🎥 A Tree Grows In Brooklyn – 1945
The Story …
The film depicts several months in the life of the Nolans, an Irish American family living in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn in 1912.
The film covers a much shorter timespan than the book, which ranges from before Francie is born until after she turns 16. The film focuses on the time when Francie is around 13 years old.
Katie Nolan is a hard-working housewife who scrubs the floors of her tenement building and collects rags for sale to a scrap fabric dealer in order to provide for her family. She’s married to Johnny Nolan, a happy-go-lucky, charming man who means well, but dreams his way through life, rather than find steady employment.
He is also an alcoholic. On the rare occasions he finds work as a singing waiter, everything he earns usually ends up in his drinking, much to Katie’s despair. The couple have two children: 13-year-old Francie, who idolizes her father; and 12-year-old Neeley. Tense and frustrated, Katie is often sharper with the children than she means to be, while Johnny is gentle, generous, and indulgent, especially with Francie.
Katie’s sister, Sissy, is a sassy, free-spirited woman who has recently married for the third time. Katie learns this from gossipy insurance agent Mr. Barker when he comes by to collect the Nolans’ weekly premium. Scandalized and embarrassed, Katie cuts off her relationship with Sissy, which makes the children, who love their unconventional aunt, unhappy.
Francie is also worried that the building’s landlord has cut too many branches off the tree in the tenement’s courtyard, which Francie and her father call the Tree of Heaven, and that it may die. But when she points this out to Johnny, he explains the cutting back is necessary and the tree will grow again.
In the meantime, a police officer new to the neighborhood, Officer McShane, encounters Sissy and the children one afternoon. When he meets Katie, he is enchanted. A few days later, however, he learns Johnny (drunk after an argument with his wife) is Katie’s husband, and is devastated to realize Katie is married.
The children’s grandmother Rommely often tells them about her immigration to the United States, and how important education is in life. While Neeley isn’t interested in books and school, Francie is a bright child who is always reading, thinking about what she reads and observes, and eager to learn.
One Sunday, Francie persuades her father to go for a walk and shows him a nicer school in a nearby neighborhood which she’d like to attend. She helps her father write a letter to the principal requesting a transfer, and is accepted.
Meanwhile, Katie moves the family into a smaller, cheaper apartment on the top floor, angering her husband who thinks she is being stingy. In fact, Katie is pregnant and worried how they will support another child. Sissy also becomes pregnant, and she and Katie reconcile shortly before Christmas.
The families celebrate a happy, poignant Christmas together, with the children bringing home a discarded tree, and later that night, Katie tells Johnny she is pregnant. She suggests that Francie drop out of school to work. Since Johnny understands how much being in school means to his daughter, he feels desperate to find a job. Despite the fact that it’s snowing hard, Johnny goes out determined to find work but fails to return.
A week later, Officer McShane comes to the apartment to deliver the bad news that Johnny died of pneumonia while looking for work. Francie blames her mother for her father’s death, but the births of Sissy’s and Katie’s babies help ease tensions in the household. To provide financial help, a sympathetic tavern owner, Mr. McGarrity, gives Francie and Neeley after-school jobs.
During Katie’s labor, at home because they cannot afford the hospital birth Sissy had, Francie is her mother’s greatest help and comfort. Katie asks Francie to read some of her creative writing essays, and confides how much she misses Johnny. The shared experience brings mother and daughter closer. When the baby is born, a little girl, Katie names her Annie Laurie, after the song Johnny once sang to them.
The following June, both children graduate from their respective schools on the same day. Katie attends Neeley’s graduation, while Sissy goes to Francie’s. Using money Johnny gave her for safekeeping back in December, Sissy gives Francie a bouquet of flowers from her father, along with a congratulatory card that Johnny wrote himself.
Francie, who has bottled up her grief for many months, finally breaks down.
After the graduation ceremonies, the family reunites at the ice cream shop to celebrate. While there, some boys who know Neeley come by their table. One teenager in particular is very interested in Francie, and asks her to a movie the next day, her first date.
When the Nolans return home, they find Officer McShane babysitting Annie Laurie together with Sissy’s husband and his baby. McShane has been waiting to propose to Katie, who accepts.
McShane also asks to adopt Annie Laurie and give her his last name. Francie and Neeley think Annie Laurie’s life with McShane as a father will be much easier, but not nearly as much fun.
The film ends as Francie sees the courtyard tree begin to grow again, just as her father said it would …
- Directed by Elia Kazan
- Screenplay by Tess Slesinger and Frank Davis
- Based on A Tree Grows in Brooklyn 1943 novel by Betty Smith
- Produced by Louis D. Lighton
- Cinematography : Leon Shamroy
- Edited by Dorothy Spencer
- Music by Alfred Newman
- Distributed by 20th Century Fox
- Release Date : February 28, 1945
- Dorothy McGuire as Katie Nolan
- Joan Blondell as Aunt Sissy
- James Dunn as Johnny Nolan
- Lloyd Nolan as Officer McShane
- James Gleason as McGarrity
- Ted Donaldson as Neeley Nolan
- Peggy Ann Garner as Francie Nolan
- Ruth Nelson as Miss McDonough
- John Alexander as Steve Edwards
- B.S. Pully as Christmas tree vendor
- Ferike Boros as Grandma Rommely
- Charles Halton as Mr. Barker, insurance agent
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