Cast & Crew
Norman Phillips Jr.
When millionaire philanthropist Homer Van Dine Harmon sends his pal Poggle to collect the rent from the residents of his East Side tenements, his emissary is attacked by a gang of kids and run out of the neighborhood. Believing that he can do a better job collecting the money, Homer accompanies Poggle back to the East Side to show him how to deal with the "hoodlums and roughnecks." No sooner does Homer drive into the neighborhood, however, than his car is pelted with debris, and he becomes involved in a street fight. During the attack, Homer grabs one of the young hoodlums, a boy named Clipper, and while trying to scold him, Homer is socked by the orphaned boy's older sister and sole guardian, Margie, who has come to her brother's defense. Homer instantly falls in love with her. Following Clipper's trial at the Children's Court, in which Homer, during his testimony, is distracted by Margie's presence, he sees Clipper slap his sister and intervenes on Margie's behalf. He protects Margie and then offers to take Clipper out of the gutter and help him stay out of trouble. His plan, to convert one of his tenements into the Harmony Hall Boys' Club, a gymnasium for East Side kids, is met with resistance by Clipper and the adult leader of the kids' street gang, Butch, who uses Clipper to help him commit various crimes. Though Clipper threatens to punch any kid who goes to Homer's gymnasium, Margie succeeds in convincing the boys to take advantage of Homer's generous gift, and the philanthropist kisses her out of gratitude for her accomplishment. To keep the boys entertained, Margie suggests a boxing match between Poggle and Homer, both of whom are inexperienced fighters. A match between East Side champion fighter Mulvaney and Homer results, in which Homer pays Mulvaney to let him win. However, when Butch pays Mulvaney to give Homer a real fight, the millionaire is double-crossed and knocked out. Later, after Clipper aids Butch in a stickup, he returns home to find that Homer and Margie have prepared a birthday celebration for him. Clipper is contemptuous of their effort and, after stealing Homer's timepiece, leaves the apartment. Homer and Margie are soon visited by a policeman who caught Clipper trying to hawk Homer's timepiece at a nearby pawnshop. In a noble gesture, Homer tells the officer that he gave the boy his watch as a gift, thus saving Clipper from prosecution. Homer, who finds that he has difficulty proposing marriage to Margie, turns to Poggle for help, and Poggle suggests that he record his proposal on a phonograph and then play the record at their next meeting. With Poggle's assistance, Homer reads off titles from popular love songs into a microphone and then plays the recording for Margie in his living room. Margie agrees to marry Homer only if he succeeds in keeping Clipper away from the hoodlums. Meanwhile, Butch concocts a plan to kill Homer by having Clipper load real bullets in the gun that is to be used as a prop in an upcoming Harmony Hall stage production. But during the play, Clipper, stricken by his conscience, is unable to pull the trigger. Butch then forces Clipper to put on his "blonde bandit" disguise and go to Homer's to commit a new crime. However, Homer, in costume for the play, is mistaken for Clipper and taken to his own home to commit Butch's crime. Back at Harmony Hall, Clipper confesses his misdeeds to Margie and then, with the help of his friends, rescues Homer from Butch. Having succeeded in putting the thugs out of commission and reforming Clipper, Homer and Margie embrace.
Norman Phillips Jr.
Sidewalks of New York (1931) - Sidewalks of New York
In his autobiography, Keaton noted how the studio sent him away to dry out from his increasingly worsening alcoholism, compounded by his career woes and a miserable marriage. When he returned, feeling physically fit and ready to work, he was presented with this "dog of a comedy," a rather apt description if only because the directors, Zion Myers and Jules White, were known for their profitable series of comic shorts starring "talking" canines. The story cast Keaton as the owner of an apartment building who falls for one of his residents. In order to win her, he sets up an athletic club for her troubled younger brother and his friends to keep them off the streets and away from a life of crime. Keaton wasn't opposed to the idea of the story, just the inferior quality of the script, which had been worked on by at least five different writers (four of them credited).
When he got nowhere pleading his case to producer Lawrence Weingarten, Keaton went over his head to MGM production chief Irving Thalberg, who had frequently championed the actor in the past. This time, however, Thalberg only told him, "Larry [Weingarten] likes it. Everybody else in the studio likes the story. You are the only one who doesn't." Keaton gave up and did the picture, later blaming himself for acquiescing so quickly to the studio's demands and allowing himself to play in pictures that were so wrong for him. "I knew before the camera was put up for the first scene that it was practically impossible to get a good picture. ... Absolutely impossible."
