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Author Topic: Sidewalks of New York (1931) - Buster Keaton  (Read 280 times)

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Offline metaldams

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Sidewalks of New York (1931) - Buster Keaton
« on: January 15, 2018, 07:31:08 PM »
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  •       I think I'm starting to see the key to appreciating these MGM films.  I don't look at them as Buster Keaton's films, but comedies of the early 30's that happen to have Buster Keaton in them.  SIDEWALKS OF NEW YORK has the disctinction of being the highest grossing film Keaton ever made and also the one Keaton personally cared for the least.  If that's not an indication that this film has early 30's styling and little Keaton styling, I don't know what does.  It just happens to be I enjoy early 30's films, and I also happen to enjoy one other aspect on its own merits, an aspect not necessarily in line with making the kind of films Keaton makes.  That aspect would be the directors - Zion Myers and.....wait for it.....Jules White.  Yes, that Jules White, the guy whose films we discussed for several years and will be discussing again briefly within the next year once Keaton goes to Columbia.

          As far as early 30's, the gangster film came into prominence around this time with James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson at Warner Brothers, and there's a gangster in this one trying to run the neighborhood and influence some kids to pull off jobs.  While hardly on the level of THE PUBLIC ENEMY or LITTLE CAESAR (OK, not even close), the gangster element still comes across as a fascinating by product of its time.  The idea of impressionable tough talking kids living in a ghetto is both a reflection of depression America and a precursor to the Dead End Kids/East Side Kids/Bowery Boys.  I'll also state the atmosphere in the neighborhoods is wonderfully dark, dingy, and convincing on par with any classic gangster film, no doubt a testament to MGM's production values, at the time the biggest studio there was.

          Now for the Jules White thing.  The film starts out with a bunch of rough neighborhood kids getting into an argument over a baseball game.  This evolves into a giant neighborhood food fight.  At one point, one kid even tricks another kid to believing they're on the same side, only for the kid doing the tricking to throw food into the other gullible kid's face.  The kid doing the tricking then gets food from off screen smacking him in the kisser.  I can easily picture such a routine in a Stooge film. 

         A routine we all know from a Stooge film is Curly taking an oath to tell the truth and nothing but the truth in DISORDER IN THE COURT.  Well, guess what?  Keaton did it first in SIDEWALKS OF NEW YORK.  The whole misunderstanding the fast talking oath, the raising of the right hand with object in the way, not swearing but knowing all the words, falling on your butt when trying to take the stand....it's all here, and Curly basically does it better.  This is no knock on Keaton.  His timing is superb, his delivery fine for his style, but this kind of routine works better with a frustrated comedian who slowly boils over, and that Curly's style.  Keaton is a toned down comedian and works best in a steady delivery.  Here's a fine example of humor probably not written by Keaton better suited for someone else, so I can understand Keaton's grievance.  Still, I enjoy seeing Keaton doing the routine nonetheless, and he does do one thing Curly doesn't do....take his own fall when falling on the chair on the witness stand.  Now that's by far Keaton own domain more than Curly.  One other Jules White gag....when Keaton wins the boxing match, he gets carried away on people's shoulders, only to have his head hit a bar above him, knocking him out.  This is similar to Curly and Besser is WHAT'S THE MATADOR and SAPPY BULLFIGHTERS.

          The main flaw of the film is also a Jules White trait, and one that stands out much more in a feature than a short film, and that's comic insensitivity.  Keaton and his girl, (played very well and assertively by Anita Page) throw her little brother a birthday party.  The little brother, who gets caught up in gang and mob activities, walks away from the party, only to have Anita Page crying.  Keaton acts completely oblivious to her sadness at this big dramatic moment, insists it's time to eat, and it is at this moment a gag involving a duck being wrongly sliced is used.  Not a good example of when to use comedy.  Later in the film, the younger brother, through orders of the gangster trying to mold him, is ordered to kill Keaton with a real gun in a play.  The kid is basically holding back tears, can't do it, and it is at this highly dramatic moment little comedy bits are thrown in.  The comedy feels on the side of the drama, not enhancing.  Jules White did not have the sensitivity of a Chaplin, Lloyd, Langdon, or even Keaton when he occasionally wanted to to mix drama and comedy, as these bits feel completely inappropriate and are the weakest parts of the film.

