Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Bowery (1933)

Boisterous, rowdy and fun pre-Code comedy-drama set against the nostalgic backdrop of New York's Lower East Side during the Gay '90s. Wallace Beery and George Raft star as a couple of rival saloon owners and volunteer fire company chiefs competing to be top dog in the neighborhood. The loose, sprawling story finds room for plenty of amusing and colorful threads: Raft's tender romance with Fay Wray, Beery's fatherly friendship with street kid Jackie Cooper, and Raft's publicity stunt to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge.

It's one of the very best films Raoul Walsh made during the decade, stylishly directed with a real flair for the period setting and vivid atmosphere of the Bowery, re-created in authentic detail on the studio backlot and nicely complemented by a musical score that's a virtual songbook of Gay '90s tunes. Tough and frank in its unflinching portrayal of the realities -- including sex, violence and casual racism -- of the rough-and-tumble milieu that it depicts, this is the kind of film that would become impossible to produce after the Production Code took full effect the following year.

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