"Beggars of Life" (1928)

Produced by the Paramount Famous Lasky Corp.
Directed by William A. Wellman
Released September 22, 1928
Based upon the novel "Outside Looking In" by Jim Tully (New York, 1924.
The film was made in a silent version and a version with talking sequences, musical score and sound effects (Movietone). The only version available is the completely silent version. "Beggars Of Life" had begun as a novel and, when adapted for the stage in 1925, the cast included James Cagney and Charles Bickford.

The Story

"Beggars of Life" is a drama of Nancy (Louise Brooks), a young woman on a farm who kills her foster father when he attempts to rape her. She is assisted in escaping from the farm by Jim (Richard Arlen), a young hobo who has stopped to ask for food. By dressing in rough men's clothing, Nancy, with the assistance of Jim, eludes the police. They hop a freight train and, when thrown off by the brakeman, they wander into a hobo camp. The leadership of the hobo camp is bitterly contested between Arkansas Snake (Robert Perry) and Oklahoma Red (Wallace Beery). The encampment is broken up by detectives forcing Nancy and Jim take refuge with a seriously ill tramp in an abandoned shack. Oklahoma Red unexpectedly shows up in a stolen car and woman's clothing to help Nancy escape.

Cast: Wallace Beery, Louise Brooks, Richard Arlen, Edgar Washington, H.A.Morgan, Andy Clark, Mike Donlin, Roscoe Karns, Robert Perry, Johnnie Morris, George Kotsonaros, Jacques Chapin, Robert Bower, and Frank Brownlee.

Many of the hobos seen in the film were extras who were real-life hobos. They worked as extras to obtain money for their daily ration of liquor.

"Jim Tully? He was the most repulsive little Quip I ever knew," Louise Brooks wrote to Kevin Brownlow. Tully, a red-haired, two-fisted "tramp" writer was at the peak of his popularity in 1928 when his "Beggars Of Life" was being filmed for Paramount.

Barry Paris in his book Louise Brooks quotes her in a detailed account of the making of "Beggars Of Life."

The Reviews

The reviews varied:
Variety, September 26, 1928: " Not an exceptionally good picture . . . Miss Brooks looks attractive, even in men's clothes, and scores in the two or three scenes where she is placed on the defensive against male attackers."

Harrison's Reports, September 29, 1928: "Few pictures can boast of greater realism than can "Beggars Of Life." It depicts the lives and conduct of hobos in such a way that one feels as if seeing real hobos and feeling their pulse."

The New York Times, September 24, 1928: "As the story was supplied by Jim Tully, who looks back with considerable pride upon the days he spent as a hobo, far more was to be expected from the picturization of his yarn. "Beggars Of Life," now on view at the Paramount Theater. It is a rather dull and unimaginative piece of work . . ."

Photoplay, December 1928: "The lowdown on hobos. Good entertainment."

Louise Brooks in her book, Lulu in Hollywood, had this to say about filming "Beggars Of Life": "Sensing my lack of enthusiasm, Dick (Richard Arlen) attempted to strengthen his position as an authority on flying heroes by adding that he himself had flown with the Royal Air Force in the First World War. I laughed at him. 'Really, Dick,' I said, 'It's hard for me to believe that you, an American boy born in 1900, could have flown with the RAF in a war that ended in November, 1918.'"

The Director

William Augustus Wellman (1896-1975) was on probation for car theft when he dropped out of high school to join a professional minor-league hockey team. During WWI he joined the French Foreign Legion as an ambulance driver, and when the United States joined the fray, he became an ace pilot with the Famed Lafayette Escadrille. He was invalidated out of the service with a broken back after his airplane plane was shot down. He was awarded numerous medals by the American and French Governments for his herosism. He became quickly bored by civilian life, and after numerous attempts and a succession of jobs, his life changed dramatically when he made a forced landing at a polo field on Douglas Fairbanks' estate. He supported Fairbanks in the film "Knickerbocker Buckaroo," but he found appearing before the camera a horrifying experience and switched to the production end of the business. Within three years he made his debut as a director at Fox, and by 1927 he was skilled enough to be given the classic WWI film epic "Wings." Of the many silent films that he directed, I have only seen "Beggars of Life" and "Wings."

copyright 2003 by John DeBartolo. All rights reserved.

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