10 user 4 critic

...One Third of a Nation... (1939)

Approved | | Drama | 10 February 1939 (USA)
A fire in a run-down tenement building injures young Joey Rogers. Wealthy passerby Peter Cortlant rushes the boy and his attractive older sister Mary to the hospital and pays the medical ... See full summary »


Dudley Murphy


Oliver H.P. Garrett (screenplay by), Arthur Arent (from the play by) | 1 more credit »




Cast overview, first billed only:
Sylvia Sidney ... Mary Rogers (as Sylvia Sydney)
Leif Erickson ... Peter Cortlant (as Leif Erikson)
Myron McCormick Myron McCormick ... Sam Moon
Hiram Sherman Hiram Sherman ... Donald Hinchley
Sidney Lumet ... Joey Rogers
Muriel Hutchison ... Ethel Cortlant
Percy Waram ... Arthur Mather
Otto Hulett ... Assistant District Attorney (as Otto Hulitt)
Horace Sinclair Horace Sinclair ... John (Butler)
Iris Adrian ... Myrtle
Charles Dingle ... Mr. Rogers
Edmonia Nolley Edmonia Nolley ... Mrs. Rogers
Hugh Cameron ... Mr. Cassidy
Julia Fassett Julia Fassett ... Mrs. Cassidy
Baruch Lumet ... Mr. Rosen


A fire in a run-down tenement building injures young Joey Rogers. Wealthy passerby Peter Cortlant rushes the boy and his attractive older sister Mary to the hospital and pays the medical expenses for the poverty-stricken family. Only later does Peter learn that the firetrap tenement is one of his own vast real estate holdings. Faced with his own unwitting complicity in the deaths and injuries resultant from the fire and with his growing attachment to Mary, Peter decides to tear down his tenements and erect decent affordable housing. But his family is aghast at his plan and plots to wreck it. Written by Jim Beaver <jumblejim@prodigy.net>

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Did You Know?


The play of the same title upon which this film is based opened at the Adelphi Theatre, 152 W. 54th St., on January 17, 1938 and ran for 237 performances until October 22, 1938. It was produced by the Federal Theatre Project, part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). It was the first WPA play sold to the film industry. The $5,000 proceeds from the sale were earmarked for the Federal Writers Committee, another unit of the WPA that sponsored writers who wrote about American culture and heritage. See more »


Featured in By Sidney Lumet (2015) See more »


That's How Dreams Should End
Words and Music by Harold Orlob
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User Reviews

A bit idealistic...but worth seeing.
4 July 2019 | by MartinHaferSee all my reviews

When the story begins, Peter (Leif Erickson) comes upon a burning tenement building. He watches in horror as the bodies pile up and when a small boy is badly injured, he rushes him and his sister, Mary (Sylvia Sidney), to the hospital...vowing to help with the medical expenses. However, later Peter is horrified to learn that he is the owner of this slum and its dilapidated condition was responsible for the fire. He vows to change things...but his family vows to fight him on this. What's to become of the changes? And, what about Mary? After all, Peter has fallen in love with her!

It's interesting that during the Great Depression, most films never mentioned it in any way. And, weirdly, most of the films were about rich, happy folks! A few studios, like Warner and RKO (maker of "....One Third of a Nation"), occasionally made movies about the lower depths of society at the time....well meaning films that pushed for change. As far as this film goes, it does lay it on a bit thick (such as the scenes where the tenement building 'talks' to the boy)...though in spite of a lack of subtlety, it is enjoyable and worth your time.

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Release Date:

10 February 1939 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

...Um Terço de uma Nação... See more »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

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