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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
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Reviews & Ratings for
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn More at IMDbPro »

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Index 64 reviews in total 

The Seeds of Hope

Author: wes-connors from Earth
14 July 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

In the early 1900s, working class Brooklyn streets bustle with poor residents aching to earn a living. Spunky 13-year-old Peggy Ann Garner (as Francie Nolan) and her continuously hungry 12-year-old brother Ted Donaldson (as Neeley) collect enough rags to raise nine cents. The money goes to help the kids' struggling family. Penny-pinching mother Dorothy McGuire (as Katie) is a scrub-woman. Sporadically employed father James Dunn (as Johnny) is a singing waiter. Although he is not abusive or violent, Mr. Dunn is a hopeless alcoholic. Still, he has a charming relationship with Garner, encouraging her to hope and dream...

When Garner notices a favorite tree is being cut down, Dunn assures his daughter the tree will grow back. Early in a series of episodic events, the family learns free-spirited aunt Joan Blondell (as Sissy) has married again. Her sister's multiple-marriages and her husband's drunkenness cause Ms. McGuire concern. Keeping both children in school becomes difficult. Although it involves fibbing about their residence, Dunn enrolls Garner in a finer school. As you might expect, she decides to become a writer. Soon, the family must move into smaller quarters. Their living situation becomes more unmanageable. Then, mother McGuire finds herself expecting...

Based on a Betty Smith's classic novel, and guided superbly by first-time feature film director Elia Kazan, "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" transplants itself to the screen in extraordinary style. The Twentieth Century-Fox production team makes the picture artfully squalid. As the young heroine, Garner received much praise; she won "Film Daily" and "Oscar" awards for juvenile acting. Separating performers under 18 years of age is not done much anymore, sadly. Additionally, Dunn won an "Academy Award" for his kindly alcoholic father. In the "New York Film Critics" poll, Garner (#4) and Dunn (#8) did well in the lead categories...

Watching the film today, one is equally struck by the performance of mother McGuire, relatively ignored by those giving out acting awards at the time. The focus is clearly on daughter Garner - but the central relationship and conflict is not between father and daughter; it's between mother and daughter. McGuire and Garner have an unspoken struggle which culminates in an cathartic scene, with mother lying perilously close to death, late in pregnancy. Garner blames McGuire for all the world's ills, including Dunn's alcoholism. It's a war between fantasy and reality, optimism and pessimism, hope and fear...

When mother and daughter come to terms with each other, Garner's "Francie" can grow inside and out.

********* A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (2/28/45) Elia Kazan ~ Peggy Ann Garner, Dorothy McGuire, James Dunn, Joan Blondell

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Moving, If a Bit Clumsy, Adaptation of Betty Smith Classic

Author: Scott Amundsen from Oneonta NY USA
11 May 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Possibly only a director with an eye for gritty reality like the great Elia Kazan could come up with a successful adaptation of Betty Smith's classic novel. With the help of screen writers Tess Slesinger and Frank Davis, with some additional dialogue by Anita Loos (uncredited), Kazan manages to capture the atmosphere of the time and the place; he also demonstrates his considerable skill with characterization. The result is a movie that in spite of considerable flaws has the same raw emotional power that has made the book such an essential.

The setting is the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn around the turn of the Twentieth Century. The original novel covered a period of about ten years in the lives of the Nolan family, which is the movie's first major gaffe: in having Peggy Ann Garner and Ted Donaldson play Francie and Neeley Nolan for the duration of the picture, he suspends the story in time and thus makes for a rather confusing adaptation of a book that spanned a decade and was about a young girl's coming of age.

Be that as it may, Peggy Ann Garner is luminous as Francie; Oscar-winner James Dunn turns in solid support as her beloved father Johnny, and Dorothy McGuire, a brilliant actress who never really received her due in Hollywood, is sensational as matriarch Katie Nolan, a woman who marries a man she is madly in love with only to discover he is a no-good drunk. He is not abusive or anything like that, it's just that married to Johnny, the twin burdens of the household duties and earning enough money to live on fall on Katie's shoulders.

