A Tree Grows In Brooklyn

1945, Movie, NR, 128 mins

Review

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Elia Kazan's first directorial assignment in films proved to be one of the most endearing, honest family dramas of the era and is still timeless enough to be watched and savored decades later. Set in the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn in the first years of the 20th century, this film memorably captures the local ambiance, and the struggle of the urban poor, as it focuses on the drama of one Irish family. Matriarch McGuire worries about every penny because her husband, amiable loser Dunn, can't ever seem to earn enough to support her and their children (Donaldson and Garner). Protagonist Garner wants to write and dreams of a better life elsewhere. In the tenement there is a small tree that heroically withstands the harsh winter and the humid summer; for Garner, it becomes a symbol of survival, particularly when death strikes the family.

This episodic, charmingly sentimental movie is a trifle lengthy but never tedious. McGuire had only made one movie before, the charming CLAUDIA, and was only about 13 years older than Garner and 13 years younger than Dunn at the time of shooting. Kazan did not fall into the trap to which so many first-time directors are prey, i.e., impressing the eye with cinematic tricks. Instead, he wisely concentrated on evoking memorable performances from all concerned, and none was more rewarding than that of Dunn, who had starred in many B movies for years before getting the opportunity to show his stuff here. Dunn, for many years, had been a notorious heavy drinker, and when he was first proposed for the role of the Irish singing waiter, Fox executives said no, that he was unreliable and a drunk. But studio boss Zanuck was persuaded that that was exactly what Dunn would be playing and, against all advice, cast the easygoing tippler in the role. leave a comment

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A Tree Grows In Brooklyn
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