          As far as comedy, I do enjoy the boxing match and enjoyed watching Keaton deliver a dropkick on a few occasions.  During the chase at the end, there is one nice gag which screams Keaton.  Being chased in his house by gangsters, Keaton goes through all this trouble to make this huge pile of furniture blocking the door so the gangsters don't get in the room.  The irony is they are in the same room as he is!

          As an example of Buster Keaton's comedy, hardly a good example, but like I stated before, there are enough elements in this thing outside the realm of Keaton, including Stoogian elements, that fascinate and make me rate this as my favorite MGM talkie we've discussed so far.  One final point...the dim witted Elmer character is not on display much at all outside of the love sickness, and I find this very welcoming.  So a Keaton fan who could care less about Jules White, pre-code film and gangster movies should avoid this thing at all costs.  However, if you enjoy these elements, and want to see Buster Keaton enhance a film with all these things....

    7/10

    Offline Big Chief Apumtagribonitz

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    Re: Sidewalks of New York (1931) - Buster Keaton
    « Reply #1 on: January 15, 2018, 08:16:24 PM »
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  • Is it available anywhere online?

    Offline metaldams

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    Re: Sidewalks of New York (1931) - Buster Keaton
    « Reply #2 on: January 15, 2018, 09:31:49 PM »
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  • Is it available anywhere online?

    Not for free since it's not public domain, but here's a free link from TCM of the courtroom gag for a Curly comparison.

    http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/1361834/Sidewalks-Of-New-York-Movie-Clip-Raise-Your-Right-Hand.html

    Offline Paul Pain

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    Re: Sidewalks of New York (1931) - Buster Keaton
    « Reply #3 on: January 16, 2018, 06:04:51 AM »
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  • I looked it up and found that, in 2001, this film was actually assigned an "R" rating...
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    Offline Paul Pain

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    Re: Sidewalks of New York (1931) - Buster Keaton
    « Reply #4 on: January 16, 2018, 06:06:20 AM »
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  • Yes, that Jules White, the guy whose films we discussed for several years and will be discussing again briefly within the next year once Keaton goes to Columbia.

    Nooooooooo... I was going to start Keaton's Columbia shorts after my short tournament ends!  [pie]
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    Offline Umbrella Sam

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    Re: Sidewalks of New York (1931) - Buster Keaton
    « Reply #5 on: January 16, 2018, 04:45:54 PM »
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  • Well, once again we have Keaton playing a rich character and once again it produces a fine enough result. It is interesting to see just how Jules White’s style of directing translates to a feature film and I believe this was the only one he ever directed (I know he helped out on BROADWAY TO HOLLYWOOD, though he wasn’t the main director).

    So the story of this one deals with Keaton falling in love with a girl while also trying to help out her brother, while her brother is secretly being put into a scheme pulling off robberies with some gangsters. This story is far different from the ones Keaton had done in the past and doesn’t even revolve on him entirely, which is a refreshing change of pace. It is interesting to see these two story arcs both going on at the same time and they actually do combine pretty well, unlike PARLOR, BEDROOM, AND BATH which just constantly throws characters at you.

    It is true, though, that White did not know how to handle dramatic moments all that well, something that’s apparent with the apartment scene. The scene on the stage...I actually thought kind of worked. Keaton and Cliff Edwards’ obliviousness makes perfect sense and it’s not so much comedic outside of Edwards ending up shooting his own wife in the play.

    The big problem with SIDEWALKS OF NEW YORK is that it tends to drag a bit. The boxing scenes in particular feel like they go on forever, despite being funny at first. The courtroom scene also was pretty hard to sit through, though that was mainly due to the fact that I know there’s a better version out there. Still, it does not come close to the version in DISORDER IN THE COURT and it also has an awkward shot of Keaton and Edwards pressing their faces up against glass.

    The best scenes are the ones that feel a lot more controlled in length, more like something that could show up in a short subject. Keaton and Edwards making the record as well as performing the play are very funny moments. I also like how Keaton and Edwards’s wrestling at first very much looks like they’re dancing with each other as partners; a quick, but effective visual gag. Even the ending fight is actually pretty impressive, even if it is the kind of thing that is more in line with the Three Stooges than Keaton.

