Part fairy tale, part picaresque, part documentary, BEGGARS OF LIFE features actual hobos in bit parts and a story co-written by the hobo memoirist Jim Tully, but its strongest points emerge from the strange cocktail of Brooks' mysterious femininity and the cocky masculine ego standard to Wellman's direction.
[Oklahoma Red] starts out a brute, but eventually his gargantuan grin comes to represent the true soul of the picture, which as this is a Wellman yarn, was of course never the young lovers, but the heartless hobo who redeems himself in the end. The train sequences, particuarly the ones that feature Beery and come towards the end of the picture, are breathtaking and demonstrate Wellman's connection to the ground [and] to the earth the railroad tracks lie on...
The bladelike Brooks, domineering with a mere glance, looks right at home in a man’s suit; the director, William Wellman, makes good sport of her incongruity in a woman’s finery. He stages exciting and brilliantly parsed action scenes aboard moving freight trains; he has an eye for the physical and moral degradation of the persecuted and the despised. Though the sentimental spark of love may conquer all, Wellman leaves a sour air of disgust on the dusty trail.