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"A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" is a warm and sweet tear-jerker. It's a beautiful
story of a young girl and her family who live in a tenement in the early
20th century. The girl, Francie, adores her dreamer father, Johnny.
Francie's mother, Katie, is always frustrated because they never have any
money, especially since Johnny uses most of what he makes to cater to his
This movie features magnificent performances from Dorothy McGuire, Joan Blondell, Lloyd Nolan, and James Dunn, who won an Oscar for his performance as Johnny. But I think it's child star Peggy Ann Garner who really makes this movie special. Her performance as Francie Nolan is heart-warming and touching, and shows true maturity beyond her years. It's a movie you'll want to see again and again. I definitely recommend it!
This beautiful story has not a nasty or mean-spirited person in it, though there is plenty of conflict, tension, and human drama, arising from the grinding poverty and the human failings of the well-intentioned people involved. Kazan's genius is shown by the way in which he absolutely draws us into this tale and makes us care deeply for everyone in it. There is much here that touches me personally, as the story has many echos of my own father's childhood in South Boston. In the end, the movie is a statement of the triumph of the spirit, and we leave feeling uplifted, a feeling we get all too rarely in movies of this post-modern and ironic age. This movie deserves its place as one of the all-time great movies, and Kazan deserves a place as one of the greatest directors.
This is my favorite movie of all time, since I first saw it in 1945 at age 13. I could identify fully with the heartache of having an alcoholic father, and with the poverty of the Nolan family. I think that James Dunn was far too old for his part, but he nevertheless gave a great performance. Peggy Ann Garner as Francie was truly superb. I loved the realism of the scenes of what urban life used to be like. Betty McDonald wrote several other books, but none reaching the level of this one, and Elia Kazan did a wonderful job of directing.
The film "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" is one of the finest pictures to come out of the late World War II period. There was a gnawing need for nostalgia at that time. "The boys" were overseas, the war had been dragging on for over four years, and people needed to see strong characters and have a warm-hearted family drama pick up their spirits. The message was "you can make it through this---this too shall pass." At glossy MGM they created a Technicolor "Meet Me In St. Louis." But at Fox they gave newcomer Elia Kazan his chance to make it big with what had been a popular bestseller several years running. Set in 1912, the story portrays the immigrant experience, of which Kazan was personally familiar. The performances are dynamite. Dorothy McGuire is so young but she nails Katie Nolan in what I think is McGuire's best performance. And who else but Peggy Ann Garner could play Francie? Though many are critical that the book gets short-changed, I find it amazing that Kazan was able to slip so much detail into his film. It's brimming with period charm and the glow of actual old memories. Yes, they were deeply, relentlessly poor. But you see how families struggled together---like when the grandma and aunt come to deliver the baby. They couldn't afford a midwife. Joan Blondell is great, too. But why does Sissy in the film call all her men "Bill"? In the book it's John, I think. Is it too close to a whore's "john" or too close to Johnny, Francie's dad?
This film must be one classified as serious. It certainly cannot be
viewed casually. Get in a good serious, no nonsense, no interruptions
mood and situation. Take your telephone off the hook. Make sure that no
one knows that you are home. Now, watch, absorb, laugh, cry and totally
enjoy this most exceptional drama.
The Brooklyn of the film is one that has long since vanished, or has it? Of course the physical appearance of MOST everywhere do change, slowly, almost imperceptible to the naked eye. The one thing in life that is constant is change.
And yet, I can take you to a few places right here in Chicago, that have houses (frame ones at that)that are still being lived in by members of the same family since ca. 1880. You know what I mean. You know places in your neck of the woods like it. So it must also be in Brooklyn.
The performances elicited by Director, Mr. Elia Kazan, are all right on. Johnny Nolan (James Dunn) is properly disconnected from reality, just enough. He has learned to "roll with the punches" by doing so. His potential is obviously something in life much higher and more complex. He loves his wife and family more than anything, more than life itself. He is a text book case of the incurable romantic. He always strives to see the beauty in the world-even to the point of fantasizing.
Katie Nolan (Dorothy McGuire) is beautiful, proud, strong and loves her husband and family just as strongly as does husband, Johnny. Katie has her feet on the ground. Any aspirations of hers are now strictly for her children.
Sissy Edwards (Joan Blondell) the 'free spirited' sister of Katie, who is so very close to the family as an aunt could be. Forall of her 'freedom', she really wishes to be in a family situation more like Katie's. By the way, Miss Joan Blondell displays a degree of acting ability that may not always be attributed to her. It was the good roll and it obviously gave her the opportunity to 'show her stuff'.
Officer McShane, the Beat Cop (Lloyd Nolan) also seems to be cast somewhat against type. He of course had portrayed cops before, but those were in a far different type of fare, being truly 'crime dramas' or 'detective stories'. In this story, Mr. Nolan gets to hit the other points of being a Policeman. Instead of being hard boiled, hard nosed, hard hearted and heavy handed, he has to use other skills and practical psychology in handling neighborhood problems.