    Cliff Edwards is upgraded back to Keaton’s sidekick for what would unfortunately be the last time. It’s true Edwards once again does not have a chance to sing in this, but he makes up for this with a genuinely funny performance. After seeing this, I kind of wished that Columbia would have given him his own series of short subjects; I feel he would have fit quite well in them. Anita Page also returns from FREE AND EASY and this time benefits from a much better script, getting a chance to show off several different moods.

    Overall, SIDEWALKS OF NEW YORK still does not compare to Keaton in his prime, but does have an interesting style that makes it stand out from many of the other MGM Keaton films, something that can be mainly credited to White and Zion Myers (who occasionally wrote Three Stooges scripts such as HALF WITS HOLIDAY and HEAVENLY DAZE). I was legitimately surprised with how much I actually ended up liking this one.

    7 out of 10

    Offline metaldams

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    Re: Sidewalks of New York (1931) - Buster Keaton
    « Reply #6 on: January 16, 2018, 09:14:46 PM »
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  • Nooooooooo... I was going to start Keaton's Columbia shorts after my short tournament ends!  [pie]

    I thought the Educationals would be first, but the Columbias will work. 

    Offline metaldams

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    Re: Sidewalks of New York (1931) - Buster Keaton
    « Reply #7 on: January 16, 2018, 09:17:39 PM »
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  • Well, once again we have Keaton playing a rich character and once again it produces a fine enough result. It is interesting to see just how Jules White’s style of directing translates to a feature film and I believe this was the only one he ever directed (I know he helped out on BROADWAY TO HOLLYWOOD, though he wasn’t the main director).

    So the story of this one deals with Keaton falling in love with a girl while also trying to help out her brother, while her brother is secretly being put into a scheme pulling off robberies with some gangsters. This story is far different from the ones Keaton had done in the past and doesn’t even revolve on him entirely, which is a refreshing change of pace. It is interesting to see these two story arcs both going on at the same time and they actually do combine pretty well, unlike PARLOR, BEDROOM, AND BATH which just constantly throws characters at you.

    It is true, though, that White did not know how to handle dramatic moments all that well, something that’s apparent with the apartment scene. The scene on the stage...I actually thought kind of worked. Keaton and Cliff Edwards’ obliviousness makes perfect sense and it’s not so much comedic outside of Edwards ending up shooting his own wife in the play.

    The big problem with SIDEWALKS OF NEW YORK is that it tends to drag a bit. The boxing scenes in particular feel like they go on forever, despite being funny at first. The courtroom scene also was pretty hard to sit through, though that was mainly due to the fact that I know there’s a better version out there. Still, it does not come close to the version in DISORDER IN THE COURT and it also has an awkward shot of Keaton and Edwards pressing their faces up against glass.

    The best scenes are the ones that feel a lot more controlled in length, more like something that could show up in a short subject. Keaton and Edwards making the record as well as performing the play are very funny moments. I also like how Keaton and Edwards’s wrestling at first very much looks like they’re dancing with each other as partners; a quick, but effective visual gag. Even the ending fight is actually pretty impressive, even if it is the kind of thing that is more in line with the Three Stooges than Keaton.

    Cliff Edwards is upgraded back to Keaton’s sidekick for what would unfortunately be the last time. It’s true Edwards once again does not have a chance to sing in this, but he makes up for this with a genuinely funny performance. After seeing this, I kind of wished that Columbia would have given him his own series of short subjects; I feel he would have fit quite well in them. Anita Page also returns from FREE AND EASY and this time benefits from a much better script, getting a chance to show off several different moods.

    Overall, SIDEWALKS OF NEW YORK still does not compare to Keaton in his prime, but does have an interesting style that makes it stand out from many of the other MGM Keaton films, something that can be mainly credited to White and Zion Myers (who occasionally wrote Three Stooges scripts such as HALF WITS HOLIDAY and HEAVENLY DAZE). I was legitimately surprised with how much I actually ended up liking this one.

    7 out of 10

    As far as Anita Page, night and day between this film and FREE AND EASY.  She was given a better role here.  Agreed with you completely.  FREE AND EASY is probably Keaton's worst film.

    Glad you like this one as much as humanly possible.  This film normally gets trashed but obviously I'm not the only one who finds merit here.