A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Elia Kazan / U.S., 1945):

"For childhood," the immigrantís soft-pedaled remembrance. New York City in the onset of the century is a vast cramped tenement, the scrawny tree persisting through cement is the feminine metaphor, the blossoming heroine (Peggy Ann Garner) embodies its offhand graveness. On her knees scrubbing staircases, her mother (Dorothy McGuire) is petrified by concern and frugality; staggering home full of beer and anxious Irish cheer, her father (James Dunn) is "what you might call an artist." Add the watchful little brother (Ted Donaldson) and the banished aunt (Joan Blondell), and the frayed family album is complete. (And the influence on Pather Panchali is evident.) The tear in the rug and the dime in the tin can, The Anatomy of Melancholy at the library and "Annie Laurie" on the piano, death and new beginnings on unpaved streets and gaslit interiors. "Tell the truth and write the lies" is a teacherís advice for storytellers, so it goes for Elia Kazan, out of Broadway and onto the plush Fox lot. (The rooftop sanctuary of On the Waterfront is already in sight, only itís a rear-projection of hazy skies.) The vision of urban grime is downright creamy, the score is a continuous calliope cascade, the camera leans on fastidious sets, and yet the avid novice cineaste keeps searching for dashes of emotional veracity. When Dunnís broken-down Papa bids a final farewell to his daughter and slips into the night, the calm horror of a dreamer alone with failure suffuses the screen. And when McGuire and Garner reach tacit expiation in the midst of a contorted childbirth sequence, Kazan discovers the bridge between his penchant for expressionistic physicality and the protagonistís pliant consciousness. Meet Me in St. Louis and I Remember Mama are its well-bred sisters; To Kill a Mockingbird and Fanny and Alexander might be its offspring, though the atmosphere of gentility is tellingly not picked up again until The Last Tycoon. Cinematography by Leon Shamroy. With Lloyd Nolan, James Gleason, Ruth Nelson, and John Alexander. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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