Keaton later insisted that at the preview of Sidewalks of New York there was not one giggle. Yet the picture grossed $885,000, with a net profit of nearly $200,000. This apparent success has been explained by Keaton biographer Tom Dardis as a triumph of the distribution system set up by the studio's parent company, Loew's Inc. Quite likely sensing this was not either Keaton's or MGM's finest hour, the company opened it not at New York's prestigious Capital Theater, where most of Keaton's prior releases premiered, but quietly uptown at a neighborhood cinema in Washington Heights to avoid major reviews and hopefully attract Keaton's longtime fans, who were still showing up with expectations of his former glory. It also did well in Europe, where Keaton's popularity still continued, boosted by foreign audiences' curiosity about the star's sound pictures and his ability to shoot his films in multiple languages. But this time, even the manager of MGM's Paris distribution office remarked in a cable to studio head Louis B. Mayer that he hoped MGM would take greater care with Keaton's next project as this one was "very weak."
The good ticket sales for Sidewalks of New York did nothing to cheer the ever-more defeated Keaton, who had gone from total creative control over his pictures to working with a couple of directors who "alternated telling me how to walk, how to talk, how to stand, where to fall.... I was Trilby with two Svengalis." The outcome was so dissatisfying all around, the studio reunited him with Edward Sedgwick, co-director of his last two silent features, The Cameraman (1928) and Spite Marriage (1929), and director of his first sound film, Free and Easy (1930). They worked together on his next three pictures, but the combination of studio mismanagement of his talents and Keaton's drinking had put the nail in the coffin, and those three were his last at MGM. He would not work at the studio again until a supporting role in the Judy Garland musical In the Good Old Summertime (1949), following nearly two decades in shorts, occasional small roles at other studios, and appearances in releases from Poverty Row studios and minor independents.
Whatever the shortcomings of Sidewalks of New York, it is worth a look, particularly by fans of Buster Keaton who may know his silent greats but have never experienced his early sound pictures. It also stars Anita Page, a popular ingenue who appeared in one of the studio's first musicals, The Broadway Melody (1929), and played second-fiddle to Joan Crawford in a series of films about the romantic foibles of modern young women. It also features Cliff Edwards, also known as "Ukulele Ike," a popular vaudeville entertainer who made a successful transition to movies in the early talkies, thanks to his high, melodious voice, which he leant to the first rendition of "Singin' in the Rain" in The Hollywood Revue of 1929 (1929). Audiences may recognize him most as the voice behind Jiminy Cricket in the Disney animated feature Pinocchio (1940), warbling the Oscar®-winning tune "When You Wish Upon a Star."
Directors: Zion Myers, Jules White
Producer: Lawrence Weingarten
Screenplay: George Landy and Paul Girard Smith (story), Robert E. Hopkins and Eric Hatch (dialogue), and Willard Mack (uncredited)
Cinematography: Leonard Smith
Editing: Charles Hochberg
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Original Music: Domenico Savino (uncredited)
Cast: Buster Keaton (Harmon), Anita Page (Margie), Cliff Edwards (Poggle), Frank Rowan (Butch), Norman Phillips, Jr. (Clipper).
by Rob Nixon
Sidewalks of New York (1931) - Sidewalks of New York
Buster Keaton's most commercially successful film to date -- to his chagrin, since he made it under protest at MGM's insistence and felt that the studio would feel justified in ignoring his artistic opinions in the future.
According to the Hollywood Reporter review, Willard Mack was listed as the dialoguer of this film, along with Robert E. Hopkins, and Basil Wrangell was listed as the editor, along with Charles Hochberg (whose name the review incorrectly spelled as Hockberg). According to a contemporary Hollywood Reporter news item, actor Norman Phillips, Jr. performed on the same M-G-M sound stage on which his father, vaudeville actor Norman Phillips, Sr., collapsed and died five months earlier. According to modern sources, the film was made at a cost of $276,000. Modern sources also note that M-G-M assigned directors Jules White and Zion Myers, known primarily for their work on talking dog shorts, instead of Edward Sedgwick, who directed Keaton's previous pictures. Keaton apparently disliked this film, and is quoted as saying "I knew before the camera was put up for the first scene that it was practically impossible to get a good motion picture."