T. alt.: Skid Row. Sog.: Anson Bond. Scen.: Stephanie Nordli, Irving Shulman. F.: Elwood Bredell. M.: Terry O. Morse. Scgf.: Charles D. Hall. Mus.: Emil Newman, Paul Dunlap. Int.: Sterling Hayden (reverendo John Burrows), Viveca Lindfors (Christine Thorssen), Thomas Mitchell (Gandy), Ludwig Donath (‘Doc’ Thorssen), H.B. Warner (Wiz the Wino), Jane Darwell (Mack), John Berkes (Racky), Peggy Webber (Jane Burrows). Prod.: Joseph Bernhard per Bernhard Productions, Inc.. 35mm. D.: 87’. Bn.
In his book Wanderer, Hayden refers to Skid Row (released under this more uplifting title) only as a “shit-ass picture”, but when he started this independent film in mid-March 1951 he was glad of the work. He hadn’t had an offer in over a year and had serious personal problems, both at home (divorce looming) and with the witch-hunters in Washington. He was in the commissary of the Hollywood studio where they were making Skid Row when a US Marshall served him with a subpoena to go to Washington and testify about his Communist affiliations.
Hayden plays an East Coast pastor who becomes a drunk and a bum. His drifting brings him to Los Angeles’ skid row and drunk tanks, and eventually to Doc Thorssen’s midnight mission, and redemption.
Any picture that credits crime photographer Weegee (The Naked City) as “Skid Row Consultant” is either doing something right or has a problem. In this case it was just a publicity stunt. Director Stuart Heisler later said he “neither liked or disliked the picture”, but he had to contend with a lead actor who was out of his depth with such a complex part (and understandably not focused as he should have). Still, the film is a more than a curio, a Capra story told by a dry-eyed director. It is also a treat to see these old silent film actors from Chaplin or DeMille’s companies (or from Ford and Capra, like Thomas Mitchell or Jane Darwell) playing bums in real streets. H.B. Warner, who in 1927 played Christ in The King of Kings, here plays Wiz the Wino, the only unrepentant drunk in the mission.