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|Index||64 reviews in total|
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This story of a poor family in Brooklyn in the years after the turn of
the century will have you searching frantically for your handkerchiefs
whether you want to or not. The sentimentality is hypnotic.
Peggy Ann Garner is Francie, the innocent, pubescent daughter of pragmatic mother Dorothy McGuire and the sometime singing waiter and constant fabulist James Dunn. The younger son, Neely, can be safely ignored.
McGuire makes a barely sustainable wage cleaning the shabby apartment house and Dunn's take-home money is irregular and almost negligible. But, while McGuire slaves and saves, Dunn is cheerful and loves to drink, spread good will and dream about the impossible. When a friend's baby girl dies during birth, Dunn remarks with a smile that the mother had just bought pretty little garments for her. "Yes, and now she'll have to be buried in Potter's Field," McGuire remarks glumly. Dunn turns and says firmly, "But she had them dresses." That tells us about all we need to know.
Betty Smith wrote the novel, which is staged here like a play, and she plays the audience like a musical instrument. The story moves from moments of hope to the next inevitable tragedy as if it were a clock ticking off the minutes. There is a marvelous Christmas, of course, and Garner wonders aloud, "Why can't people be as friendly every day as they are on Christmas?" There's tragedy too. Dunn, in resolute search of a regular job, dies of alcohol-related pneumonia while waiting in line. McGuire is stunned by the number of people attending the funeral. She never knew her husband was loved by so many people, and she begins to wonder about their relationship.
Her nature, with its stark materialism and rejection of pipe dreams, comes when she is in labor at home, tended only by Francie. (They can't afford a hospital or even a midwife.) And it ends happily, with Francie graduating from the school that no one in her family was ever able to attend, and McGuire being formally courted by the courteous cop. The cop is Lloyd Nolan. One wonders if he ever chuckled while calling McGuire by her character's name, Mrs. Nolan.
I've been treating the film rather lightly but, as I said, it's a finely tuned piece of craftsmanship, even if it sounds fundamentally like an autobiography. (If you liked "I Remember Mamma", you're going to like this one too.) Phillip Dunn won an Academy Award for his portrayal of the desperately buoyant father, and he's okay, if a little obvious. He is, however, involved in one of the film's most moving scenes, for me anyway. The family is settling into a tiny apartment on the upper floor because it's cheaper, and a piano has been left behind. And Dunn is tickled pink. "Nice tone," he remarks. Then he sits down and plays a few chords while he sings the pretty ballad "Annie Laurie" as if he really means it, his vaudevillian's voice cracking slightly.
Dorothy McGuire does nicely by the role of the wife so worn by life's hardships that she is practically burnished, but she doesn't sound much like an unlettered Brooklyn housewife of 1910. Despite the necessary grammatical flubs, she sounds like she's from Omaha. Dunn is appropriately desperate in his optimism but whether as actor or as character is hard to tell. Peggy Ann Garner fits the part too, neither a beautiful child nor a plain one, but charmingly in between.
Someone cuts down the eponymous tree that's growing in Brooklyn. The backyard tree growing out of a crack in the pavement stands for "hope." I think. Maybe it stands for some kind of life force. Zorba the tree. McGuire admires it for a moment, the way the birds perched in it and sang, before she catches herself and tells Francie, "Oh, foo, it only got in the way of the washing anyway." It grows back.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Based on a tremendously detailed novel by Betty Smith in which she recounts her experiences growing up poor in the title borough, this beautifully realized film contains strong performances and direction. Garner plays the imaginative, but fiscally challenged, young girl who strives to make a difference with her life despite various hurdles. Her mother McGuire works on her hands and knees in their apartment building, trying to scrape together a few extra pennies to make ends meet. Her father Dunn is a singing waiter whose jobs are few and far between. He passes part of his time drinking away the family funds, desperately resigned to his fate yet dreaming of something better, if not for himself than for Garner. Donaldson plays Garner's eternally hungry younger brother while Blondell is McGuire's flirty, much-married sister. A person would have to look long and hard to locate a child performance (particularly a dramatic one) that equals or exceeds that of Garner here. Her face reflects all the hardships and the little triumphs with a radiance that is unforgettable. Not only is she not "cute" in the traditional Hollywood way, but she also avoids many of the mannered pitfalls that other kid actors might have slid into. It's a stunning piece of work and she was appropriately rewarded with a special Oscar. It's odd to see the usually erudite and refined McGuire using poor grammar and playing someone rather simple in her ambitions, but she acquits herself well. There's an earthiness and dignity in her performance that makes one sympathize with her plight, even when her character says and does things that are hard to accept. Dunn, a man who had his own set of personal issues away from the camera, emerged briefly from career oblivion to deliver a sensitive and poignant portrayal that won him an Oscar as well. His final moment on screen is memorably haunting. Adding some welcome spice, humor and even glamour to the proceedings is Blondell in a role so endearing and heartfelt it can't help but create new fans of her work out of any viewer. Nolan appears as a kindly local policeman. This had the potential of becoming an oppressive, downbeat story with depressing elements, but thanks to deft direction, wonderful performances and a solid script, it is instead an uplifting and inspiring story. The creators wisely allowed many amusing moments to shine amongst the darker aspects of the material. Among the memorable moments throughout are Garner and Donaldson planning to acquire a Christmas tree, Garner and her teacher Nelson discussing the fate of a small pie, Garner keeping McGuire company as McGuire endures a medical emergency and Blondell instructing Garner to check her school desk before leaving for graduation. One thing that does seem odd is that the family is so insistent upon keeping up with their insurance and yet, once it is needed, they don't seem to have been compensated accordingly (yet they later come off as being better off financially. But how?) Still, any quibble regarding small bits of the story are more than made up for in the end result. It's a special, evocative and compelling motion picture that anyone should see.
