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William A. Wellman
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Daniel L. Haynes,
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In a hot summer afternoon in New York, Emma Jones gossips with other neighbors of her residential building about the affair of Mrs. Anna Maurrant and the milkman Steve Sankey. When the rude Mr. Frank Maurrant arrives, they change the subject. Meanwhile, their teenage daughter Rose Maurrant is sexually harassed by her boss Mr. Bert Easter; however, she likes her Jewish neighbor Sam that has a crush on her. On the next morning, Frank tells that is traveling to Stanford on business. Mrs. Maurrant meets the gentle Sankey in her apartment, but out of the blue Frank comes back home in an announced tragedy. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Great early talking depression film from King Vidor
There is just one scene for the entirety of the film - the front of a brownstone tenement in New York City during the summer. However, residents and visitors come and go, making conversation and sometimes vicious gossip to pass the time on the steps of the building. This is not a film about people living in outright poverty. As a whole,they are one rung above being poor with the safer position of being outright middle class just out of reach. The drama and the conversation mainly revolves around the Maurrant family. Anna Maurrant has been having at least a close relationship and perhaps an affair with the married milkman. We never really see exactly what is going on between them. Anna's husband, Frank, a man who is basically angry at the whole world, thinks that in the depression the fact that he holds down a job should make him husband of the year in the eyes of his wife, and that his barking orders at her should be good enough conversation for her. The couple has a grown daughter, Rose (Sylvia Sidney), whose married boss is leaning hard on her to let him become her "sugar daddy" and set her up in her own apartment. The couple also has a son who is well on his way to becoming a juvenile delinquent. Beulah Bondi really steals the show as a middle-aged housewife who is the building's gossiper-in-chief. She doesn't have a kind word to say about anyone and thinks she knows how every household should be run. She doesn't seem to notice that her own Mama's boy son is a proficient bully and a journeyman gangster.
Sam, the son of a Jewish couple in the building, is somewhat sweet on Rose, as she is on him. Her father outright objects to any relationship based on his own prejudice. The Jewish couple has similar objections, although they try to use the reason that any girlfriend will interfere with Sam's ambitions to become a lawyer.
Then there is the woman and two children who are about to be evicted because the husband has run off and they cannot pay the rent. In one particular scene that is relevant to social attitudes towards the poor today, a welfare worker shows up and chastises the woman when she learns that she has taken the children to the movies - she has spent a whopping 75 cents. When one of the neighbors mentions that he gave the woman some money because it made him feel good and made the woman feel good, the welfare worker replies he shouldn't do that because it is bad for the woman's character.
The whole thing builds slowly and artfully. Everyone knows something violent is going to happen here, the question is who will be the perpetrator and who the victim. There are any number of disgruntled, desperate, and angry people with an ax to grind.
The whole movie is just a very well done depression era slice-of-life film that shows that the residents may come and go, but the situations for whatever occupants that live there will remain the same. They will remain people one paycheck away from poverty, and possibly one revelation or argument away from violence. Highly recommended if you can find a copy.
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