Monday, March 2, 2009

The Crowd (King Vidor) ****

Director: King Vidor

Cast: Eleanor Boardman, James Murray, Bert Roach, Estelle Clark

Background: King Vidor was a veteran director with significant financial success in the silent era. He sought to use that leverage to help him sell this unusual idea to the studio. He wanted to make a wholly original film, and cast unknown actors (including his wife) to help maintain the authenticity of his story.

The Story: A man (James Murray) and a woman (Eleanor Boardman) meet, fall in love, get married and face the consequences and cruel struggles of adulthood.

Thoughts: This is the kind of movie I hoped to discover when I started this project. I love every single second of this picture. The movie is deceptively simple, just showing how a couple develops over the years, through dating, married life, and parenting. It shows how they try to cope with financial problems, career goals, and tragedy. It manages to cover all of this without ever seeming shmaltzy or overly melodramatic. For an actress who didn't end up having much of a career, Eleanor Boardman gave a splendid performance in this film, reminding me very much of Janet Gaynor in the previous year's Sunrise. The film advances through many years, but not too quickly. It captures all the important events in the character's lives and you'll feel every moment of it. By the end, you'll feel like you've known this family as well as your own. The Crowd reminded me a bit of Harold Lloyd's wonderful Speedy. Both films have a memorable sequence set in Coney Island and present an interesting view of a young couple trying to cope with the problems in adult life. And oh, what an amazing final shot.

Postcript: The Crowd was not a financial success, but developed strong critical praise over the years. It was one of the first films added to the National Film Registry. Vidor had a very long and influential career including Duel in the Sun and War and Peace.

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