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Film_Fatale

"A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN" (1945)

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One of the classic movies that has long been a source of frustration for film buffs due to its unavailability on DVD is surely Elia Kazan's *A Tree Grows in Brooklyn*. The movie is finally getting a TCM premiere.

 

_*A Tree Grows in Brooklyn*_ (1945)

A girl in the slums tries to find her way with the help of her devoted mother and alcoholic father.

Cast: Dorothy McGuire, Joan Blondell, James Dunn, Lloyd Nolan Dir: Elia Kazan BW-129 mins, TV-G

 

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The TCM article is here:

 

http://www.tcm.com/thismonth/article/?cid=218012

 

*A Tree Grows in Brooklyn*

 

Based on the book by Betty Smith, *A Tree Grows in Brooklyn* (1945) tells the story of a turn-of-the-century family living in Brooklyn's Williamsburg neighborhood, battling poverty alongside the charismatic patriarch's alcoholism and impracticality. In this, Elia Kazan's first picture, his career-long ability to rend powerful performances from his cast is already in full bloom.

 

James Dunn won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar? in this film, in a portrayal that was not far from his off-screen personality. Dunn had co-starred with Shirley Temple in her first three features, *Baby Take a Bow* (1934), *Stand Up and Cheer!* (1934), and *Bright Eyes* (1934), but with the decline of the musical for Twentieth Century-Fox, he was sent to the B-movie roster, where he gained a reputation for heavy drinking. When he was proposed for the role of Johnny Nolan, Fox executives said no, concerned about the actor's alleged alcoholism. But Darryl Zanuck was persuaded that Dunn was the right person for the role of the Irish singing waiter, and against all advice, he approved the casting. Kazan explains Dunn's rare ability for the part in The Master Director Discusses His Films by Jeff Young:

 

"He was terrific. I did a smart thing or a good thing with Dunn, something I learned from [Louis] Lighton. In the theater if you needed a guy to play a drunk, you got an actor who probably had some experience with drink, but more importantly someone who you knew was good at playing those kinds of scenes?.Jimmy had been run out of movies for drinking. He was largely unemployable and felt ill at ease at the studio. But he was an awfully sweet, nice man, a hell of a guy. When I met him I said, this is it, this is Johnny Nolan, himself. He's full of watery-eyed Irish affection. He's ebullient. He feels guilty. He slinks."

 

Peggy Ann Garner, who was, according to the New York Times, "Miss Smith's Francie Nolan to the life", earned a special Oscar? as Best Child Actress for a remarkably realistic performance. Kazan's practice was to connect personally with his actors and get to know them well before the shooting began, so that he could "edge them towards the part so that the part becomes them." In her real life, according to Kazan's remembrance in the Young biography, Garner was constantly anxious about her father with whom she enjoyed a close relationship but who was serving in the air force at the time; Kazan encouraged her to use her emotional vulnerability for the part. Kazan also worked to create a personal bond between Garner and Dunn, whose amazing chemistry is the cornerstone of the film's emotional punch:

 

"I treated him [James Dunn] and Peggy the same way. I also threw them together a lot. I would tell Jimmy about her father being away and how much she missed him. I got him concerned about her. And I would tell her she was important to Jimmy and got her to love Jimmy. I have often tried to create something behind the scenes, that was close to what has to be in the scenes."

 

Betty Smith's book was a bestseller on its own and the rights became a studio bidding war before it was even published. According to The Hollywood Reporter news items at the time, Twentieth Century-Fox paid $55,000 for it and planned to star Alice Faye as Katie Nolan. Jeanne Crain was also considered for the role and Fred MacMurray for Johnny Nolan. Dorothy McGuire, who did win the part of Katie Nolan, had only one film in release when she was cast - *Claudia* (1943).

 

Bringing all the humanity of the book to the screen proved to be a problem for Hollywood's self-regulating Censorship board. The Production Code Administration (PCA) originally refused to approve the screenplay due to "the bigamous characterization of Sissy". They finally consented, as long as the film firmly established that all her earlier husbands had died or divorced her.

 

Smith's cousin, Sadie Grandner, filed libel suits against the book and the film, alleging that Smith had based the character of Aunt Sissy on her and that her reputation had suffered as a result. The studio, fearing the suits, reportedly toned down the character's representation, and Grandner settled for $1,500.

