The Bowery (Raoul Walsh / U.S., 1933):

The Yank Belle Époque of the Gay Nineties, fondly recalled as a belligerent cavalcade by those who were there. (In a telling joke, a Gallic painter complaining about "perspective" is laughed right out of the saloon.) The camera is low enough to stare at a cross-eyed violinist and high enough to peek down Pert Kelton’s dress as she bleats "Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay": Raoul Walsh’s phenomenal burlesque technique lays out the eternal cyclone of early New York life, so that Wallace Beery’s entrance as a local big-shot, with askew derby hat and rhinoceros rump poking from a striped suit, is but one element in a teeming frame. "I ain’t got no time for goyles," or so he says until a lissome novice (Fay Wray) strolls in, then the brawl is on with the leprechauny sharpie (George Raft). Jabs and slurs are the currency in this "livest mile on the face of the globe," a particular pantomime of dandyism and truculence, America the boisterous. (Not for nothing are fancy exploding cigars a running gag.) Men dive off bridges and fight in front of burning buildings, braggarts and strays swinging furiously in hopes of leaving their mark on a community erected on sheer centrifugal force—and yet there’s Beery shorn of his bluster in the most poignant moment, bewildered and alone in close-up as "Auld Lang Syne" wafts in from some unseen barber quartet. (By contrast, the most vicious bit belongs to the pillars of virtue themselves, Carrie Nation and her league of hatchet-wielding prudes.) The land of wild contrasts and fluctuating fortunes, something like a Will Elder panorama pulled this way and that by Walsh with the steady hand of a waiter balancing a tray of drinks while dragging away a knocked-out barfly. War looms at the close, though a grace note still survives in the private truce between roughneck-gentlemen. Fuller (Park Row) and Scorsese (Gangs of New York) are the avid successors, "don’t ever say I never give ya nothin’!" With Jackie Cooper, Herman Bing, Oscar Apfel, Ferdinand Munier, George Walsh, and Lillian Harmer. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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