Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Crowd (1928)

Director: King Vidor                                     Writers: King Vidor & John V.A. Weaver
Film Score: Carl Davis (1981)                       Cinematography: Henry Sharp
Starring: Eleanor Boardman, James Murray, Bert Roach and Estelle Clark

King Vidor’s The Crowd is a powerful look at everyday life in the twenties, but unlike the German People on Sunday or the Russian Man With a Movie Camera, the emphasis is not on realism, but on Hollywood’s fictional view of American life. As a child, James Murray’s character was told by his father that he would grow up to be an important man. But life doesn’t always work that way, and in one of the great early shots in the film, the camera pans up a huge office building, then pushes inside the window to row upon row of identical office workers at identical desks, with nothing but numbers on their desks to identify them. Our first view of the adult James Murray is at his desk, impatiently watching the clock for the workday to end.

Later, he goes out on a double date with a fellow worker, falls madly in love with the beautiful Eleanor Boardman, and the two get married. After that there is a great, extended scene on their honeymoon, followed by the mind-numbing routine of married life, including going out for gin and hosting the in-laws. Throughout the film Murray continues to tell himself, and Boardman, that his big success is right around the corner, but life just keeps slipping by. Like a lot of dramas of the day, Vidor manages to inject a healthy dose of humor into the proceedings to take the hard edge off the morality tale. And there is a lot of drama, some of it incredibly heart-wrenching at times.

“The crowd” is Vidor’s symbol for the world, the anonymous mass of people that we live amongst. Like a river, or the ocean, it seems to move of it’s own volition and we either go with it or attempt to swim against it, but it is ever present and a powerful force that has no compassion for us. Seen from our perspective today, the film seems to end without a resolution, but the point of the film isn’t the plot, it’s the philosophy behind the story. The most direct modern reference comes from John Lennon’s line, “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.” It’s a strong film, but firmly grounded in its time, complete with social mores and attitudes toward women. When viewed as a message film, The Crowd has a lot to say and does it extremely well.

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