DEAD END: LEARN TO SPEAK OLD NEW YORK-ESE

Here are excerpts from the 1937 film adaptation of Sidney Kingsley’s ‘Dead End’, directed by William Wyler. This little grouping of scenes has apparently been assembled by an acting coach who uses it to teach his students an old-time New York East Side accent. It’s kind of a gas to watch the scenes clumped together this way, without any regard for the story–the language becomes omnipotent and the whole six minute clip compendium feels like a form of ‘word-jazz’, with the dialogue forming phonic rather than plot-based connections. This accent has more or less disappeared from New York-ese, though traces can be heard of it in eighty-plus year old men occasionally (not women interestingly, at least not in my experience). ‘Dead End’, for those of you who might not be familiar with the play/movie, is set on a street in the East 50s at a time when the development of luxury apartment buildings facing the East River was a new thing. At six minutes in, the slum kids whose domain the block had formerly been, look up annoyed at a penthouse dance party that’s going on, with the orchestra playing Guy Lombardo’s ‘Boo-Hoo’ (I posted the hit recording of it below. Why not?) The building pictured is an obvious mock up of ‘River House’, located at 435 East 52nd St. and which opened in 1931. I’ve often wandered this area, where the FDR drive now roars by (it was opened in 1940) and wondered how the topography of the area once worked, with steps leading down to the filthy river where the poor kids hung out, swam, roasted corn over trash-can fires, all of which are depicted in this lovely little reel.

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