muggins abducted her in infancy. Mary's parents are, of course, wealthy. Did someone mention a million-dollar baby?

Despite the low budget and some other problems, this is actually an enjoyable movie ... but there's a major implausibility at its centre. Were there actually female boxing matches in 1923? And did they pay the boxers well enough to justify Rosa's aspirations of getting out of the slum? In 1923, only four years after American women got the vote, and when many women were still wearing corsets, the fair sex were considered such delicate creatures that I have great difficulty believing that a distaff boxing match could be openly staged as a lawful sporting event.

Still, maybe the female boxers in this movie are the reason why a prizefighter's booty is called a 'purse'. Speaking of booties: Manilla Martan's booty is reasonably attractive in boxing strip.

There are the further implausibilities of the tailor's reaction to his daughter's vocation (of course he welcomes her back once she wins a lot of money) and the downright Victorian subplot concerning wee Mary. Everyone here tries hard, though, on both sides of the camera.

On its merits, and despite its unimaginative title, I'll give 'Sidewalks of New York' 5 out of 10, and one point extra for that great character name Spike Muggins! Total: 6 in 10.


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