The Street of Forgotten Men is an underworld romance set among fake beggars and their “cripple factory” in the slums of the Bowery in New York City. The film is based on an O. Henryesque short story by George Kibbe Turner which appeared in Liberty magazine on February 14, 1925, just a few months before the film went into production. The film is notable as the first in which Louise Brooks had a role, that of an unnamed moll (girlfriend to a gangster).
The Street of Forgotten Men was well regarded upon release, with star Percy Marmount singled out for a fine dramatic performance often compared to the efforts of Lon Chaney. Director Herbert Brenon was also praised for his realistic depiction of Bowery life. Brenon, who the year before had directed Peter Pan (1924), went on to helm such classics as Beau Geste (1926), The Great Gatsby (1926), and Laugh, Clown, Laugh (1928). His Sorrell and Son (1927) was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director at the 1st Academy Awards.
The New York Daily News praised the film, noting “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.”
Dorothy Evans of the Sacramento Union summed-up the feelings of many critics when she noted that the film’s “theme goes deeper than the average motion picture”. Roberta Nangle of the Chicago Tribune echoed her, “It is a startling tale of Bowery life, of the soiled, tawdry ladies and broken men of the underworld”. An exclamation point was added by A. F. Gillaspey of the San Francisco Bulletin, “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.”
Exhibitor’s Trade Review stated the film was tied for fifth among the year’s biggest profit takers, as reported by exhibitors. Commercial success was matched by critical acclaim. The National Board of Review named The Street of Forgotten Men one of the 40 best pictures of 1925; it was also picked one of the best films of the year by the Houston Chronicle, Pittsburgh Gazette Times, San Francisco Call & Post, Tacoma Times, and Topeka Daily Capital.
Though her role was small and she was not listed in the credits, Brooks received her first notice for work in a film. In August, an anonymous critic for the Los Angeles Times wrote, “And there was a little rowdy, obviously attached to the ‘blind’ man, who did some vital work during her few short scenes. She was not listed.”
“Easy Money Charlie is a whole man who disguises himself as a cripple and makes his living as a professional beggar. When Portland Fancy dies, Charlie takes her child and sends the little girl to the country, providing her with a proper education and upbringing. Years later, the girl, known as Fancy Vanhern, meets and captures the heart of Philip Peyton, a young lawyer whose name is prominent in the social register. In order to secure Fancy’s future happiness, Charlie feigns death in an ocean accident; Fancy then prepares to marry Philip. Bridgeport White-Eye, a beggar who affects blindness, discovers Charlie’s secret and tries to blackmail Philip. White-Eye and Charlie fight, and White-Eye is indeed blinded. Philip marries Fancy, and Charlie takes over the care of White-Eye.”
Production began on April 6th and finished around June 6th. The film was shot at Paramount’s Astoria Studios on Long Island (located at 3412 36th Street in the Astoria neighborhood in Queens). Location shooting was done elsewhere on Long Island as well as on the streets of Manhattan, including on Fifth Avenue and at the landmark Little Church Around the Corner on East 29th. Brooks began work on the film on May 20, 1925. She appears in only one scene, in a barroom where a fight breaks out, near the end of the film.
Under its American title, documented screenings of the film took place in Australia, Canada, China, Ireland, Jamaica, New Zealand, Panama, South Africa, and the United Kingdom (England, Isle of Man, and Scotland). In the United States, the film was reviewed under the title La Calle de los Olvidados (Spanish-language press), and advertised under the title A Rua dos Homens Esquecidos (Portuguese-language press). Elsewhere, The Street of Forgotten Men was shown under the title Die Strasse des Grauens (Austria); De School der Bedelaars (Belgium); O mendigo elegante (Brazil); La calle del olvido (Chile); Ulice zapomenutých mužu (Czechoslovakia); De Straat der Ellendigen (Dutch East Indies); De Straat der verlaten Wezens (Dutch Guiana); L’école des mendiants and Le roi des mendiants and La rue des hommes perdus (France); Die Strake des Grauens (Germany); Konungur Betlaranna (Iceland); 或る乞食の話 (Japan); L’école des mendiants (Luxembourg); La calle del olvido (Mexico); Vidas Perdidas (Portugal); Улица забытых людей (Soviet Union); La calle del olvido (Spain); Skuggornas barn (Sweden).
The film was long thought lost, but six of its seven reels turned up at the Library of Congress. The LOC has a 16mm print, and a 35mm preservation master positive made in 1969. Among the surviving footage is an approximately five minute scene which includes the entirety of Brooks’ role. The film has not been released for home viewing, though it has been screened at festivals (including Pordenone and Syracuse CineFest) in recent years.
REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES:
“Strange Silent Film Screens in Syracuse” by Thomas Gladysz (Huffington Post, March 15, 2012).