This is a beautiful film. As an adaptation of the novel it fails in some key points (read it and you'll see), but overall it is a fine and moving piece of cinematic art, well-deserving of its status as an American classic.

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Human Spirit Personified!

Author: Anthony M Power (ampwerx) from Halifax, Canada
14 April 2013

Movies such as this continue to encourage me to watch the 'ole Black and Whites. The purity and true reflection of family values permeate this picture. It transcends time and place and represents the force of the human spirit to overcome all obstacles; big and small. The impression that stays with me the most is the relationship between father and daughter; there is a special bond that exists on pure love. As hard as things got Katie managed to provide a good home and the children were never worse for wear. She kept me entranced to see through her eyes. Though Johnny has human failings, his love of family is the lodestone of his personality and shone through to all he met. He made you feel good inside just by being around him.

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A Motion Picture for the Ages

Author: Casablanca3784 from 15th Row Orchestra
14 February 2013

Peggy Ann Garner was just 13 years old when filming "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn." Thank you Mr. Turner because I never saw a finer acting performance by any young teen in any film. Peggy died at age 52 , was never a BIG STAR but her performance in this film could have never been matched had she lived and continued in the motion picture industry for a full lifetime. Simply stated: I was stunned by her ability. Incidentally she did win the Academy Juvenile Award in 1945.

Dorothy McGuire as Peggy's mom.Enormously gifted. A lifetime of monumental acting achievement which didn't deviate one iota from this role. Then we have James Dunn who played Peggy's dad and for which he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor 1945. Dunn is absolutely superb as the community drunkard and a waiter with big dreams.

You will see the hustle and bustle of 1912 Brooklyn. You will hear the calliope filling the streets with the resounding music of that era. You will see hardship and poverty endured as a 13 year old girl comes of age. The interaction of characters of this film is historic...the entire film is legendary and make sure you have a handkerchief handy.

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The best of 1945

Author: philipt1978 from United Kingdom
16 September 2010

Joan Blondell 2 points, Dorothy McGuire 1 point, Peggy Ann Garner 1 point, and thats before the film began! At the end of the film the points add up to 10! After the film began I fell in love with everyone in this film, the best honest emotion of the year and one of the best of the forties. Joan Blondell yet again stole another film as the woman with the heart of gold and proved she was Warner's biggest worker in the 1930s with good reason. No need to say too much as this film speaks for itself! And if you haven't seen it more fool you! The biggest complaint with this amazing film is some films become legends and so far this is far from it but as far as I am concerned this is one of the 40s biggest (legends) with some of the best performances I have ever seen! A tree grows in Brooklyn, a tear grows in my eye!

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One of my all time favorites

Author: risaacs from California, USA
17 September 2001

This film is one of my all time favorites. Along with "How Green Was My Valley" it's one that always brings a tear no matter how many times I view it. The entire cast was superb. I disagree with comments that James Dunn was too old. He was just 40 at the time 13 years older than Dorothy Mcguire. Lolyd Nolan was 43 and Joan Blondell 39. The part where he sings "Annie Laurie" showing all the mixed emotions of love and hurt in his face and voice is extremely touching and reveals his frustrations. Great acting!

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Hollywood Compromises a Classic

Author: dougdoepke from Claremont, USA
29 October 2012

A maddening movie. So well cast, acted, and mounted, with a theme Hollywood never had much time for—urban poverty. Here we get a good view of chaotic street scenes where urchins like Katie (Garner) and Neeley (Donaldson) scramble for dimes amid a struggle of the quickest. Meanwhile, long-suffering mom (McGuire) tries holding things together with odd jobs while alcoholic dad (Dunn) weaves poetic pipe-dreams to make things bearable. The trouble is Mom's getting hardened by sacrifice, at the same time, happy thoughts can't deliver Dad from the alcoholic world he lives in.