 

Joan Blondell (Aunt Sissy), who was going through a divorce from Dick Powell during production, is full of affection for Kazan in Matthew Kennedy's biography The Interrupted Family, but spares no kindness for the PCA, which cut a scene where Sissy, who works in a **** factory, tries to explain to the children what one is when they accidentally find it:

 

"They cut the best scene in the picture, the best scene I ever played and the best piece of acting I have ever done?.in the most beautiful writing the author, Betty Smith, did, Sissy tries to explain to the children what the rubber is; not by talking about the actual thing, but about love and life itself. It was very simply done, and all of us players hugged each other spontaneously at the end of the scene. It was marvelous and the Legion of Decency made us take it out. Wasn't that stupid?"

 

Fox provided Kazan with a generous production budget for *A Tree Grows in Brooklyn*, and the film's sets were elaborate and costly. A full stage was devoted to a four-story replica of the Nolan's tenement building and the cameras were mounted so they could move the full height of the building to capture action on all floors during the staircase scenes.

 

When he arrived in Hollywood for the production, Kazan was accompanied by Nicholas Ray ( *Rebel Without a Cause*, 1955), with whom he had done stage work. Ray's participation in the film is alternately described as Kazan's assistant or the dialogue director. One source claims that he assisted Alfred E. Newman with the film's musical score.

 

For Kazan's first feature film, *A Tree Grows in Brooklyn* was an impressive beginning. It performed well at the box office and received widespread critical acclaim, appearing on a number of lists as one of the top 10 films of the year. In addition to the cast accolades the film earned, the screenplay, penned by husband and wife team Tess Slesinger and Frank Davis, was also nominated for an Oscar?. For its powerful cultural merit, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was one of the first films chosen for preservation by the Library of Congress Film Registry.

 

Producer: Louis D. Lighton

Director: Elia Kazan

Screenplay: Frank Davis, Tess Slesinger; Betty Smith (novel); Anita Loos (uncredited)

Cinematography: Leon Shamroy

Art Direction: Lyle Wheeler

Music: Alfred Newman

Film Editing: Dorothy Spencer

Cast: Dorothy McGuire (Katie Nolan), Joan Blondell (Sissy Edwards), James Dunn (Johnny Nolan aka The Brooklyn Thrush), Lloyd Nolan (Officer McShane), James Gleason (McGarrity), Ted Donaldson (Neeley Nolan), Peggy Ann Garner (Francie Nolan), Ruth Nelson (Miss McDonough), John Alexander (Steve Edwards), B.S. Pully (Christmas Tree Vendor).

BW-128m.

 

by Emily Soares

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I have too many favorites to ever make up a top ten list, but if I did, *A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN* would certainly be in the top two or three. I think it's as close to a "perfect" film as you could get. It just amazes me that it was Elia Kazan's first film. I also think that Peggy Ann Garner gave one of the best performances by a child I've seen.

 

Fox was suppose to release it on DVD three or four years ago, but pulled it just days before the release date. It's suppose to come out this year, but I'm not holding my breath. It has been available on region 2 DVDs from Europe for some time.

 

This is the one to set your VHS and DVD recorders for. You won't be sorry.

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> {quote:title=markfp2 wrote:}{quote}

> This is the one to set your VHS and DVD recorders for. You won't be sorry.

 

I quite agree. I've also heard all the rumours of a US DVD release and even seen photos of what the cover art was supposed to look like. But nothing yet. Hope they'll have a nice print. B-)

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I love this movie - it doesn't pull any punches, life is tough for the kids as well as for the little tree outside their window....

 

And Dorothy McGuire is outstanding as the mother who works herself to the bone, and becomes too hard in the process......

 

Joan Blondell, James Dunn, Peggy Ann Garner - each has their time to shine in this amazing memory movie..... There was nothing like it at the time, and there has never been another like it since....

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Thank you for your memories of the movie. I have not watched the movie or watched it so long ago I barely remember. Hopefully we'll all have a nice discussion after the Sunday showing. B-)

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This film is one of those rare instances where everything came together perfectly. The best cast, best director, best story and best cinematography. Truly a film for the ages.

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I love this film. As a New Yorker whose family has been here for several generations, I particularly love films about "Old New York," and this is one of the best. One thing confuses me, though -- maybe the answer is in the book, or maybe someone can tell me:

 

The wonderful actress who plays Grandma -- Ferike Boros (splendid in *The Light That Failed*) -- has an Eastern European accent. Does that mean that one of the parents is not Irish? I'm sure there must be an explanation. In any case, the casting is super, down to the great B.S. Pully as the man who sells Christmas trees.

 

If they do a DVD, maybe they could find some of that extra Joan Blondell footage. And they could do an interview with Ted Donaldson.

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FF...This movie is a favorite of mine. For one reason, I read the book, and when I found out

there was going to be a movie, I was very excited.

 

The movie lived up to my every expectation. The actors were perfect, especially James Dunn.

His performance was so poignant.

