Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn (1945): A Cast Member Remembers

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn  (1945) is on tonight on TCM at 8pm ET. In the past, I've written about this film several times on this blog, particularly when assessing the gifted Dorothy McGuire, but the intensity of the film's impact came back to me as I read the words below.

The following is a verbatim transcription of an interview I read with Ted Donaldson who played Neeley in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945) based on Betty Smith's novel. This passage was found in Growing Up on the Set: Interviews With 39 Former Child Actors of Classic Film and Television by Tom Goldrup, Jim Goldrup, which was published by McFarland in  2002. Ted Donaldson recalled the events surrounding the filming this way when he and his cast mates began working with first-time film director Elia Kazan:

"Kazan sat us around a huge oaken table that you could imagine the Vikings having a banquet on. He sat at the head of the table and talked about the script, and for three days he established the relationships of the Nolan family. We read the script. We read it again and worked on the different scenes, and on the fourth day of we started shooting. And it was not only the relationships, but the place. The atmosphere, the furniture. Early in the film Peggy Ann Garner and I come into the kitchen. We had come upstairs with pails of water, and Dorothy McGuire is at the sink washing dishes. Years later I was stunned by it when I watched it on television, I thought, 'By God, I know that sink, we know what that floor feels like, we lived there. This is our place.' That's something you sense more in a stage performance because it is alive.

"I think A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was one of the greatest pieces of ensemble acting in the history of American film. Peggy Ann Garner's performance as Francie Nolan was one of the tow or three greatest child performances ever given. I have always liked Dorothy McGuire, but I think her Katie Nolan was the best thing she ever did on film. Joan Blondell was always terrific, but this film gave her a chance to show a much more vulnerable side, and she really rose to the occasion. She really makes me cry in this film. James Dunn won the Oscar for best supporting actor. It was a beautiful performance. It was the role of his life. The scene in which he sings 'Annie Laurie,' Francie and Neeley are very affected by their father singing that, and so is Katie because she hears heim, comes in from another room, stands at the doorway and recalls older times, times of more promise. There is a big closeup of Johnny singing that breaks your heart. It was the first time that I have ever heard this song. I've got to say that the expression you see on Peggy Ann's face and mine--we kept within the confines of the scene and the characters but that was Peggy and me reacting to James Dunn singing 'Annie Laurie.' We were supposed to be terribly moved by it. And we were. But we were affected as Peggy and as Ted. I'd never quite had that experience before.

"Yes, we were good. Damn right we were good. But that was Kazan. And that's why he produced a film--apart from Leon Shamroy's gorgeous black-and-white photography--where from the first frame on you are back in 1912. You are absolutely there all the way through and it never falters, not for a second. That is why it is a very beautiful and satisfying film."


An earlier post on Dorothy McGuire's career can be seen here:

Dorothy McGuire's Quiet Power

Shannon Clute To Visit the Silver Screen Oasis

Searching for another fix of film noir?

Great news!  Film noir author and TCM brand manager, Shannon Clute, will be visiting The Silver Screen Oasis crowd from Friday, Sept. 28th through Sunday, Sept. 30th. The thread devoted to a Q & A with Shannon Clute can be found here:

Welcome to Shannon Clute, Our Guest Star for September

Shannon is the co-author of The Maltese Touch of Evil: Film Noir and Potential Criticism (Dartmouth College Press, 2011) and the co-creator of three popular podcast series: Out of the Past: Investigating Film Noir, a film history and analysis program; Behind the Black Mask: Mystery Writers Revealed, an author interview show; and Yaddocast, the official podcast of the prestigious artists' retreat Yaddo—all with Richard Edwards.
You can visit their website by clicking on the link below--

Here is an interview about Clute & Edwards' investigations into film noir:

Out of the Past was recently selected by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation for national radio transmission as part of their Top of The Pods series, and Yaddocast received mention in O, The Oprah Magazine.

Shannon Clute

A former professor who holds a PhD from Cornell University, Clute has been invited to speak on film noir at such institutions as the George Eastman House and WXXI public radio. He is also a scholar and writer of hard-boiled fiction, and his first novel was one of ten semi-finalists in the inaugural Court TV "Search for the Next Great Crime Writer" contest. He works as a brand manager for Turner Classic Movies in Atlanta.

As part of his job at TCM, he oversees the publication of the yearly TCM Film Festival program among other duties.
More can be seen on this book here.

Please join us at The Silver Screen Oasis with your questions for Shannon Clute starting this Friday, Sept. 28th-Sunday, Sept. 30th., won't you?

(The above engraving is "Night Shadows" etched by Edward Hopper in 1921. You can read more about this art work here).


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