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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Monday April 18, 7pm, The Paramount, Seattle
"The Crowd laughs with you always . but it will cry with you for only a day."
King Vidor's masterpiece, The Crowd, is a landmark of Hollywood's silent era. The delirious joy and horrific sorrow of Johnny Sims (James Murray) and his beautiful Mary (Eleanor Boardman) remains intimate and touching even today. Theatergoers in 1928 were shocked by the visceral impact of this film. It is a simple story of boy meets girl, boy marries girl, love and tragedy amid the humdrum routine of daily life in the big city, told with poetic beauty and startling realism.
Director Vidor and cinematographer Henry Sharp treat the viewer to breathtaking moments: The magical lights of Coney Island at night, the roaring grandeur of Niagara Falls and the terrifying enormity of New York City, where people thrive or are swallowed up. "The Crowd" is among the finest films produced by MGM's "Wonder Boy" Irving Thalberg during the silent era's golden age.
"So Real It Makes You Part of The Story.""
Barely one month after opening, King Vidor's The Crowd, came to Publix-Loew's Seattle Theatre (re-named Paramount in 1932) at 9th and Pine on Thursday, March 29, 1928. The stage show featured Jules Buffano and the Seattle Stage Band offering an updated jazz version of Gilbert and Sullivan's Mikado in "Paul Ash's New York Revue starring Bob LaSalle and the Kimawa Troupe." Also on the bill, The Darling Twins, eight Geisha Girls, the Seattle Grand Orchestra conducted by Arthur Clausen performing the overture "Rigoletto", with Ron and Don at the Grand Organ. Admission was 25c from 11:30 to 1, 35c from 1 to 6 and 50c after 6.
This has to be w/ out a doubt my favorite film of all time (althought Metropolis is a very close second). What King Vidor brought to the silver screen when he made this film was pure genius. Few films compare to this one. The Techniques used are way ahead of their time and reminiscent of few directors before him. Not even Griffith could obtain such amazing crowd footage as Vidor did. The story line is one that we can still relate to today, wanting to achieve our dreams but just falling short. Today it's called depression or something of the sort but then in an age of new development it was different. Not being able to achieve greatness wasn't uncommon but it felt that way. And the character in this film is no exception, I truly recommend this film to anyone who doesn't mind a good drama and to anyone who wants to see what life was like in the late 1920's.
Restored with a very nice score,"the crowd" hasn't aged a bit.The topic
is as relevant today as it was in 1928.Do have a look at the first
pictures of "the apartment" (1960) or the last ones of "working
girl"(1988)and you'll know what I mean. John Sims tries to beat the
crowd,this crowd that follows him everywhere,at work,in the streets,at
the fair or on the beach.He doesn't even realize his condition :you
should see him laughing at the people on the street,behaving like
sheep.It's always someone else,his wife says,take a look at yourself.
The secondary characters are wonderfully depicted:the well-padded buddy,the mother and brothers-in-law always contemptuous,always putting John down.Lots of sequences are memorable,now comic,now tragic:the tiny flat where even the bed must be folded,the huge office where employees are doing the same job at the same time,where everybody acts alike when they leave their job,like some kind of ballet.
John Sims is the embodiment of the American dream,but it has an universal appeal.When he was born,his father promised he would have good prospects,he would become someone big.King Vidor does not show the relationship father/son cause the father disappears when John is still a boy,but we can easily imagine it.So Sims thought NY was depending on him,and he discovers that he will be a wash-out all his life.If it weren't for his little boy who still believes in him(Vittorio de Sica will remember it for his "bicycle thief",he would throw himself under a train.
The cinematography is prodigious;two examples : The father is dead, the boy is climbing a stair : stunning high angle shot,enhancing his awful pain. On the contrary,the skyscrapers are filmed from below,showing how lost a human being can feel in this steel and glass world .
A detail :the hysterical/historical joke at the fair will be used again by the Beatles themselves in their "magical mystery tour" home-made movie.
1928:the silent era was coming to an end but we had not heard the last of it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"The Crowd" is King Vidor's experimental triumph, a snapshot of the
common man that perfectly captured not only the exhilarating whir and
unbridled optimism of the Roaring Twenties but also the cruel realities
of life without a social safety net. Vidor conned his studio bosses
into letting him make this little movie, with a comparatively small
budget, in exchange for Vidor's future commitments to commercial,
big-budget pictures that were MGM's bread and butter.
Vidor cast his wife, the beautiful Eleanor Boardman, as the plain Jane female lead Mary. Reports say Boardman was nonplussed at having to look so ordinary on screen, especially since she was the prototypical movie star -- snooty and obsessed with clothes and all issues of personal style.
For the hero, John, Vidor literally picked a face from "the crowd" -- a little-known actor named James Murray whose own life and ultimate fate eerily mirrored those of the character he played. A few years after "The Crowd," the troubled Murray was a suicide, jumping to his drowning death. While his character in the film doesn't kill himself, he does come awfully close -- his suicidal impulse to jump from a railroad trestle is aborted only for the love of an adoring son.
