powered by AFI
On Skid Row in the Bowery district of New York City, men ravaged by poverty and alcoholism wander the streets in search of their next drink. Railroad worker Ray Salyer arrives with a full month's pay in his pockets and, at a neighborhood bar, befriends Gorman Hendricks, a wily, charming drunkard. The two men join others in drinking beer and muscatel all day, while others in the bar argue belligerently. When Ray runs out of money, Gorman counsels him on how to look for day work the next morning, but they still need a place to stay for the night. Gorman suggests pawning some of Ray's clothes, and as they look through the suitcase, Gorman spots a valuable watch, but Ray insists on keeping it. They pawn a pair of pants for a few coins, which they soon spend on alcohol. With no money left for a hotel, Ray passes out on the street, after which Gorman steals his suitcase and uses it as collateral for a room. In the morning, the streets are strewn with other sleeping men. Ray awakens and manages to find a day's labor. Meanwhile, Gorman returns to the bar and socializes with other drunks, all of whom trade grandiose plans for work and retirement. While one old sailor forages scrap metal and cardboard to resell, Gorman visits the recreation center where men play dominoes. Later, he bumps into Ray on the street, and asks him to join him in the bar, but when Ray refuses, saying he wants to get cleaned up, Gorman points him to the Christian mission. There, Rev. George R. Bolton, a former Bowery denizen who has since found God, preaches about salvation to the rows of men, most of whom are there for the free food and lodging. Ray partakes of the dinner and bathing facilities, but when he learns he must sleep on the floor and vow not to drink, he leaves the mission and returns to the bar. Later, upon learning that Gorman used to be a surgeon, Ray proclaims that he cares for only one thing, liquor. When a woman approaches Ray for a drink, Ray pushes Gorman away in favor of his new friend, but later that night, he slaps the woman and wanders into an alley. There, he is mugged and left on the street. In the morning, while some of the men revive Ray in time to avoid being arrested for vagrancy, Gorman pawns the rest of Ray's suitcase. Gorman then finds Ray, who refuses his offer of a drink and admits that he has hit rock bottom. Ray tells Gorman that he wants only to return to Chicago and make one last effort to get sober. Gorman offers to share some money he is about to receive, but Ray does not believe the old man and so walks away. Gorman soon follows him, however, and gives him some of his money. Ray, not knowing the money is from the sale of his own possessions, gratefully accepts and promises to "pass the favor on." Later, Gorman joins his old friends and boasts about his generosity toward Ray. When he crows about Ray's bright future, however, another man declares that "he'll be back."