Tonight’s Saturday Night Cinema classic is a sweet, endearing film, ‘A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.” Directed by the incomparable Elia Kazan, this adaptation of the classic novel tells the story of young Francie Nolan (Peggy Ann Garner) who yearns for life beyond her Brooklyn apartment building. While her daily routine is difficult, she makes the best of her situation, living with her hard-working mother (Dorothy McGuire), alcoholic father.
It harkens back to a different America – moral and ethical. There was a dignity even among the very poor.
Rarely has the dream factory lavished such skill on such destitution and such insistence that people are not really that changeable in nature.
New York Times 1945 film review :
THE SCREEN IN REVIEW; At the Paramount At the Fifty-fifth Street ‘A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,’
By BOSLEY CROWTHER
Published: March 1, 1945
The warm and compassionate story of a slum-pent family in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg which was told with such rich and genuine feeling in “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” by Betty Smith, has received pictorial embodiment to a remarkably harmonious degree by Twentieth Century-Fox in a fine film based on the novel which came to the Roxy yesterday. If some of the ripe descriptive detail of the original is missing, that is due to the time limitations of the picture. The essential substance has been maintained and presented in a manner which carries tremendous emotional punch.
For the producers have very bravely shunned the more felicitous course of making their film a humorous abstract of neighborhood folklore and folkways and have got to the core of the story which Miss Smith plainly tore from her own heart. That is the rare and tender story of a valiant and sensitive little girl reaching hopefully for spiritual fulfillment in a wretchedly meager home. It is the story of the wondrous love she gathered from a father who was a cheerful ne’er-do-well and of the painful peace she made with her brave mother after the adored father had died.
Where Miss Smith impinged her printed pages on a vast complex of human love and hope rooted wistfully in tenement surroundings, the camera has envisioned on the screen the outward and visible evidence of this inward and spiritual grace. Through a truly surpassing little actress, Peggy Ann Garner, on whom the camera mostly stays, the producers have ably provided a sensitive mirror for the reflection of childish moods and for all the personal comprehension of the pathos of poverty.
Little Miss Garner, with her plain face and lank hair, is Miss Smith’s Francie Nolan to the life. And James Dunn plays her father, Johnny Nolan, with deep and sympathetic tenderness. In the radiant performance by these two actors of a dreamy adoration between father and child is achieved a pictorial demonstration of emotion that is sublimely eloquent. Perhaps the sequence representing the ambition of Francie to go to a better public school and the innocent conspiracy with her father to arrange it is the best in the film. Certainly the moment when Francie whispers joyously into her father’s ear, “My cup runneth over,” touched this reviewer as very few scenes ever have.
But, as well as the pathetic attachment between father and daughter, the film transmits a deeply affecting conception of the mother, Katie Nolan, whose life was a constant struggle against the family’s only adversary, poverty. As Dorothy McGuire plays her, she gains strength and clarity through the film until a beautiful and rewarding understanding of her troubled, noble nature is revealed.
Joan Blondell’s performance of Aunt Sissy, the family’s “problem,” is obviously hedged by the script’s abbreviations and the usual “Hay’s-office” restraints, but a sketchy conception of a warm character is plumply expanded by her. And Ted Donaldson is boyishly delightful as the healthy, literal tad of the brood. Lloyd Nolan is good as the policeman, James Gleason makes a vivid pub owner and Ferike Boros is fine as the grandmother in a generally excellent cast.
Elia Kazan has directed this picture, his first, with an easy naturalness that has brought out all the tone of real experience in a vastly affecting film.
A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN, screen play by Tess Slesinger and Frank Davis; adapted from the novel by Betty Smith; directed by Elia Kazan; produced by Louis D. Lighton for Twentieth Century-Fox. At the Roxy.
Katie . . . . . Dorothy McGuire
Aunt Sissy . . . . . Joan Blondell
Johnny Nolan . . . . . James Dunn
McShane . . . . . Lloyd Nolan
Francie Nolan . . . . . Peggy Ann Garner
Neeley Nolan . . . . . Ted Donaldson
McGarrity . . . . . James Gleason
Miss McDonough . . . . . Ruth Nelson
Steve Edwards . . . . . John Alexander
Christmas Tree Vendor . . . . . B. S. Pully
Grandma Rommely . . . . . Ferike Boros
Carney . . . . . J. Farrell MacDonald
Mrs. Waters . . . . . Adeline DeWalt Reynolds
Mr. Barker . . . . . Charles Halton
Ice Man . . . . . Art Smith