All right, so it's not much of a story, but it's told from the little
girl Francie Nolan's (Peggy Ann Garner) point of view. To Francie, her
father Johnny Nolan (James Dunn) can do no wronghe clearly dotes on
her above her younger brother; he's always cheerful, always telling
her how good she can be, always minimizing the hardships the family
faces because he can't hold a steady job... due to the bottle. You can
call him a cheerful drunk or a free and happy spirit. The title of the
movie comes from his insistence to Francie that the only tree
previously visible from the Nolan tenement (which was removed) will
again sprout up through the concrete.
For my complete review of this movie and for other movie and book reviews, please visit my site TheCoffeeCoaster.com.
Brian Wright Copyright 2009
I first saw this movie one Christmas night as a child, and I fell in love with it. It's a moving, believable and beautifully acted story of poverty, family and coming of age. Peggy Ann Garner gave what I still think is the best performance ever by a child star. James Dunn's Oscar was well-deserved. It takes a great actor to make a ne'er-do-well alcoholic such a sympathetic character. And Dorothy McGuire is magnificent as Katie. Made two years after her debut as a naive child bride in "Claudia" and the same year as "The Enchanted Cottage," in which she played a lonely, homely housekeeper, she had proved in such a short time that she was one of the screen's most versatile actresses. Joan Blondell is wonderful as Aunt Sissy, giving what had to be her finest performance, and Lloyd Nolan and Ted Donaldson also give terrific performances. Elia Kazan's directorial debut is impressive, and the film has more heart and soul than many of his later films where Method acting sometimes got in the way of the warmth. City life has rarely been more convincing. A masterpiece!
James Dunn, often a fixture in Hollywood, won the best supporting actor
award for his performance as Johnny Nolan in 1945's "A Tree Grows in
Brooklyn." Imagine, in one year Hollywood gave the coveted award for
playing a drunk as well in "The Lost Weekend." I guess that booze was
the in thing that year.
Seriously, both performances were great that year and Dunn captured our hearts as the pathetically poor alcoholic living a dreary existence in a Brooklyn tenement with both a daughter (Peggy Ann Garner) and wife (Dorothy McGuire) who love him so very much despite the hopeless of their situation. Surrounded by poverty and deprivation, this is a feel-good movie in the sense of the strong family ties that are depicted. How much the daughter respects her father even as he descends further into misery.
Just like Brooklyn can never be thought of as rural in 20th century America, we see the sociological impossibilities brought about poverty and the inability to overcome it, but we can all dream a little.
"A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" (1945): Elia Kazan's directorial debut, which garnered two Oscars. I think of this film as in the same category as "It's a Wonderful Life", although "A Tree " has a slight stage play feel to it. Neither stories or the characters are the same, but they ARE "cousins" to one another, and BOTH are worth multiple viewings as a way to get your dose of reminders about what is most important in life. We have our duties and our jobs, no one has the same set, and we signed on for them. We have people and places we love, and it's too easy to take them for granted or focus on their "blemishes". "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" is as emotionally powerful, funny, tender, and sad as "It's a Wonderful Life". If you like/love one, you WILL like/love the other, and never fear: one will NOT REPLACE the other. You'll be very glad they BOTH exist.
Elia Kazan is one of my favourite directors and is one of all time
greats in film making in the history of Hollywood. this is his second
film and i'm so glad i saw it. most of us know Kazan's great films,
like "a st. car named desire" or "on the water front", but this film
should also be considered as a great work. the difference is that "a
tree.." was made prior to the Hollywood ten event and at first look
does not seem as a protest. but if you look carefully you can already
see the leftist political background of Kazan. the movie portrays the
hard life of a poor family in Brooklyn and focuses on the eldest
daughter who wants to become a writer. the child is played by Dorothy
McGuire and is one of the best performances i have ever seen made by a
child. she is really moving. the film creates an atmosphere that on one
hand reminds us why classic Hollywood cinema is so wonderful but on the
other hand, Kazan manages to criticize the "american spirit", that of
self confidence and everlasting hope for future success.
all the actors in this film are wonderful and Kazan's direction is strong and delicate. he really loves these characters. the only thing about this film that makes it a little inconsistent to the realism it strives to portray is the ending, but if you did not see it then do it now. get ready for a great emotional experience.
I thought that this movie was done quite well, except there were some VERY important things that were in the book that were not included in the movie. I do not want to give these things away so.... I suggest that you read the book AND see the movie (preferably in that order). You are truly missing out on the whole story of Francie Nolan's life if you only see the movie
My second favorite movie of all time.
Dorothy McGuire is so really good, and the rest of the cast from top to bottom is nearly as perfect. The movie, like the book, revolves around McGuire's incredible performance. James Dunn deservedly won best actor for the best performance of his career. Ovedrall, the direction is marvelous. The feel of Brooklyn in the early 1900's is replicated flawlessly. The amazing thing is that the most ordinary details are captured perfectly but without undue embellishment. Moreover,the difficult and embarrassing situations are portrayed realistically. This is one of the only Hollywood movies that was about honest sentiment without being overly sentimental.
This is a wonderful and touching story. I was struck by the performances of James Dunn and Peggy Ann Garner. Dunn is very good as the father, and reading a brief biographical sketch, it is interesting to see how his life at that time was similar in significant ways to the character. Peggy Ann Garner gives the most incredible performance I have ever seen by a juvenile. It would be worth the price of admission many times over. I highly recommend this film.
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