Cast & Crew
H. B. Warner
John Burrows, a conservative minister in a small New York town, is humiliated when his alcoholic wife Jane drunkenly staggers into church during one of his Sunday sermons. The church deacons ask John to send Jane to a treatment program, and although Jane wants to go, John insists that he is capable of handling his wive's problems. John then sells their property and tells Jane that they will use the proceeds to take a vacation. Jane is thrilled by the idea, but when John states that he then wants to move to a larger church with more responsibilities, Jane realizes that she will never be able to fulfill John's expectations of her. While John is running some errands, Jane kills herself, and at her funeral, John lambasts the mourners for their hypocritical concern. Bishop Logan tries to calm John, telling him to examine himself before he blames others. Although John states that he is ready for a larger congregation, Logan urges him to rest and search for the true meaning of the words that he so eloquently preaches. Embittered, John leaves town and travels across country, and during his journey, recalls Jane's hysterical cries that he could never have any weaknesses. John's appearance and health deteriorate by the time he reaches Los Angeles, and one day, when he collapses on the street, he is arrested as a drunk. John is taken to the drunk tank and there meets Gandy, a streetwise confidence man who looks after and obtains work for the other skid row bums in exchange for a commission. Upon their release, Gandy takes John under his wing and finds a room for him in a flophouse and a job as a burlesque theater doorman. Determined to support himself, John refuses the job and applies at a department store. The interviewer snubs John, however, telling him that the store does not hire bums. Deciding that he deserves no better, John works menial odd jobs, although Gandy, who calls John "Lingo" due to his fine speaking ability, continues to question him about his past. One day, as John is trying to escape Gandy's insistence that he use his talents to make more money, he bumps into "Doc" Thorssen, a Swedish-American minister preaching on the street. John engages Doc in a spirited debate about the nature of sin, but the conversation ends in a brawl when John attempts to detain a purse snatcher. John is knocked unconsious during the fracas, and Doc, aided by his lovely daughter Christine and a policeman named Jerry, takes him to the Thorssens' New World Mission. Doc is delighted by John's intelligence, despite his apparent hatred of religion and preachers, and looks forward to further debate with him. Christine tells her father to let John rest, however, and when he awakens the next day, John grudgingly accepts their offer of a job at the mission. The next morning, while Christine gently questions John about the root of despair, he learns that she is blind. John soon realizes that the Thorssens are sincere in their attempts to help the bums of skid row as well as preach to them, and his hard work gains their trust. One afternoon, John is visited by Gandy, who has concocted a scheme to raise money by turning John into a street preacher. Hoping to increase the Thorssen's congregation, John persuades Gandy to concentrate his efforts to find work for his friends by bringing them to the mission. Later, Christine, who is falling in love with John, tells him that she imagines him to be distinguished looking, and he bitterly tells her that his arrogance drove his wife to alcoholism and suicide. Doc assures the tearful Christine that John is worth their efforts, and the next morning, John is moved by Christine's simple sermon about changing one's life. John puts Gandy and the men to work doing odd jobs, although Wiz, a broken-down wino, hysterically rejects the attempt to help him. Christine and John spend more time together, and one night, enjoy the rides at a local carnival. John confesses his love for Christine but states that he is leaving the mission because he does not want to risk hurting her. Distraught, Christine admits her hope that John was going to propose, and John finally reveals that he was an ordained minister who broke with God. Christine upbraids him for treating himself so mercilessly and asserts that he has no right to punish himself or her. In her distress, Christine runs into the street and is hit by a tram. The next morning, Christine lies unconscious in the hospital, and a grieving Doc asks John to open the mission and deliver his sermon. John acquiesces, although when the bums ask him to lead them in a prayer for Christine, John states that he would not know how to begin. John is deeply touched by their heartfelt pleas for Christine's recovery and is then able to offer a prayer of his own. Later, John and Christine cut their wedding cake and are toasted by their many friends, including Gandy and Bishop Logan. Logan offers John a new congregation, but John cheerfully states that he and Christine will stay on skid row with Doc. As John and Christine leave for their honeymoon, Gandy ruefully comments that John would have made a fine con man.
H. B. Warner
O. Z. Whitehead
Kate Drain Lawson
Reverend J. Herbert Smith
The working titles of this film were Skid Row and What Is My Sin? Some contemporary sources list producer Joseph Bernhard's independent production company as Bernhard Productions, Inc., while others list it as Joseph Bernhard Productions, Inc. According to contemporary sources, portions of the film were shot on location "on skid row" in downtown Los Angeles and the Lutheran Church in Santa Monica, CA. According to information in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, Charles Evans, who plays "Bishop Logan," was an ordained minister for a number of years. A March 1951 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that Hazel Hurst, "the blind president of the Hazel Hurst Foundation which aids the sightless," coached Viveca Lindfors on her role as the blind "Christine Thorssen." Well-known photographer Weegee was hired as a technical consultant because he had "recently made an eleven-state tour of skid rows and strip joints," according to a February 1951 Hollywood Reporter news item. Although the news item also reported that Weegee would play a role in the picture, he was not in the viewed print.
According to April 1951 New York Times news items, production on the film was briefly interrupted when actor Sterling Hayden was subpoenaed to appear before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Hayden testified that he was a member of the Communist Party in 1946 and named three people within the motion picture industry as fellow Communists. Due to Hayden's "friendly" testimony, a committee member called him "an intensely loyal American citizen," and New York Times noted that Bernhard and co-producer Anson Bond were "happy to welcome him back" to the picture. In his 1964 autobiography, Hayden expressed great regret for his testimony and proclaimed "not often does a man find himself eulogized for having behaved in a manner that he himself despises." Modern soruces include Hank Mann in the cast.