A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN (1945) B/W 128m dir: Elia Kazan
w/Dorothy McGuire, Joan Blondell, James Dunn, Lloyd Nolan, Peggy Ann Garner, Ted Donaldson, James Gleason, Ruth Nelson, John Alexander, B.S. Pully
From The Movie Guide: "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. ...
"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."
From Variety's review of the film: "The earthy quality of Brooklyn tenement squalor, about which Betty Smith wrote so eloquently in the bestseller novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, has been given a literal translation to the screen by 20th-Fox to become an experiment in audience restraint. This is the story of the poverty-ridden Nolan family.
"Tree recalls an absorbing period of a colorful tribe, of a Brooklyn neighborhood that was tough in its growing up, where kids fought, where on Saturday nights fathers and husbands loped uncertainly from the corner quenchery.
"Some of this might have acquired the tinge of travesty in hands less skilled than Smith --- or director Elia Kazan --- but never does the serio-comic intrude on a false note; never does this story become maudlin.
"To Dorothy McGuire went the prize part of Katie Nolan. It is a role that she makes distinctive by underplaying. James Dunn plays excellently. Peggy Ann Garner is the teenaged Francie, and the young actress performs capitally.
"Where Tree is frequently slow, it is offset by the story's significance and pointed up notably by the direction of Elia Kazan."
Dunn won a Supporting Actor Oscar for his work. The film was also nominated for Best Screenplay.