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A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN(director: Elia Kazan; screenwriters: Tess Slesinger/Frank Davis/adapted from the novel by Betty Smith; cinematographer: Leon Shamroy; editor: Dorothy Spencer; music: Alfred Newman; cast: Dorothy McGuire (Katie), Joan Blondell (Aunt Sissy), James Dunn (Johnny Nolan), Lloyd Nolan (Officer McShane), Peggy Ann Garner (Francie Nolan), Ted Donaldson (Neeley Nolan), James Gleason (McGarrity), Ruth Nelson (Miss McDonough), John Alexander (Steve Edwards), Art Smith (Ice Man), Ferike Boros (Grandma Rommely); Runtime: 128; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Louis D. Lighton; Twentieth Century-Fox; 1945)
It’s a grim tearjerker told with great love and tenderness.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

For his directorial debut Elia Kazan (“A Face in the Crowd”/America, America”/”Pinky”) helms what he considers to be a “sentimental fairytale,” as stated in his autobiography. But fortunately it’s better than that. It’s based on the best-seller by Betty Smith. The episodic film tells the true story of an impoverished struggling Irish family in the colorful Williamsburg area of Brooklyn in the early 1900s. It’s a grim tearjerker told with great love and tenderness, that never gets overwhelmed by its sentimentality and seems cinematic despite the director’s previous background in theater.

The patriarch Johnny Nolan (James Dunn) is a cheerful and likable ne’er-do-well singing waiter, who is an irresponsible drunk. He has a problem supporting his saintly wife Katie (Dorothy McGuire), who frets about every penny because she always needs more for the basics, and the children–the younger unambitious streetboy, who is always hungry, Neeley (Ted Donaldson) and the proud older girl Francie (Peggy Ann Garner). Mom is the stable stern one who runs the household, is seen scrubbing the floors and keeps things going despite their lack of funds and hubby’s empty dreams.

The film centers around the ambitious 13-year-old Francie, who yearns to escape from this cycle of poverty to be a writer. Around for comic relief is the promiscuous, brassy Aunt Sissy (Joan Blondell), who is cast as the good-hearted gal who the family remains loyal to and consider her their “problem.” Lloyd Nolan is the kindly widower beat policeman who takes a shine to Katie after her Johnny dies and James Gleason is the generous pub owner, as both give fine performances in supporting roles.

James Dunn won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, playing the role of an alcoholic which was not different from his real life.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”