Friday, May 12, 2017

The No, YOU'RE Crying! Blogathon: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945)



Debbie Vega of Moon in Gemini is hosting a blogathon devoted to those films that touch our hearts so deeply that tears spring from our eyes. She is calling it The No, YOU'RE Crying! Blogathon and it runs from May 12th to the 14th.  Day 1   Day 2   Day 3


I love the trailers of the classic era that tout their screen versions of popular and acclaimed novels. They proudly mention who they have cast as characters and which director was given the awesome responsibility of bringing the story to life. There is in these trailers a sense of respect for the audience. Certainly they have read this or that particular novel. Of course they are interested in a film version and expect Hollywood to do their best. The poster above follows in that tradition.

Novelist and dramatist Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was published in 1943 and its success ensured that Hollywood would come calling. The book, however, covers a much longer period in the character's lives than portrayed in the film. Betty Smith helped to adapt her novel with scenarists Tess Slesinger (The Good Earth) and Frank Davis (Remember the Day). It was the right decision to use only the first part of the novel. The use of child actors almost demanded that decision.



Ted Donaldson, Joan Blondell, Peggy Ann Garner

The heroine of our story is played by 13-year-old Peggy Ann Garner. Francie Nolan is a sensitive soul sharing the hardscrabble life of poverty with her family. Her brother Neeley played by Ted Donaldson is her companion on the 1912 streets of Brooklyn.

Francie's inner flights of fancy are combined with a practical thirst for knowledge. Education is Francie's flying carpet. Her father Johnny played by James Dunn is the parent from whom Francie inherited her dreams and her imagination. Like her father, Francie sees the beauty in the scrubby tree that has managed to grow outside their tenement window.

Francie's mother Katie played by Dorothy McGuire bears the brunt of the financial and practical burdens of keeping the family together. It is from Katie that Francie has inherited her strength and pride. It will take Francie the course of the next few months to understand her mother and her gifts. Francie's father always had and will always have first place in her heart.

Joan Blondell won the coveted role of Aunt Sissy, Katie's good-hearted older sister. Almost too good-hearted, Sissy is the subject of neighborhood gossip due to her many marriages. We meet her on her third to a milkman named Steve played by John Alexander. This one will work. This marriage will bring Sissy her long sought for happiness and child. Sissy is a woman who views the world through the lens of emotion and this makes her as much a healer of families, if not more, as her practical sister. Aunt Sissy is a sounding board, and a source of comfort and fun to Francie and Neeley.



Dorothy McGuire, James Dunn

The year we spend with the Nolan family is filled with new life, new hopes, set-backs, misunderstandings and death. A happy Christmas is the last spent with the entire family and is a charming scene in the film. Francie and Neeley do their part to make it a happy time by winning a Christmas tree thrown to the hearty by the lot operator at the close of business on Christmas Eve. Johnny makes it memorable by leading the whole apartment house in singing Silent Night. Johnny will be gone before many more weeks have passed. His legacy of kindness and the esteem with which he was held by the many who attend his funeral will have a marked impression on those left behind.



Peggy Ann Garner, James Dunn, Anne Revere, Ray Milland
1946 Academy Awards

Elia Kazan's directorial debut was selected by The National Board of Review as one of its top ten films of 1945. The screenplay was nominated for an Oscar. James Dunn won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar and Peggy Ann Garner was given a special juvenile Oscar. The film was placed on the National Film Registry in 2010.

Director Kazan displays a subtle awareness of the family relationships in his filming of scenes filled with intimate emotion. The exuberance of Neeley's boyish complaining, constant hunger, dodging chores and homework, yet ever the light of mother's eye. Francie's joy when Johnny does not come home drunk. Her determination and womanly pride at handling him when he does. Katie's constant battle between her soft nature and her duty. The heart aches for each character in their struggle.

