Sidewalks of New York (1931) torrent download

Sidewalks of New York

1931

Comedy / Crime

5.7

Synopsis

A dim-witted slumlord tries to reform a gang of urban boys (and impress an attractive young woman) by transforming their rough neighborhood into a more decent place.

Director

Zion Myers

Movie Reviews

Reviewed by Igenlode Wordsmith 7 /10

Some very funny highlights improve slow dialogue

There are two reasons to watch "Sidewalks of New York" -- the talent of the youthful cast, especially the boy who plays 'Clipper' Kelly, and a number of excellent physical comedy scenes from the inimitable Buster Keaton. A third reason might be in order to appreciate the unintentional humour of some of the dialogue sequences; but unfortunately, while weak, the exchanges aren't really bad enough to be funny.

I suppose the material is fairly weak overall; it's basically a fairly standard 1930s 'Dead End Kids' plot, with Keaton's character grafted on for comic effect as a millionaire who falls in love with a girl from the slums. However, it's lively and full of novel twists, with its main defect being set-piece scenes that drag due to over-reliance on lame dialogue and Buster Keaton falling over.

{Sample exchange, paraphrased: SHE, departing: "I hope I didn't hurt your feelings." HE, gazing rapturously after her: "I can never be hurt by anything again!" TWO SMALL CHILDREN with a skipping rope promptly trip him up from behind, cracking his head on the pavement. (Cue intended laughter)}

The scenes between 'Butch' and 'Clipper', on the other hand, are played straight with a fast pace, and are surprisingly effective. The plot revolves around cross-dressing, passing Clipper off as a woman, 'the blonde bandit', in order to throw the police off the trail, but it's not played for laughs. At least, not until it comes into contact with the boys' club's very bad play, in which our millionaire is taking the lead female role...

As for Keaton's accent in the said part -- to be honest it doesn't distress me half as much as it does his fellow-Americans, for the simple reason that I wouldn't know an authentic American upper-crust accent if it bit me in the face! It's true that he sounds completely ridiculous mouthing phrases like "Come, come, my little man", but then I think it's intentional: anyone would. As soon as he comes across as more natural, I don't notice any more; whether the 'natural' tones in question are authentic or not is a matter on which I'm certainly unqualified to judge.

The enjoyable comedy highlights of this film, on the other hand -- and they *are* thoroughly enjoyable -- are all Keaton's doing, and they are almost all sight gags. The classic scene in the record shop, where the ever-helpful Poggle holds up the titles of one popular songsheet after another to prompt the semblance of a lover's declaration, Cyrano-de-Bergerac-style, only to fall hopelessly adrift with his final random choice: the novelty hit "Yes, we have no Bananas". (Sadly, the end of this scene, and hence its consequences, goes beyond the bounds of credulity, and as a result is less effective -- but the beginning is very funny, as is Keaton's face when confronted with the bananas...) The demonstration wrestling match between Poggle and his employer, neither of whom has the faintest idea of what they're doing: this sequence, and especially Keaton's ever-changing expressions of fiercely inventive inspiration, would not be out of place in any one of his silent movies. The boxing match that follows: this is, of course, drawing heavily on Keaton's similar unequal fight in "Battling Butler", and as a result is less fresh and funny when you've recently seen the earlier film, but it's still well worth a watch, with a whole new set of twists to the outcome.

The birthday-party scene is perhaps notable in that it is the only one of these 'highlights' in which dialogue plays a significant role -- demonstrating that, given a halfway-decent script, Keaton was perfectly capable of holding his own in the talkie stakes -- and the only one in which his character is actually provided with any emotional depth. As he tries to comfort Clipper's sister and shield the boy, he is both funny and moving. (It is also worth appreciating the Keaton-style (rather than MGM-style) gag in which he *doesn't* drop the cake!) More echoes from the past as Keaton cross-dresses for the comedy melodrama, reminiscent this time of a similar act he had done over ten years earlier as an exotic girl-dancer opposite Fatty Arbuckle. This could have been simply excruciating to watch, like the failed on-stage business in "Free and Easy", but in fact -- perhaps because we've all seen school plays, perhaps because of the obvious rapport between Buster and co-star Cliff Edwards, with whom he'd had a similarly successful partnership in "Doughboys" -- the effect is rather charming.

The final scene I'd name as worthy of note is the finale, where Keaton holds off the band of bandits single-handed while the boys race to the rescue. Never mind the dodgy plot (the boys' sudden change of heart has to be one of the least convincing moments in the script -- surely someone could have come up with a better rationale?) or the hero's sudden unexplained wrestling prowess; never mind that the bullets-in-the-fire sequence is again a quote from a 1920s hit (this time "Hard Luck"). The athletic fight and siege sequence with its mixture of ingenuity and acrobatics is a flashback to happier memories, Buster Keaton's talents unleashed once more, and it garnered a spattering of appreciative applause as the film ended.

