A Tree Grows In Brooklyn

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn

****

Reviewed by: Darren Amner

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn is a quintessential Forties "cinematic movie masterpiece", as sentimental as it is endearing. Based on the acclaimed best-selling novel by Betty Smith, it is a thought provoking study of a poor Brooklyn family.

The Nolans try to enjoy life, despite the pressures of poverty and their father's alcoholism. Peggy Ann Garner plays Francie, one of the biggest roles ever written for a child at the time. Initially, the studio felt that due to ther dramatic demands, Francie should be played by a mature actress, capable of looking 13, but director Elia Kazan insisted on testing a child. His instincts paid off.

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The story revolves around Francie. All that happens is seen through her eyes. Peggy Ann shows great depth and range as an actress, especially during the sad and touching moments. Kazan, a theatre director from New York, finally tempted to Hollywood with this project, uses understated, subtle storytelling techniques to create a heart-warming film, with excellent performances from the cast.

James Dunn won an Academy Award for his portrayal of Johnny Nolan, a likeable but irresponsible parent. As Francie's father, he shows her the value and beauty of imagination. He is a dreamer, a singing waiter; they have a close tight bond. He touches many people, a proud man who cares for his family deeply, wanting a better life for them, pushing Francie to make something of herself by enrolling her in a school uptown. He feels he owes it to his daughter to help her pursue ambitions to become a writer.

Johnny has the gift of laughter and love. Walking down the street with him makes Francie feel like a princess and Dunn is wonderfully charismatic, stealing every scene he is.

Dorothy Maguire plays Katie, the mother of the family, who is determined her children will amount to something and fights desperate odds to bring them up right. Her stern, thoughtful performance plays wonderfully against Dunn's carefree, throwaway style.

I must also mention Ted Donaldson, who plays Francie's kid brother. As "the boy who is always hungry," he delivers hilarious one-liners during even the most dramatic scenes, displaying great comic timing.

The tree is symbolic of Francie. It grows out of the sidewalk, without sun or encouragement, and its struggle to live makes it strong. Much like this movie.

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn can still find an audience and its popularity continues to grow and grow even though its themes are a little dated now - yet still relevant.

Reviewed on: 25 May 2005
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A Tree Grows In Brooklyn packshot
Growing up poor in Brooklyn, with an irresponsible father and the dream of becoming a writer.
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Director: Elia Kazan

Writer: Frank Davis, Tess Slesiner, Anita Loos, based on the novel by Betty Smith

Starring: Dorothy Maguire, James Dunn, Peggy Ann Garner, Joan Blondell, Lloyd Nolan, James Gleason, Ted Donaldson, Ruth Nelson, John Alexander

Year: 1945

Runtime: 128 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: US

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