I would love this movie if for no other reason than the gorgeous tracking shot up the side of the skyscraper at the beginning, where we meet John at work, a faceless functionary at a giant, depersonalized corporation that seems to be model for modern corporate America.
This movie is worth seeing, even with the happy ending Vidor chose from seven he shot. Actually, I kind of like the ending -- John, Mary and son fade back into "the crowd"; it seems like the most logical and happiest fate they could hope to attain.
This is truly a great film.
What I find interesting in this depiction of one man's downward spiral and
the effect it has on his family is that it is remarkable realistic,
especially for a silent film. Then, just as today, the man caught in a
of disillusionment begins to take out his frustrations on his family,
blaming everyone and everything but himself for his failure to rise above
the crowd. King Vidor directed Murray and Boardman (his wife) in their
scenes together with a degree of subtlety rarely seen in silent
What I find unrealistic about this story is the absence of substance abuse. Johnny Sims, unlike James Murray who portrays him, never drowns his sorrows or medicates himself in an attempt to escape the pain of self-realization. The only episode involving alcohol, where Johnny goes out to get some alcohol for his in-law dinner guests and ends up partying with a friend until very late in the evening is realistic, but limited to the one short scene.
It's almost difficult for me to conceive of someone being so frustrated and depressed, but not turning to alcohol or drugs, which of course, usually have the effect of making things worse, and quickly. Such was the fate of James Murray whose portrayal of Sims was a flash of brilliance in an all too short career. He was my Great Uncle and when he died, he was penniless, found in the Hudson River with no identification but my grandfather's business card. Producer Irving Thalberg agreed with King Vidor that James Murray was one of the great natural acting talents of his time. His own story parallels The Crowd in many ways. In fact, Vidor wrote a screenplay based on Murray's life that he titled The Actor. He was attempting to raise money to produce the film in the late seventies, but unfortunately, it was never made. Now that really is a shame. --Larry Murray
Silent drama about John (James Murray) and Mary (Eleanor Boardman) meeting
in NYC, falling in love and marrying. John wants to make it big--to be
somebody. He looks down on those who, he feels, have failed. But, after
marriage and two kids, he's still stuck in the same dead-end job and sees no
way out. Then tragedy strikes and John starts to crack.
A failure when first released (it's easy to see why--it's very depressing) but now considered a masterpiece. The story is grim but the ending is happy and realistic. Murray and Boardman give superb performances (especially Murray during a scene with his son on a bridge) and King Vidor's direction is superb. The visuals in this film are decades ahead of their time. His use of the crowds and the individuals lost among them are just great.
Hard to describe but a definite must-see. Just don't expect a barrel of laughs.
This wonderful silent movie depicts the individual who gets swallowed up by the uniformity of society yet also represents the yearnings and aspirations for the want of a better life. Our main character is forever waiting for his ship to come in and sadly it never does. King Vidors sweeping shot of the rows and rows of desks and the image of John being a faceless number in the crowd. Despite him thinking that he is better than others and it's only a matter of time before his situation improves. It sadly never does and he loses the respect of his wife. Perhaps if there is a moral to this movie, then it should be that life can be a bitter pill to swallow but we should take pleasure in the small things in life and recognise that we have to accept lifes disappointments which will inevitably occur. Don't let the year that the film was made put you off or it being in black and white. This movie will grab you by the throat and won't let go. A classic!
Like most of the silent tragedies I've seen (and there haven't been many),
"The Crowd" was hard to like. That didn't stop it from being a finely
directed and acted drama. Like any film from any era that avoids the
of trend-conscious filmmaking, "The Crowd" was built to last. When you
a movie with a good, solid story and inspire the cast to give brilliant
performances, it's difficult to go wrong.
It's not a fun movie -- most of the time we're spent watching James Murray shoot himself in the foot, scene after scene. He's a really pathetic creature, but the director, King Vidor, portrays him and his story without passing judgment.
Worth the price of admission alone, Vidor's eye for detail in old New York City. In a justly famous montage and tracking shot near the beginning, he shows us Gotham so well, and in such great detail, that hardly a director since has been able to match him. His nomination of Best Director at the first Academy Awards was completely deserved (and his loss to Frank Borzage for the creaky "7th Heaven" was, arguably, the first of Oscar's major blunders.)
It's a bleak world view, that's for sure, but it keeps your attention and fills your eye.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Many movies from the silent age are beautiful to look at but we always feel
that they belong to a different age, and it is hard to relate to them. On
the other hand this one, although it cannot be said that it is as if it was
shot yesterday, is almost incredibly fresh and up-to-date.
This is the story of a perfectly ordinary man with no special talent, who thinks he can succeed and "beat the crowd" and is defeated. Sounds familiar? King Vidor didn't want big stars in this movie, and his concern was to portray the life of ordinary people trapped in their circumstances. We are quite used to this kind of story these days, but at the time it was revolutionary. The shots of everyday New York life were something new (also, this is the first movie in which a toilet appears). Thanks to this commitment to realism, the acting is far more natural than it was usual for the age. James Murray, Eleanor Boardman and Bert Roach are all excellent. The protagonist John is certainly a pathetic creature but in the movie he is invested with tragic dignity.