 

Maybe I will go back and read the book again.

 

Thanks for this post. It brought back a nice memory. Bg

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> {quote:title=Bargar wrote:}{quote}

> FF...This movie is a favorite of mine. For one reason, I read the book, and when I found out

> there was going to be a movie, I was very excited.

>

> The movie lived up to my every expectation. The actors were perfect, especially James Dunn.

> His performance was so poignant.

>

> Maybe I will go back and read the book again.

>

> Thanks for this post. It brought back a nice memory. Bg

 

Glad to hear that, Bargar! Let us know if you re-read the book. I'd love to know more about what the things that were changed when it was adapted to the screen.

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I will put that on my l...o...n...g list of "to read" and hopefully get back to you. Bg

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I'm not sure if this is the version I saw (or if there's even more than one) but I watched "A" version (Black and white...) and I just loved it! Wonderful movie. I've been dying to see it again... But darn it, no TCM...

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Audrey....It is the only movie version and thank goodness for that! There was a stage

musical and a short-lived tv. series. So sorry you don't have TCM. :(

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Thank you Sandy. I've been wondering about that for years. By the way, the daughter of a friend of mine is about to have a baby, and they've been looking at lists of names. It seems one of the most popular baby names at present is Brooklyn! As someone who grew up in the Bronx, I resent that. Also find it hard to believe.

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You're quite welcome. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is one of my favorite books, although it's been several years since I last read it. The movie version is an excellent adaptation, even though some things had to be left out.

 

I think that soccer star David Beckham and his wife Victoria named one of their boys Brooklyn, so it's a trendy name now. It sounds more like a girl's name to me (Brooke and Lynn), but who am I to care what other people name their kids? :0

 

Sandy K

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I read the book "A Tree Grows In Brooklyn" years ago when I was quite young. I was undone, by the reference in the book where the mother paints a face on her breast, in order to break one of her children of breast feeding. It was traumatic at the time, now not sure why? I did enjoy the movie immensely. I agree that Peggy Ann Gardener did a splendid acting job.

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For anyone who missed the TCM showing of this wonderful film, if you have FMC they will be broadcasting it on Tues, March 10th at 7:30 AM EST.

 

I strongly urge anyone who has never seen the film before to watch it. You won't be disappointed.

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> {quote:title=Jenetico wrote:}{quote}

> I read the book "A Tree Grows In Brooklyn" years ago when I was quite young. I was undone, by the reference in the book where the mother paints a face on her breast, in order to break one of her children of breast feeding. It was traumatic at the time, now not sure why? I did enjoy the movie immensely. I agree that Peggy Ann Gardener did a splendid acting job.

 

 

I'ver read the book twice and watched the movie more times than I can count. Love both!

 

My grandmother painted her breast trying to wean my uncle. It was a common practice way back when. She painted the face with mustard, but, without going into detail, my uncle just worked his way around it and continued to nurse. lol :-)

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> {quote:title=Gregory1965 wrote:}{quote}

> For anyone who missed the TCM showing of this wonderful film, if you have FMC they will be broadcasting it on Tues, March 10th at 7:30 AM EST.

>

> I strongly urge anyone who has never seen the film before to watch it. You won't be disappointed.

 

Thanks for the reminder, Gregory. It's not very often that FMC will show a movie so shortly after they leased it to TCM, but it's great for those who missed it on TCM.

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Growing up in an NY Irish neighborhood (in the BX) we all loved this film too. Years later my late wife used to always suggest renting it as she had not seen it. I always resisted, telling her it was too sad. Finally I gave in and agreed that we should rent the VHS...I was right!!! She cried her eyes out. You see, her father was a dreamer who died an alcohol related death as well...he also used to sing tenor style. He was the same kind of character; never had an ill word for anyone and was full of love and affection for his studious daughter. A TREE GROWS is a wonderful movie but hit her a little "too close to home."

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That's a great story, Brian!

 

And for anyone else who's interested, Fox Movie Channel will be showing the movie again today (Saturday, March 28th) at 8am ET.

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This is a movie I really enjoyed watching when it showed on TCM.

 

And for those who still haven't had a chance to watch it, FMC will be airing it two more times this month: April 9th at 9:30am, and April 10th at 2:45pm.

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I was in the first stage revival of the musical version of this film, many, many years ago. It's a wonderful musical. While the musical's book was also written by the novel's author, Betty Smith, she made some major changes to it. For example, Francie doesn't even come into the musical, until Act 2. Fox considered making a film version of the musical, with Frank Sinatra (as Johnny) and Marilyn Monroe (as Aunt Sissy), but Marilyn died, and the film was shelved.

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