But most compelling is Katie, superbly played by the poignant young Garner, surely an inspirational piece of casting. Unfortunately, Katie's feeling a writing talent, but one that will surely be thwarted by the family's dire circumstances. After all, what chance does she have to grow artistically amid such stunting surroundings. Had actress Garner been the typical cutesy Hollywood teen or shown any show-biz ego, the film would lose this touching center. Instead, Katie's a plain-looking stick of a girl with no outward sign of anything exceptional. Rather, it's what we don't see in such an average looking girl that's so compelling, as she struggles to find herself despite the adversities. All in all, she's like the story's central metaphor—the scrawny tree pushing up against uncaring city cement.

At times, the movie tends to be frenetic in its hurried comings and goings, along with the rapidfire dialogue. It's almost like director Kazan is racing against a clock. Still there are many sensitive scenes, unsurprising for a storied director like Kazan. My overriding gripe, however, is with the huge concessions at the end that undercut what should have been a remarkably memorable movie. Instead of a gritty tale of urban struggle and hope, we get a typical Hollywood series of neat and tidy happy endings that seem to say that despite the excellence of what's gone before, this really is just another Hollywood movie. In a lesser film, such could be shrugged off. Here, however, it's a capitulation of a high order.

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

The flawless movie

Author: badgersdrift from United States
10 October 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The novel should be on the very short list of Great American Novels and the movie comes closer to doing justice to a great book than any movie I know of.

The reviewer Leonard Maltin has said it all: "Perfect in every detail".

Peggy Ann Garner defies description. Not one false note, not one hint of "acting". She IS Francie Nolan. I think she must have been an amazingly intelligent child. I must read up on her later life. (Maybe it was her intelligence that made her decide she was not the Hollywood type :o)

No one else has mentioned two of my favorite scenes: the ritual family reading of Shakespeare and the immigrant grandmother's comment about the importance of reading, and the very last scene in the family apartment after Francie's graduation, when Lloyd Nolan comes to call.

I hope the movie will lead everyone who loves it to read the magnificent book for "the rest of the story".

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

My all-time best movie

Author: alli_katz from Bronxville, NY
1 June 2001

I've watched this movie 20 times at least, and keep coming back for more, even though it always makes me cry a lot. The actress who plays the mother is just fantastic, and the one playing the daughter is even better. When I watch it, I really feel like I am in Brooklyn a hundred years ago, and it seems so real. The guy who plays the drunk father is really, really good too. My favorite scene is when the main girl and her younger brother, Neeley, are trying to hold onto the Christmas tree being thrown at them so they can get a tree for free. It is so touching, but then so is the whole movie. I just love it.

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

One of the Greatest of All Movies

Author: jacksflicks from Hollywood
27 April 2001

The fatuousness of today's moviegoer is reflected in the bias against black and white films and films made in any generation preceding this one. How else to explain why films like "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" don't find their way into the Top 250 list? How else to explain why this Elia Kazan masterpiece gets only 7.6 rating?

It's easy to see why critics are torn about Elia Kazan. On one hand he "named names" during the McCarthy era; on the other, his body of work is so distinguished that even his detractors must give the devil his due.

How does one make a story about a little girl growing up poor in Brooklyn with her little brother, her lovable, feckless, alcoholic daddy and her desperately conscientious but humorless mother, without resorting to bathos? It's a tightrope I don't think Capra could manage. Imagining Margaret O'Brien as the little girl makes me cringe. Instead, Kazan chose Peggy Ann Garner, who doesn't hit a false note. Same with James Dunn, who won an Oscar for his "daddy." And Dorothy McGuire, as the mother, who succeeds in the difficult job of gaining sympathy for an unsympathetic character.

The ending is bitter-sweet and without melodrama, so that what hits you finally is not the climax but the totality of the story. Whatever we might think about Elia Kazan the "snitch," we can't deny that he is one of the greatest of all directors and that "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" is his quiet masterpiece.

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