Any close-up of Peggy Ann Garner as Francie can fill my heart to bursting. She gives an exquisite performance that perfectly captures Francie and mirrors the confusion, hope and expectations of any of us at that age. The love between Katie and Johnny, their total understanding of each other despite their seeming lack of communication, is something else that moves me.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a heartwarming and heart wrenching film that goes right to my tear ducts. Sometimes, it is a full on howl of a cry and sometimes it is the misty and unexpected sob. It can be a scene, a line of dialogue, a close-up, or a personal memory touched on by the story of this family that shares my name.










21 comments:

  1. I love this movie and your wonderful post. And yes - I so miss the trailers and opening credits. As always, CW, a perfect post for the day. ♥

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    1. Thanks. I'm pleased for the compliment from someone else who loves the movie.

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  2. I actually haven't seen this yet, but it's now on the list. I'm thinking it'll be a nice double feature with I Remember Mama (which is a favorite of mine, but don't go spreading that around).

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    1. No worries. They'll never hear it from me. I think I must know "Mama" from heart after all these years.

      Elia Kazan shows all of his promise in this debut film. I think it will touch you.

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  3. Now I wanna see this again. I re-read the book a year or two ago, so it's not far removed from my memory. All I remember of the movie is Joan Blondell.

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    1. Of all the parts worth remembering, I would certainly put Joan Blondell near the top. She was perfect. I do not understand how/why she was overlooked by the Academy.

      I just checked TCM and they have it scheduled for Sunday, June 4 at 8 PM. A double bill of Juvenile Academy Award Winners, with the second movie being Shirley Temple in Bright Eyes.

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    2. Awesome. Thanks for the tip.

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  4. Fine review of a lovely movie. It's interesting to contrast Dorothy McGuire's mother here with the ones she played in later films (SUSAN SLADE, A SUMMER PLACE). This film also features my favorite Joan Blondell performance. You've put me in the mood to see it again!

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    1. Dorothy McGuire played as many mothers as Beulah Bondi has played grandmothers, and really, each of them unique. McGuire has a lovely presence.

      Your favourite Blondell performance says a lot. She is wonderful all the time, but particularly so as Sissy. June 4th will be here soon, its next TCM screening. Such a fine movie. Thanks so much for reading. I appreciate it.

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  5. Never read the book, never seen the movie, although I did see Bugs Bunny start to read it after warding off a pack of thug dogs by showing the title to them.

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    1. Clever fellow, that Bugs. Good gag. Always gets a chuckle out of me.

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  6. Wonderful review! I love the novel, and I remember enjoying the movie a lot too; I'll need to see it again after reading this.

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    1. I feel it is a special motion picture and well worth a re-watch every once in a while.

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  7. I haven't seen this film yet, although it has been recommended to me before. I think I must watch more of Dorothy McGuire, so I know where to start! Great review, as always.
    Thanks for the kind comment!
    Kisses!
    Le

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    1. I know in my heart that you will really love A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

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  8. Love this: "Any close-up of Peggy Ann Garner as Francie can fill my heart to bursting." One of my all-time favorite movies (and books), with an absolutely perfect cast. It's so true, and so lovely, and so raw it hurts. The triumph of dragging home that Christmas tree, to the going-into-labor confessions. Great post.

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    1. Thank you. It was the first movie that came to mind for the blogathon, but then I was unsure of if I could do it justice.

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  9. I like what you said about movie trailers, back in the day, knowing the audience would want to be reassured of a faithful adaptation of a popular novel. I think this film did a good job, and filmmakers were wise to choose only the first part of the novel to adapt.

    You've done this film justice, too, with your analysis. It's a great cat all around, but Peggy Ann Garner as Francie is PERFECT. You've made an excellent choice for this blogathon. :)

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    1. Truly, the movie gods were kind when they allowed this part and Peggy Ann Garner to come together.

      Thanks for the kind words.

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  10. This is one of my favorite adaptations of one of my favorite books. My favorite scene is when Francie stays with her mother while she's in labor and they begin to understand each other for the first time. Always chokes me up!

    Thanks so much for participating in the blogathon!

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    1. It was my great pleasure to join in the blogathon. Thanks so much for hosting and forcing me to consider which movies make me verklempt.

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