Buster Keaton did not want to be in SIDEWALKS OF NEW YORK and more than
two decades later, he still loathed the film, telling an interviewer in
1958 "I knew before the camera was put up for the first scene that it
was practically impossible to get a good motion picture". He considered
SIDEWALKS OF NEW YORK to be one of the worst films he ever appeared in.
In retrospect, Keaton has appeared in worse films. Far
The biggest problem with SIDEWALKS OF NEW YORK is the same problem that plagues many Keaton talkies: it is not a Buster Keaton film. It is a film starring Buster Keaton, but it could just as well starred anybody else. He plays a character that is not Buster Keaton in a film written by people who were not Buster Keaton and directed by two people who were not Buster Keaton. The only reason the character of Harmon, a rich man who tries to help a group of kids from the slums, seems like Buster Keaton is because he does pratfalls. Tons of them. Many are spectacular but over the course of 75 minutes, you may get the idea that pratfalls were the only thing Keaton was allowed to bring to the film, because there is hardly a scene which does not have him stumbling, falling or tripping. He's also given two extended physical routines in the film - the first a boxing match at the gymnasium he has built for the neighborhood kids, the second a tussle with overcooked duck dinner. I don't know if Keaton had anything to do in the developing of these routines, but neither is terribly funny.
The most intriguing scene takes place early in the film, with Keaton in court. Here, he does a "take off your hat/raise your right hand" routine which would later become one of Curly Howard's signature moments in the Three Stooges short Disorder in the Court. Other than that, SIDEWALKS OF NEW YORK pleasant but forgettable, something that could be said about much of Keaton's post-silent output. ½ - JB
The Bachelor (1999)