The sentimental films of the war and post war period can be a mixed bag. I sometimes love the propaganda strewn pieces from MRS MINIVER or HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY. Both best picture winners, both cries for an imagined past. Then of course you have GOING MY WAY or WELCOME STRANGER, they ooze nostalgia for the American dream. This is often unbalanced and can occasionally shift into trit, dullness. Then along comes A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN. Winner of two academy awards and nominated for 3 more, its a correctionist piece to the propaganda piees of the time. A TREE GROWS rejects the nostalgia of the time and instead stands up to the fate of those trapped in its generational spread (both of the setting in 1903 and the young men and women at war.) Based on an international best seller written by Betty Smith, it documents her own real life experience. She grew up in Brooklyn, in the vast tenements. This story was so popular that it was given to soilders to take with them into battlefields and bunkers of the war years.
Katie Nolan (Dorothy McGuire) lives in a Brooklyn tenement, with er husband and two children. She is hard-working, fair and sometimes can be very strick. From scrubbing the floors of her tenement building, to collecting rags for sale, to finding money to pay for insurance that will help her family if anything ever happens, all of this in order to provide for her family. She’s married to Johnny Nolan (James Dunn), a charming man t one who likes the drink and works only as a waiter. On the rare occasions he finds work, he gets good food and drink but he also makes alot of money in tips. This money however disappears into the local pub and his friends guts. Katie is so depressed by the situation that she wants to find a way out. Her sister seems to have a life better than hers after much despair. Her only saving grace is her 13-year-old Francie (Peggy Ann Garner), who idolizes her father; and 12-year-old Neeley (Ted Donaldson). They are her hopes and her dreams.
A TREE GROWS deserves plaudites certainly. Playing off the standard feel good drama template, but then defining the family as disfunctional but in many ways universal. The cast seem to adapt the scene and the shape of events without being overly directed. Which really brings the key to the success of the piece. Director Elia Kazan allows the work to breathe, giving the actors a feel for the family dynamics. I love how it marries studio film making, with the beginning of method film making. Craning shots inside a sprawling building one scenes, are counter balanced with street scenes covered in detritus. The characters navigate the space without losing focus or drawing away from their performances. Feature-length commentary by Richard Schickel with Elia Kazan, Ted Donaldson, and Normal Lloyd, really cover all of this. They give Kazan’s history, his feel for the piece and how he was studioed into it.
BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURES
- 1080p transfer of the film on Blu-ray from a 2K restoration completed from a 4K scan of the original film elements
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
- Feature-length commentary by Richard Schickel with Elia Kazan, Ted Donaldson, and Normal Lloyd
- The Making of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
- An Appreciation of Dorothy McGuire
- A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Hollywood Star Time: Original radio broadcast version of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn from 1946, starring Peggy Ann Garner, James Dunn and Joseph Kearns
- PLUS: a collector s booklet featuring new essays by Kat Ellinger, Phil Hoad, and Philip Kemp, alongside rare archival imagery