Most people seem to be particularly taken by the expressionistic scene near the beginning in which the camera examines the city and the crowd and then picks up John in the middle of what seems to be a sea of desks. I myself prefer the ending, in which it seems that John has a shot at achieving success, but such success would be as a writer of pathetic publicity slogans. Then him and Mary dissolve back into the crowd, in the middle of a theater crammed with laughing idiots.
"THE CROWD" (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1928), directed by King Vidor, is a
story about the average man, a born dreamer who promises but doesn't
deliver, and his struggle to succeed and fight financial ruin. While
top-billing goes to Vidor's wife, Eleanor Boardman, the movie belongs
to an unknown named James Murray, who, in his debut performance as a
movie actor, gives a remarkable performance as an ordinary American man
with high ambitions.
The story about this common man begins on the 124th birthday of America, July 4th, 1900, in which a doctor delivers a baby boy to the Sims household. The baby boy is named John. The next scene finds John, now age 12, sitting on a wooden fence with his buddies, all discussing what they want to be when they grow up. John tells the other boys that he has big plans for his future, that he's going to be somebody really big. Suddenly a horse pulling ambulance stops in front of the Sims home. As Johnny rushes to see what's wrong, he is told by his mother that his father has died. Before the fade-out, this scene follows the boy with the shock-filled face walking alongside his mother up a long flight of stairs to be his father for the very last time. Years pass. Now John Sims (James Murray), age 21, has left his small town existence for a new life in New York City with great ambition to succeed. He later obtains an office job by day and goes to school at night. One evening, Bert (Bert Roach), John's co-worker and friend, persuades him to skip his studies and go on a double date with him and Jane (Estelle Clark). John is introduced to Jane's friend, Mary (Eleanor Boardman). John and Mary become acquainted, and after spending the fun evening in Coney Island, John proposes marriage to her as they return home by subway. Against the advise of her brothers (Daniel G. Tomlinson and Dell Henderson), Mary marries John. Over the years John and Mary become the parents of two children, a boy called Junior (Freddie Burke Frederick) and a girl (Alice Mildred Puter). While all seems to be going right for John, his marriage starts to fall apart as Mary gets fed up with John's constant promises he fails to keep, the loss of one of his children followed by the loss of his job, and depression leading John to a brink of suicide.
While MGM is best known for producing top-notch films headed by top-named stars, "The Crowd" features none of those elements. Instead of heading the cast with box office draws as John Gilbert and Norma Shearer, who could easily have played John and Mary, director Vidor uses his actress wife, Boardman, and an unknown he picked from the crowd named James Murray, supported by actors not known for anything more than minor character parts, such as Bert Roach, Lucy Beaumont as Mary's mother; and a crowd of street extras. What makes this movie so remarkable today is that the leading players are so real. John and Mary could be anybody watching this film. And the best of all, they aren't faked with glamour and sophistication that best expresses MGM movies. John and Mary are just ordinary people going about their ordinary lives. They love, quarrel and make up again. And whether "The Crowd" was actually filmed on location in New York City or not doesn't really matter. The feel of The Big Apple is there from the early sequence in which John observes New York City from the Hudson River ferry to the family having a picnic gathering on the beach on Coney Island; as well as the camera panning through the skyscrapers of the big city which leads to that now famous shot to the overhead view of a gigantic office with rows of desks and white-collar workers in their nine to five jobs.
The characters of John and Mary Sims were presented on film once again by King Vidor in an independent film titled "Our Daily Bread" (United Artists, 1934) starring Karen Morley and Tom Keene in the roles originated by Boardman and Murray. While Morley and Keene almost physically resemble their predecessors, what a treat it would have been if Boardman and Murray reprised their roles in the talkie sequel which depicts the Sims couple (sans children) struggling through the Depression by starting a farming community. By then, Boardman retired from acting and Murray was, like the character he played in "The Crowd," a man with ambition who fails to meet with success. Murray's reported drowning death in 1936 remains a mystery as to whether it was suicide or accidental. It's no wonder why Murray was so good in playing John Sims. He was really starring in his own life story, and didn't know it.
"The Crowd" was one of 13 MGM silent features that premiered on New York City's public television station of WNET, Channel 13, September 28, 1973, on MOVIES, GREAT MOVIES, hosted by Richard Schickel, with movie accompanied by an original score produced for this series. It was also one of the movies I recall watching every time it showed mainly because of an ordinary story that succeeds in holding my interest from start to finish. It's still a remarkable even today, ranking it one of the best silent movies ever produced. Out of circulation for more than a decade, "The Crowd" was distributed on video cassette in 1989 with a new Thames Orchestra score conducted by Carl Davis. At the running time of 104 minutes, "The Crowd" currently plays on Turner Classic Movies on a shorter length of 93 minutes. It's been mentioned by TV hosts, including Robert Osborne of TCM, that "The Crowd" was not an initial success, but thanks to frequent revivals in recent decades, it has been hailed, rightfully, as a cinematic masterpiece. (****)
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