Young Francie Nolan (Miss Peggy Ann Garner) displayed such talent and maturity in her portrayal as to rival those traits in her character. Francie is a young lady who is mature beyond her years. She has witnessed her alcoholic Father is frequently seen coming home "sick", the term that Mother prefers.
Of all the rest of the cast, who did a fine job, both solely and collectively, we must make mention of James Gleason who turns in his usual fine job as Garrity, the Saloon Keeper.
The film throughout has the advantage of a finely planned use of lighting and sets to represent dark, cold winter days in Brooklyn. Construction of the sets and the large numbers of people milling about, making a picture of a claustrophobic, chaotic street scene.
A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN "hits for the cycle"(to borrow a Baseball Term*)in touching all the 'bases' of emotion. It is sad, yet joyful. It is gloriously triumphant at times, yet down in the dumps, all at about the same time. Father is a failure in some eyes and yet, he has an answer for the depressing daily developments.
On a personal note, the story acts as a chronicle of one particular Ethnic Group. In this case, it's the Irish, of which this writer is a member, at least partially (Pop was Irish, Ma is still living and a now 90 year old German girl). I personally love the sort of film that gives a portrayal of the hardships endured and conquered by the various groups of Ethnic Immigrants.
Today we have a lot of Political Pundits and Public Officals , who are generally of the Political Left, who feel compelled to preach to members of certain 'minorities' that they can only gain even footing in the USA by voting for Big Government, Big Federal Entitlements and Big Taxes.
If any of our Minorities, or "People of Color" who are now "on the bottom rung of the ladder" think that those Ethnic Groups of peoples that came before them had it any easier, think again.
Just ask your neighbors of Polish, Irish, Italian,Jewish, Lithuanian, Chinese, Russian, Japanese,German,Slovak, Fillipino, Chech, Norweigin, Sweedish,Croation, etc.descent Ask them about the struggles of their people.
Thank God for films like this A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN. They remind us of the hardships of the immigrants in the New World. Lord, how bad they must have had it in "the Old Country"!!
* "Hitting for the Cycle" is a Baseball term for referring to a Ballplayer's hitting a Single, a Double, a Triple and a Home Run, all in the same game. The hits may be in any order.
A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN is a tender, faithful translation to the
screen of Betty Smith's popular best-seller about the growing pains of
a girl (PEGGY ANN GARNER) and her little brother (TED DONALDSON), both
of them struggling to rise above their environment in a squalid
Attention to detail is obvious in every scene of this amazingly touching film, so full of splendid performances. DOROTHY McGUIRE is the somewhat embittered mother, Katy Nolan, who has to deal with the practical side of things while her alcoholic, pipe-dreamer husband (JAMES DUNN), charms the children with his impossible dreams and fancies and won an Oscar for his "comeback" performance. JOAN BLONDELL gives one of her best performances as the earthy Aunt Sissy (a role once slated for Alice Faye), and LLOYD NOLAN is touching as the Irish policeman who takes an interest in the Nolan family.
The Brooklyn environment is correct in every detail so that it never looks like a film made entirely on the soundstages at Fox--and the atmosphere is perfect for the scene where Francie takes care of her mother during a pregnancy, waiting on a rainy day for her aunt and grandmother's assistance.
It never becomes too sentimental, although it does come perilously close in those final scenes--but the performance of PEGGY ANN GARNER as "the tree" who grows up amid hardship and deprivation, is so genuine that she manages to overcome any criticisms on that point.
Readers of the book will not be disappointed.
This is one of the best movies of the 1940s and is pretty much forgotten today. It is a movie about the life of a young girl in a Brooklyn tenement. Her family is very poor--mostly due to her father being a hopeless alcoholic dreamer. In spite of this, the movie is NOT a downer or hard to watch, though you might shed a tear or two when you watch it. Instead, it centers on characterizations--meaning good writing and good acting! James Dunn as the alcoholic dad did a great job, but the children in the movie also deserve accolades for acting like children--not Hollywood versions of kids! As I have mentioned in some other reviews, I often HATE child actors but I am quick to point it out when they do a credible job.
I grew up poor. My father struggled with lots of demons. For us, we had a hard time coping when the rest of the world seemed to be enjoying itself. What happens in that setting, for me, is that you latch on to those things which make up the beauty of the world. You appreciate the times when the snow sparkles and the house is warm. My mother held us together as best she could. She had to work hard. My father was a dreamer, but those dreams were seldom realized. The family in this film, thought they lived in the big city (we were in small towns), seemed to take from life the best they could. There are some incredible performances in this movie, primarily by juvenile actors. It speaks of a reality for so many people at a particular historical time. You either make do with the few pleasures you have or you don't. You embrace the world. Or you don't. This is a heart wrenching film that everyone should see.
