The movie captures the flavor of the Gay nineties in New York’s Bowery nicknamed the liveliest mile on the face of the globe. It centers on the rivalry between two men who want to be considered the king of the Bowery.
Chuck Connors (Wallace Beery) owns a saloon and runs a volunteer fire company. His rival Steve Brodie (George Raft) has his own fire company and is a gambler. The entertainment in Chuck’s saloon is provided by a troupe of dancers led by Trixie Obray (Pert Kelton).
Living with Chuck is a young street kid named Swipes (Jackie Cooper) that Chuck considers his own son. One of his favorite pastimes is throwing rocks through windows. One night he tosses one through a Chinese place and knocks over a lamp starting a fire. Chuck and Steve have a rivalry about which company will get there first. Steve’s group wins but Swipes hid the fire hydrant under a trash can so Chuck’s group gets their hose connected first.
One night in the saloon Chuck spots two men with a new girl in town. He tosses them out because he knows they’re trying to hustle her into prostitution. Outside the saloon she waiting to thank him. Her name is Lucy Calhoun (Fay Wray) and she came to town to be a writer. The bookstore where she worked closed and she has nowhere to go.
Chuck puts her up at his place and that causes a rift between him and Swipes. Swipes moves out and ends up living at Steve’s. Steve goes to Chuck’s flat and makes the moves on Lucy mistaking her for a hooker. She bites his hand and he slugs her. A romance is born.
Steve wants to run a saloon bigger than Chuck’s. Two brewers who have been trying to get their product into the Bowery say they’ll back him if he gets into the headlines. Steve decides he’ll jump off the Brooklyn Bridge.
With Swipes help they design a dummy to be tossed off the bridge in his place. A huge crowd is gathered on the day and so are the police. They want to stop him. Chuck can’t go to watch because Carrie Nation and her group, axes in hand, are on their way to bust up his saloon.
Right before the stunt Swipes finds out someone stole the dummy. Steve will have to do it for real. He makes it. That starts Chuck’s downslide and he leaves the Bowery is disgrace. But….he’s not finished yet.
Jackie Cooper cries too much but that’s what the part calls for. Towards the end look for Charles “Ming The Merciless” Middleton as a New York cop and Charles Lane as a doctor. This is one worth looking for. Due to a number of ethnic slurs in the beginning it may not get any wide distribution on TV.