SIDEWALKS OF NEW YORK (directors: Zion Meyers/Jules White; screenwriters: story by George Landy and Paul Girard Smith/Robert E. Hopkins/Eric Hatch/Willard Mack; cinematographer: Leonard Smith; editor: Charles Hochberg; music: Domenico Savino; cast: Buster Keaton (Harmon), Anita Page (Margie), Cliff Edwards (Poggle), Frank Rowan (Butch), Norman Phillips, Jr. (Clipper), Syd Saylor (Mulvaney); Runtime: 75; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Lawrence Weingarten; MGM; 1931)

"Buster Keaton sold his rights to make films his own way to get a big fat contract from MGM, and a garbage pic like this one is what the studio cranked out for him."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz 

Buster Keaton sold his rights to make films his own way to get a big fat contract from MGM, and a garbage pic like this one is what the studio cranked out for him. This was a decision he deeply regretted for the rest of his life and many blame as the chief reason for killing his promising genius start in films (The Navigator, 1924, The General, 1926, Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928)). This talkie, given a high gloss look by the studio, turned out to be a commercial success but a critical failure. Though getting no laughs, the film made a great profit by mastering how it was distributed.

This dreadful inert excuse for a comedy was just not suited for Keaton. It  was co-directed by two mediocres, Zion Meyers and Jules White, with Keaton given no artistic say in the production. It's based on the story by George Landy and Paul Girard Smith, and is written by Robert E. Hopkins, Eric Hatch and Willard Mack.

The effete Poggle (Cliff Edwards) returns to his millionaire boss, Homer Van Dine Harmon (Buster Keaton), bruised and harried, after the teenage residents of a slum tenement in the Lower East gave him a rough time when he tried to collect the rent. The clueless Harmon believes he can communicate with the rowdies and goes to the slum in a chauffeur driven limo with Poggle. Upon their arrival, their car is pelted with debris and a street fight and mini-riot breaks out. Harmon is attacked by teenage street ruffian Clipper Kelly (Norman Phillips, Jr.) and the orphan's grownup sister and legal guardian Margie (Anita Page). Despite Margie's dislike of the high hat, he falls in love with her at first sight. The landlord tries to win Margie over by donating to the ghetto a neighborhood gym and community center, showing her he cares about underprivileged kids. When Margie gets the neighborhood kids to attend the gym, despite Clipper telling his boys to boycott the place, Harmon expresses his love for Margie. To keep the kids entertained, Margie arranges boxing matches. In one such match Harmon fights a local champ, Mulvaney (Syd Saylor), and bribes him to fix the fight. However, local gangster Butch (Frank Rowan) pays Mulvaney to fight for real and he knocks out Harmon.

The rest of this dull film has Margie and Harmon working together to prevent Clipper from getting too deep into a life of crime while working for Butch and committing robberies. That they succeed is neither believable or funny.

REVIEWED ON 10/19/2011       GRADE: C

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"