THIS was Elia Kazan's directorial debut? It is rare to see the first
film of a classic director and see both complete mastery and a thorough
sense of their signature as a filmmaker. With A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,
audiences can see Kazan's grasp of the melodrama, a grasp that rivals
John Ford, we can also see masterful storytelling typically absent in
the beginning of a directorial career. The 1945 film starring Dorothy
McGuire and James Dunn shows the struggles of an underprivileged family
struggling to get by amidst the trials and tribulations of the early
1900's. The painstaking detail with which Kazan exposes the harsh
realities of the Nolan family is a blow to the heart in the absolute
Just before WWI in Brooklyn, New York, the Nolan family is struggling to get by. Johnny Nolan (James Dunn), the family patriarch, is an alcoholic lounge singer who drinks his family's money away more often than he brings it home. Johnny is far from the angry alcoholic often depicted in such pictures, quite conversely, Johnny is a happy-go-lucky, sunshine and light kind of dad that never wants the sparkle to leave his children's eyes, despite the fact that it's long gone from his own. Johnny is in a loveless marriage with the Nolan family matriarch Katie Nolan (Dorothy McGuire). Katie has adopted a tougher than nails attitude due to her husband's flighty, head-in-the-clouds disposition. Katie is the one that denies her children of indulgences and keeps their heads in their studies in hopes that they become successful. Both parents act the way they do out of love. Johnny wishes to shield his children's innocence as long as he can, realizing that the world will harden them soon enough. Katie believes that the best way to acclimate her children to the harsh realities out of the home is to immerse them in it as soon as possible and attempt to set them up for success in hopes that they will be positioned to have better lives than their parents ever did. Watching the Nolan family encounter such problems as Aunt Sissy's (Joan Blondell) revolving door of marriages, or the removal of a tree visible from the window of their tenement, acting as a beacon of hope for all those inside, Kazan illustrates each struggle is a painfully beautiful way.
Did I mention that this was Elia Kazan's debut feature? I just find the fact that A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, a (near) perfect film, as Kazan's first incredible. I've never thought twice about crowning John Ford as the king of the melodrama until the day I watched A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Kazan's debut rivals a favorite of mine, How Green Was My Valley. I find Ford's Valley a perfect exploration of an underprivileged family struggling under oppression, which avoids all contrived elements of forced emotions. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, is equally as impressive of such an exploration. A brilliant aspect of the film is the way we see the family's struggle from each individual involved. Kazan spends a lot of time introducing each character to the audience, then fully fleshes out their perspective at each new problematic encounter. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn would not have worked as well without the exceptional talent of James Dunn. His cheerful disposition despite the emptiness his character feels is the stuff legends are made of. I've never seen a portrayal more deserving of an Academy Award than this one, he was absolutely sensational. I wonder if he was sought after for The Wizard of Oz, as I think of him being perfect for the part of the scarecrow played by Ray Bolger. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn pulls at the heartstrings, then pulls again, several times throughout the film in the most beautiful way you can imagine, a film not to be missed.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This classic movie, based on Betty Smith's autobiographical novel, was
Elia Kazan's directorial debut. Though the entire cast was wonderful,
James Dunn won a well-deserved Oscar, here, for Best Actor in a
Since this story is about a poor family in greater New York City around the turn of the century, I sometimes get it mixed up with that of George Stevens' I Remember Mama. However, any momentary confusion is soon rectified when I recall the cast and the character difference between the two maternal figures (Irene Dunne in I Remember Mama and Dorothy McGuire in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. McGuire was great at playing 'hard' and serious characters, as she later did in Kazan's Gentleman's Agreement and Mann's The Dark at the Top of the Stairs (1960).
To me, this is one of those many priceless movies in which life is viewed from a child's point of view (how they see--and feel--things that are going on around them and within the family. The protagonist, here, is 12 or 13 year-old Francie Nolan (Peggy Ann Garner). Her acting may be a little over-sentimental, but I think her role may have called for it. On the other hand, Ted Donaldson is refreshingly realistic as her younger brother, Neeley.
The Nolan family is poor and has learned to live by all of the cost- savings means humanly possible. For example, the two children go to a cheaper school and work on Saturdays as 'rag pickers,' gathering trash on the streets and selling it to the neighborhood junk man. On Christmas Eve, they wait until all of the other Christmas trees have been sold and then gather at the tree lot as the vendor throws his leftover trees to anyone whom can catch them.
The children's mother, Katie Nolan (Dorothy McGuire), works hard doing domestic work, cutting corners, and being the disciplinarian of the family so they can survive. As a result, those around her often see her as 'hard.' Her husband, Johnny Nolan, aka 'The Brooklyn Thrush' (James Dunn), works at night as a singing waiter for a small salary--but mainly for tips. He is a pipe dreamer, a romantic, and a drunk.
Everyone in the neighborhood, including the local policeman, Officer McShane (Lloyd Nolan), knows itbut they all love him anyway--and learn to call him 'sick' when he comes home drunk. Johnny fills Francie's head full of fanciful dreams about being discovered by an impresario and telling her what he will do for the family when he is discovered and 'his ship comes in.' When Francie dreams of going to a better school down the block, her father helps her get into it by making up an address that is within the school district.
Katie's fun-loving sister, Aunt Sissy (Joan Blondell), often comes to visit and often has a new husband'Aunt Sissy has gone and done it again.' She, too, wants to see that the children are not too hardened by Katie and that they get to enjoy their life. Although everyone wants Francie to be protected from life's hardships, soon must see things as they are.
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