Saturday, 23 February 2013

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945)

In 1945, Elia Kazan's cinematic debut was publicly released. The film was an adaptation on a novel titled "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn". The novel's success was predicted therefor there was a massive pre-publication bidding. Darryl F. Zanuck eventually won the bidding with $55,000. That was a mighty large price to pay for the right to a film in the 1940s.

From that point, who knows why, but Zanuck selected Kazan to direct the film. Having only made one documentary short in the past, Kazan was a newcomer. There is much speculation of how exactly Kazan got to be the director. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that Kazan and the author of "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn", Betty Smith, both attended the same university.

When Kazan left New York to arrive at pre-production for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, he left New York with Nicholas Ray. Ray went on to become a successful film director with such films under his belt as Rebel Without a Cause and In a Lonely Place. He became a Hollywood gossip sensation when he came home to find his wife (at the time), Gloria Grahame in bed with his thirteen year-old son. Perhaps Ray's career all started with A Tree Grows in Brooklyn since he had a small role, he was un-credited as an assistant director, he assisted Alfred Newman with the score, and he was credited as dialogue assistant. Ray's directorial debut was in 1948, when he made They Live By Night.

Since the novel was so successful, there was a massive battle for the lead roles in the film. Alice Faye was considered for the role of Katie Nolan, but Kazan did not approve of her and selected Gene Tierney instead.  However, Tierney was impregnated and the role was bestowed down to Dorothy McGuire.

Kazan demonstrated quality direction that few filmmaker would be strong enough to do in their first film. 20th Century Fox was very satisfied with Kazan's progress and they immediately envisioned A Tree Grows in Brooklyn as a major success. It was the opinion of every 40s and 50s production company that a film could only be successful if there was in Technicolor. No matter how many film would prove that point to be wrong  they still went on believing it. Therefore, it is no surprise that Fox wanted to re-shoot A Tree Grows in Brooklyn in Technicolor. It is a marvel that Elia Kazan had enough authority to decline and convince Fox that it was a poor idea. Kazan didn't go on to make a film in colour until 1955's East of Eden.

How does A Tree Grows in Brooklyn stand now? It currently has a 7.9 on IMDb and a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.

In the early 1900s in Brooklyn, the Nolans family endure many hardships. They are a large family with many children and one mother who does all the work. The family's father is an alcoholic. As the film progresses we begin to learn each of the characters and their issues. Katie (the mother) struggles to support her family. Sissy (the aunt) struggles with her own love life and how she constantly falls in love again and gets married. Johnny (the father) is trying desperately to pull his act together and become a responsible father so his children and wife will accept him. Francie (the daughter) wants her family to become wealthy so she can have a proper education.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is the story of a family that must come together to unite in true happiness.

As time passes, the definition of quality acting evolves. Yet to this day, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is not dated in it's acting. Each cast member demonstrates that they deserve to be in this film.

Dorthoy McGuire proves to be a unique and versatile actress. There is a great deal of a difference in her acting in this film than in The Spiral Staircase. She brought a beloved literary character to life. She was have felt a lot of pressure from fan's of the novel, but she exerted herself perfectly. Although her portrayal had flaws she managed to combine sympathy with realism and created an overall powerful performance as a powerful character.

Peggy Ann Garner's career never truly progressed past A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I generally hate child actors, but Garner is an exception. She is fairly likable and intelligent. I can't quite put my finger on it, but I wanted for matters to go well for Francie because of Peggy Ann Garner's excellent performance.

A definitive weaker part of the acting was because of James Dunn as Johnny Nolan. His character was supposed to be dismal and melancholic. Instead he was fairly cheerful and charming. He seemed to be acting to please the audience instead of the critics. However, there is one fabulous scene when he is playing the piano and singing when he breaks through his charm. Sadly, after that scene he returns to just being charming.

Elia Kazan demonstrates a strong eye for social interaction. He does not spend his time focusing on great shots, but on how to depict a character. Every line spoken from every character seems as if Kazan spent a long time tinkering with it to make it sound natural. Kazan makes a marvelous blend of sympathy for the characters he wrote. It seems as if he loves these characters, so you should to. Although I would not take a bullet for these characters like most people who watch A Tree Grows in Brooklyn would, I can give them my empathy.

As I watch the tree slowly grow, I do find myself glancing at my watch. This is one example of how the naive actions of a film production company can indeed provide assistance towards the quality of their films. Elia Kazan spent too long building tragedies in his character's lives so he could give them opportunities to cry. Every character has an unnecessary amount of character development to the point where it is no longer realistic. Once the film dwells in it's loss of realism, it plummets to a slightly lower level. In writing these melodramatic chronicles in the lives of the Nolans, Elia Kazan certainly was pleasing the audience members who would certainly shed a tear. Kazan followed the formula for a successful film, but missed the formula for a great film a little.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,
Directed by Elia Kazan
Starring: Dorthoy McGuire, Peggy An Garner and James Dunn
7.5/10 (B+)

1. Baby Doll
2. Panic in the Streets
3. Splendor in the Grass
4. East of Eden
5. The Last Tycoon
6. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
7. Viva Zapata!
8. Boomerang!
9. Pinky
10. Wild River
11. America, America
12. The Sea of Grass
13. Man on a Tightrope
14. The Arrangement

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