Monday, April 30, 2018


The ground-breaking playwright and producer Elmer Rice, who studied the law before making the theatre his life, first made his Broadway mark in 1914 with On Trial. Impressive titles followed including The Adding Machine, Counsellor-at-Law, and Dream Girl.

Street Scene opened in 1929 and ran for 601 performances. Technically challenging and extraordinary, the story uses over 70 characters to create this microcosm of a vital city and desperate lives. Rice took over the direction when others were daunted by the task.

"Never did the phantasmagoria of street episodes seem so lacking in sketchy types and so packed with fully delineated character."
- Brooks Atkinson
The New York Times theatre critic

Independent producer Samuel Goldwyn purchased the rights for the film and Rice adapted his play for the screen. King Vidor (The Big Parade) directed with vigor and empathy. George Barnes (Rebecca) and Gregg Toland (The Best Years of Our Lives) were the cinematographers with art direction by Canadian born Richard Day (Dodsworth).

Beulah Bondi as Emma Jones

Nine members of the original Broadway cast appear in the 1931 film with Street Scene being the screen debut of Beulah Bondi (It's a Wonderful Life), John Qualen (The Grapes of Wrath), and Matt McHugh (The Devil's Brother).

David Landau and Estelle Taylor as Frank and Anna Mourant

Citizens of an apartment house in New York are suffering through a heat wave which only exacerbates their daily worries and drama. Estelle Taylor is heartbreaking as Anna Mourant. Her relationship with the milk company representative, Mr. Sankey played by Russell Hopton, is fodder for the gossip and entertainment of her neighbours. Perhaps if her husband Frank played by David Landau were kinder things would be different. Her daughter Rose, played by Sylvia Sidney, worries her father will learn of his wife's straying affection. Younger brother Willie played by Lambert Rogers is getting into fights with boys who say mean things about his mother.

Sylvia Sidney and William Collier Jr. as Rose and Sam

The biggest gossip in the house is Emma Jones played by Beulah Bondi. She's a querulous and complaining old thing who is morally superior and has all the answers. Her son Vince is a bully and a favourite target is Sam Kaplan played by William Collier Jr. Sam and Rose are shy sweethearts with no real hope of a future. Sam, his education, and future law career is the hope of his sister, schoolteacher Shirley played by Ann Kostant. Their father Abe played by Max Montor bores the neighbourhood with his radical political theories.

We are privy to the personal lives and concerns of the music teacher and his barren wife, the janitor and his troubles, the young expectant couple, and the abandoned family about to be evicted. Sudden and terrible violence comes among them, changing many lives forever. Quiet comes to the apartment house, but never peace. The heat and the worry persists.

Uncredited, Alfred Newman's Street Scene is a moving score for this movie and has become the perpetual musical theme for New York City as we would come to see it on the big screen. It is filled with a familiar and primal noirish longing.

TCM is airing Street Scene at 6:00 am on Tuesday, May 22nd. You do not want to miss this excellent Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Elmer Rice and its beautiful interpretation on the screen by King Vidor.


  1. I'm a Sylvia Sydney fan and am looking forward to watching this one for the first time.

    1. Sometimes it feels like the Depression came about just to give Sylvia Sidney a hard time with this, Dead End, You and Me, etc. I know you will be impressed with Sylvia and the movie.

  2. Great choice! I watched this on a whim several years ago -- that is, I had never heard of it and went into it without knowing anything beyond what was in the TCM blurb -- and ended up really enjoying it.

    1. The unexpected discoveries are the best. They are more special somehow for being unknown to us. I feel the same way about Rembrandt. I knew it was (probably) about Rembrandt, but I had no idea a movie biography existed. It was a delightful surprise.



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