Street Of Forgotten Men (1925 Paramount)
Described as "strange and startling" and "a
drama of places and of people
you have never seen before," The Street of Forgotten Men tells the story of
a gang of professional beggars whose underworld headquarters is known as a
"cripple factory." Led by Easy Money Charlie (Percy Marmont), the gang preys
on public sympathy by disfiguring themselves and feigning various handicaps.
This ruse, in turn, leads to thieving and other crimes. The Street of
Forgotten Men also tells the story of a Bowery Cinderella, played by winsome
Mary Brian, whose life is linked to the beggars as well as to a young
millionaire, played by Neil Hamilton. (His long career concluded with a
memorable role as Commissioner Gordon in the 1960's TV series Batman).
In numerous reviews, The Street of Forgotten Men (1925) was compared to The
Miracle Man (1919), a similarly themed Lon Chaney film centering on an
underworld outfit. For his Chaneyesque performance, Marmont was singled out
by critics, while director Herbert Brenon was praised for his realistic
depiction of the rough-and-tumble Bowery. The New York Daily News stated
"The Street of Forgotten Men dips into the dark pools of life. It shows you
the beggars of life - apologies to Jim Tully - and in showing them it shows
them up." The "Film Girl," writing in the Syracuse Herald, called the film
gripping and a "remarkable production." And the San Francisco Bulletin noted
"For fine dramatic detail, for unusualness, for giving us a glimpse into a
world we never see and into the other sides of characters we simply pass in
pity on the streets, The Street of Forgotten Men is a photoplay revelation."
There is much else of note, especially the scenes shot on location in New
York City. One memorable scene - when Marmont and Brian come across the
character known as Bridgeport White-Eye - was filmed on a busy Fifth Avenue.
Another takes place at the famous Little Church Around the Corner on East
29th. And don't miss the pasage when Brian sits at the piano and opens the
sheet music for Peter Pan. The actress had appeared in that Herbert
Brenon-directed film the year before.
Two performers not listed in the credits also make their mark. One was a dog
named Lassie. A 1927 New York Times article about the canine stated, "It is
said that the death of Lassie in The Street of Forgotten Men was so
impressive that persons were convinced that she must have been cruelly
beaten. Her master, Emery Bronte, said that the dog seemed to enjoy acting
in the scenes, and that after each 'take' she went over to Mr. Brenon and
cocked her head on the side, as if asking for a pat or two." Regrettably,
not all of Lassie's scenes are extant. The other who made an impression was
actress Louise Brooks, who was performing with the Ziegfeld Follies when The
Street of Forgotten Men premiered at New York's Rivoli Theater in the Summer
of 1925. As a moll, Brooks' part was slight - she only appears on screen for
about 5 minutes. Nevertheless, she drew the attention of one reviewer. The
Los Angeles Times singled out the actress when it stated, "And there was a
little rowdy, obviously attached to the 'blind' man, who did some vital work
during her few short scenes."
In 1925, newspapers around the country - as well as the National Board of
Review - named The Street of Forgotten Men one of the best pictures of year.
Today, however, it is little known. Its obscurity may be explained by it
having long been considered a lost film. The Library of Congress holds one
of the only surviving, though incomplete, prints - six of seven reels of
this once acclaimed work. Now, 87 years later at Cinefest, The Street of
Forgotten Men should again leave us spellbound in darkness.
Thomas Gladysz, Director, Louise Brooks Society (www.pandorasbox.com)