On The Bowery (1956)


Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB

USA, 1956. . Screenplay by , Lionel Rogosin, . Cinematography by Richard Bagley. Produced by Lionel Rogosin. Music by . Film Editing by .

Lionel Rogosin’s investigation of hard lives in one of, at the time, Manhattan’s roughest neighbourhoods has remained a humane exercise in documentary realism. The two figures at the centre of the film, and , are portraying themselves with a number of their scenes scripted and directed as they strive daily to keep afloat. Salyer is still able to work and takes the odd job, then spends his earnings at the bar at night as Rogosin’s camera takes in the vast numbers of men, most of them appearing to be single, whose lives are led by their addiction. Rogosin never treats them like faceless lost causes, instead being bracingly honest about people’s lives while seeming to wonder about who they are beyond their tragic circumstances. Salyer is a charismatic figure in the lead, generating sympathy without ever seeming like a symbol of society’s failings; tragically, he died not long after the film’s release. A film that shocked audiences at the time for its so powerfully charting the difference between the way commercial films presented the less fortunate and the reality being presented on screen, it’s a film that still has plenty of truths to reveal to the unprepared viewer.

Academy Award Nomination: Best Documentary Feature

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