Not a great picture, but plenty of reason to watch for the Keaton fan -- if you can make it through the slow-as-treacle courtroom sequence, that is.

Reviewed by lzf0 N/A

Buster meets Jules White

Keaton always referred to this film as a horror. No, it's not "The General" or "Our Hospitality". As in "Doughboys", another sound film with bad reputation which turns out to be very, very funny, Buster is paired with Cliff "Jiminy Cricket" Edwards. The chemistry between them is much better than the later pairing of Keaton with Jimmy Durante. The film is co-directed by Jules White, the driving force behind the Columbia short comedies from 1934 through 1958. We even see Keaton performing a routine done only a few years later by Curly Howard in "Disorder in the Court". Though the routine is more suited to Curly's comedy style, Keaton is very funny in this sequence. White was a director who believed that if something wasn't funny, at least make it fast and make it violent. White's reliance on comic violence is at odds with Keaton's art and is even more apparent in the comedy shorts Keaton made at Columbia in the late '30s and '40s. Interestingly, this film introduces a group of kids referred to as "East Side Kids". Did Sam Katzman get his inspiration here? One will never know.

Reviewed by wmorrow59 3 /10

Poor Buster! He looks deeply unhappy here, and no wonder

Maybe this isn't the worst movie Buster Keaton ever appeared in, but in my opinion it sure felt like a long, long way to spend 74 minutes, and I regret to say that the 'The End' title came as something of a relief. Buster was a truly great comedian, but watching this film is no way to appreciate his talent, especially if you've never seen his best work from the silent days. Viewers unfamiliar with the details of his career should know right off that Keaton made this movie (and his other early talkies) during an unhappy stint at MGM, where he was denied creative control of his material and forced to take ill-fitting assignments. Sidewalks of New York is a prime example from a generally dismal series. Recently I was sorry to find a VHS copy of the film on the shelf with other videos at a local library, and to make matters worse they didn't appear to have any of Keaton's other, better movies, just this one. Wherever he is, Buster is grimacing.

What's wrong with it? Well, where to start? The dialog is generally labored and witless, but feels even worse because this is an early talkie with no musical score whatsoever, so the actors exchange their clunky jokes accompanied only by the low hiss of the soundtrack. Next problem, the casting is off. Buster has been assigned the role of Homer Van Dine Harmon, a dim-witted product of Old Money. This sort of part suited him in silent movies due to his elegant appearance, but it feels all wrong in a talkie because, let's face it, the man didn't speak in the cultivated tones of a moneyed person sent to the finest schools. (I'm trying to phrase this delicately.) Buster Keaton was a brilliant comic artist but he was not well educated, at least not in the conventional sense. He grew up backstage and learned all about show business, not subjects they teach at Harvard. His voice was harsh and his grammar was poor, and he tended to impose his own phrasing on the dialog he was given, so he'd say things like "That don't feel good." He doesn't sound like a child of privilege, and when he's given such bogus things to say as "You strike me as a trifle unbalanced," as in this film, he sounds even less so. Furthermore, Homer's dimness lacks the distinctive eccentricity Buster displayed in his best silent comedies: he's merely stupid. Worse still, MGM has placed Buster's annoyingly dim-witted millionaire in the middle of a sentimentalized Lower East Side slum, full of picturesque Little Tough Guys with nicknames like Baloney. The real-world euphemism for "Baloney" sums up this script succinctly.

The plot hinges on Homer's attempts to clean up the slum and provide the kids with wholesome activities; his primary motivation is to impress Margie (Anita Page), the older sister of one of the boys. The Hollywood ghetto feels phony, and the script's version of snappy dialog is painful at times, but even so this premise might have offered the potential for decent visual comedy if those genuinely dim-witted millionaires who ran MGM had allowed their star to develop some of his characteristic set-pieces. But no, this project has the look of something cranked out in a hurry, and the exquisitely funny routines we remember from Keaton's silent features have been reduced to mercilessly repetitive bits in which Buster gets punched, trips, flails, drops things, clunks his head, breaks more stuff, and falls over again.

Even Keaton's weakest comedies usually have a scene or two worth seeing. (Perhaps the only exception is the abysmal feature he made in Mexico in the mid-1940s: all prints of that one should be seized with fireplace tongs and tossed into a raging furnace.) Sidewalks of New York provides a moment or two, but the pickings are pretty slim. There's a modestly funny sequence in which Buster attempts to carve a roast duck, and another in which he and Cliff Edwards mess up an amateur stage performance, but any comedian worthy of the name could have performed these scenes. Keaton's MGM bosses just couldn't figure out what made him unique, or else they just didn't care. On balance, there's no compelling reason to see this movie, and I'd suggest that the 74 minutes it takes to view it could be more profitably and enjoyably spent watching any of Buster's silent features.

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