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The Crowd was the film that director King Vidor made following his highly acclaimed and financially successful The Big Parade. In his autobiography, Vidor stated that he and Harry Behn wrote the original story for The Crowd and that he searched a long time to find the right, unknown actor to bring credibility and an "Everyman" quality to the role of "John Sims." Vidor claimed that James Murray, the actor he finally selected had been working as an extra, but Murray had already appeared in featured roles. Eleanor Boardman, then married to Vidor, was cast as "Mary Sims."
Contemporary sources state that Vidor used a concealed camera to shoot several of the New York street sequences. M-G-M, fearful of the public's reaction to the film's grim theme, is reported to have held up its release for a year, while trying out various endings. According to Vidor's autobiography, seven different endings were shot and tried out at previews in small towns. Finally, the film was released with two endings; the one in the released [and viewed] film, Vidor's preference, and another a more upbeat ending with the family gathered around a Christmas tree after John has secured a position with an advertising firm as a result of his slogan writing. Exhibitors could choose which ending to run, but Vidor stated that the Christmas ending was very seldom used.
The Crowd was generally well received by the major critics, the New York Times describing it as "substantial and worthy," and although Variety called it "a drab actionless story of ungodly length and apparently telling nothing," the film was reasonably popular and grossed twice its cost.
Murray subsequently appeared in other films and Vidor wanted to star him in Our Daily Bread (1934), but Murray had become an alcoholic. He died in July 1936 in what appeared to be a drowning accident in New York's East River. The Crowd was restored in 1981 by Kevin Brownlow and David Gill, with a new score by Carl Davis.