STREET SCENE(director/writer: King Vidor; screenwriters: from the play by Elmer Rice/; cinematographer: George Barnes; editor: Hugh Bennett; music: Alfred Newman; cast: Sylvia Sidney (Rose Maurrant), William Collier, Jr. (Sam Kaplan), Estelle Taylor (Mrs. Anna Maurrant), Max Montor (Abe Kaplan), Anna Konstant (Shirley Kaplan), David Landau (Frank Maurrant), Louis Natheaux (Harry Easter), Russell Hopton (Steve Sankey), Beulah Bondi (Emma Jones), Greta Granstedt (Mae Jones), T.H. Manning (George Jones), Matt McHugh (Vincent Jones), Adele Watson (Olga Olsen), John Qualen (Karl Olsen), George Humbert (Filippo Fiorentino), Eleanor Wesselhoeft (Greta Fiorentino), Nora Cecil (Alice Simpson, welfare worker), Lambert Rogers (Willie Maurrant) ; Runtime: 80; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Samuel Goldwyn; Samuel Goldwyn; 1931)
“Too stage-struck and mired in generalities to be a moving experience.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Elmer Rice adapted his own Broadway Pulitzer Prize-winning play Street Scene for the screen; it’s aided by Alfred Newman’s pertinent classical score. It’s more important for historical value as an early talkie than standing on its own as a relevant drama; that is, if judged by today’s standards of cinema. Veteran filmmaker King Vidor (“Big Parade”/”The Crowd”) helms the social-issue melodrama by getting to the melting pot nature of a slum neighborhood (consisting of Norwegians, Italians, Germans, Jews, and Irish), keying in on the aspirations and desperation of the various immigrant tenants living crowded together in guarded harmony though of vastly different backgrounds and personalities. It unfortunately does not stand the test of time, and is outdated. What’s even worse is how stilted are both the acting and the story; the film is comprised of a series of contrived sketches. The entire story takes place on the street in front of an old New York City brownstone, between one especially hot summer evening and the next afternoon. It highlights the dysfunctional Maurrant family: consisting of gruff, heavy drinking, foreign and intellectual hating Frank (David Landau) and his unfaithful but pleasant wife Ann (Estelle Taylor), their office working long-suffering sweet daughter Rose (Sylvia Sidney) and their rambunctious young son Willie.
On a sweltering late afternoon, children are playing in front of the building and some of the women tenants are trying to cool off in the street and spend the entire day idly chatting and gossiping as people come in an out of the building. The film never shows the inside of even one apartment. Every character quickly gets labeled, and never moves past that label. Mrs. Emma Jones (Beulah Bondi) is the embittered gossiper and the catty unofficial neighborhood bigot, whose taxi driver son Vincent is a bully, her daughter Mae is of a dangerous dating age, and her husband George is someone who never had a single thought in his life but is ironically held up as an example of a reliable family man. The secular Jewish Kaplan family consists of the elderly windbag socialist father Abe, turning everything he utters into a classic Marxist battle between the classes; while his old maid schoolteacher daughter Shirley accepts her unhappy lot in life but strives to make sure her love-struck oversensitive brother Sam (William Collier, Jr.) finishes law school and escapes the slum with a good career. Shirley thinks Rose is a nice girl, but that the uneducated shikseh is not good enough for her studious brother and tries to break up their tentative romance. Rose wishes to escape the city and yearns to live in someplace more peaceful, like Queens. Her married boss, Mr. Easter, is doing all he can to seduce her, even offering to set Rose up with her own apartment and help her get a job on the stage. But Rose hasn’t fallen for anyone and has no great career ambitions, though she appreciates the friendship she has with Sam: she’s still waiting to fall in love with Mr. Right.
Everything remains uneventful, until the next morning when stagehand Frank pretends to be leaving for a few days work in Connecticut but suddenly returns and catches his wife in a compromising position with milk company bill-collector Mr. Sankey, and in a drunken state opens fire killing both.
The urban film concludes with the message that you never know what’s going to happen to you next, so you better try and live a good life and bring a little kindness into the world. It can’t hurt. Through the domestic tragedy, the film points out that we all could use as much love as possible and shouldn’t have to get it by cheating around but by having a loving relationship with the significant other. The message was OK, but the film was too stage-struck and mired in generalities to be a moving experience.
Many from the play are in the film including David Landau, Max Montor, Matt McHugh, John Qualen, George Humbert, Tom H. Manning, and Anna Konstant.
REVIEWED ON 1/12/2005 GRADE: C+-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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