The Crowd


1h 35m 1928
The Crowd

Brief Synopsis

In this silent film, an office worker deals with the simple joys and tragedies of married life.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Silent
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Mar 3, 1928
Premiere Information
New York premiere: 18 Feb 1928
Production Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
Distribution Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Distributing Corp.
Country
United States
Location
New York City, New York, United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 35m
Sound
Silent
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.33 : 1
Film Length
8,538-8,548ft (9 reels)

Synopsis

John Sims has believed since childhood that he would become somebody important. However, John's father, who had hoped to provide his son with many opportunities for success, died young, changing John's fortunes and forcing him into the working crowd. By age twenty-one, John is an anonymous clerk in the gigantic Atlas Insurance Co. in New York. Bert, one of his co-workers, arranges a blind date for John with Mary, a friend of Bert's girlfriend. After spending a pleasant evening at the Coney Island amusement park with Mary, John asks her to marry him. She agrees and they honeymoon at Niagara Falls. Although John has promised Mary an opulent home "when his ship comes in," they move into a very modest apartment adjacent to the El tracks. On Christmas Eve, Mary's deaf mother and her two prosperous brothers Jim and Dick, who are antagonistic towards John, visit them for dinner. When John goes to Bert's to pick up some liquor, he finds a party in progress and returns home drunk, long after his guests have left. Mary forgives him, but by April they are squabbling about problems with the apartment and about her appearance. However, all that is forgotten when Mary tells John that she is expecting a baby. In October, when a baby boy is born, John tells Mary that this is the impetus he has needed to make him try harder and promises to become "somebody." Five years pass and a baby girl is added to the family. In the interim, John has received only a modest increase in pay and it is clear that he has not distinguished himself from the others in the "crowd". Mary tells him that she does not believe that his "ship" is ever going to arrive. John, who has a hobby of devising advertising slogans, enters a contest and wins five hundred dollars. When John returns home laden with presents for Mary and the children, who are playing across the street, he and Mary call them to come to see their new toys. As the children head home, the little girl is hit by a truck and subsequently dies. John and Mary are grief-stricken and although Mary recovers from the loss, John does not. Unable to concentrate on his job, he breaks down and quits on the eve of the company's boat ride and picnic without telling Mary. At the company picnic, Mary asks Bert, who is now in a managerial position, to help John advance in the organization. John is then forced to admit that he has quit his job. Mary comforts him by telling him that there are many better jobs, but John encounters only disenchantment and rejection in looking for employment, forcing Mary to take on work as a dressmaker. After John dismisses a job offer from Mary's brothers as charity, Mary calls him a bluffer and a quitter and slaps him. Later, after considering suicide, John's spirits are raised by his little son and he lands a steady job as a juggling, sandwich-board man promoting a restaurant, a job he had scoffed at on his first date with Mary. When he returns home, he finds Mary leaving to live with her brothers. Believing that his luck has turned, John has brought her a small bouquet and tickets for a vaudeville theater that evening and is able to convince her not to leave him. John, Mary and their son attend the show and are delighted to see that John's advertising slogan is featured in the theater's printed program. Finally feeling at one with the "crowd," John and Mary laugh heartily at a comic acrobat act and look forward to a brighter future.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Silent
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Mar 3, 1928
Premiere Information
New York premiere: 18 Feb 1928
Production Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
Distribution Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Distributing Corp.
Country
United States
Location
New York City, New York, United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 35m
Sound
Silent
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.33 : 1
Film Length
8,538-8,548ft (9 reels)

Award Nominations

Best Director

1929
King Vidor

Best Picture

1929

Articles

The Crowd


Just a few years before King Vidor thought up the concept for his 1928 silent classic The Crowd, he was at Universal pictures working diligently as a company clerk by day and secretly writing comedies at night to submit to the studio under the pseudonym Charles K. Wallis. Because Universal employees weren't allowed to submit original work to the studio, Vidor was fired from his clerk position when he revealed the true identity of the mysterious Charles K. Wallis. After his termination, Universal quickly hired Vidor as a comedy writer, but that job was short-lived. A few days after Vidor took the comedy writing position, Universal stopped making comedies. Vidor would eventually break into directing starting with a series of short dramatic films that highlighted the work of Salt Lake City Judge Willis Brown, and later a Christian Science film called The Turn in the Road (1919) which was financed by nine doctors. Vidor fine-tuned his craft over the next few years directing films at his own studio, Vidor Village. Unfortunately, his studio wasn't as financially successful as he had planned and was closed down in 1922, just two years after it opened. Vidor then went to work for the newly formed Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studio where he developed a close working relationship with studio mogul Irving Thalberg. It was at MGM where his status would go from small-time contract director to renowned screen artist. Vidor enjoyed his first major success with The Big Parade, an epic drama about a doughboy's life-changing experiences in the First World War which grossed more than $18 million in 1926.

Two years after The Big Parade, Vidor directed novice actor James Murray in The Crowd, a realistic film about an ordinary man trying his best to survive the defeats and setbacks he encounters while trying to make a life for himself and his wife in the bustling metropolis of New York. Vidor wanted an actor who was the perfect embodiment of a working class citizen and Murray was the real deal; a guy who had worked his way cross country to California as a dishwasher, coal-shoveler, and boxcar rider. The director first spotted Murray, who was working as an extra at MGM, near the studio casting office and arranged a meeting with him. But Murray didn't think Vidor was really a director and didn't show up for the interview. Vidor hunted him down anyway with the studio's help and eventually convinced the actor that he could play the part. In his biography, A Tree is a Tree, Vidor recalled that "when I showed the test to Irving Thalberg, we both agreed that James Murray, Hollywood extra, was one of the best natural actors we had ever had the good luck to encounter."

The making of The Crowd presented Vidor with some major technical challenges. For the famous scene where the camera travels up the side of a skyscraper, through a window and into a sprawling office space with rows of workers, Vidor started his sequence at the entrance to the Equitable Life Insurance Building in New York City during lunchtime. In his autobiography, he added, "the camera started its upward swing and when the screen was filled with nothing but windows, we managed an imperceptible dissolve to a scale model in the studio. This miniature was placed flat on the floor with the camera rolling horizontally over it...As the camera moved close to the window another smooth dissolve was made to the interior scene of the immense office. The desks occupied a complete, bare stage and the illusion was accomplished by using the stage walls and floor, without constructing a special set. To move the camera down to Murray, an overhead wire trolley was rigged with a moving camera platform slung beneath it. The counterbalanced camera crane or boom had not yet been designed and built, but the results we achieved were identical with those of today."

In his quest for authenticity, Vidor insisted on real locations whenever possible, stating, "For scenes of the sidewalks of New York, we designed a pushcart perambulator carrying what appeared to be inoffensive packing boxes. Inside the hollowed-out boxes there was room for one small-sized cameraman and one silent camera. We pushed this contraption from the Bowery to Times Square and no one ever detected our subterfuge."

Upon completion, The Crowd proved to be so uncompromising and unsentimental in its approach that MGM mogul Irving Thalberg held up its release for a year. Although it was eventually released to international critical acclaim, The Crowd hit too close to home to be a success with mainstream audiences who wanted to escape their everyday problems at the movies. As for James Murray, his career went into a quick decline due to chronic alcoholism and he became a skid row bum. Vidor encountered him panhandling on Hollywood Boulevard several years later and offered him work in his upcoming film, Our Daily Bread (1934), but the actor refused his help, snarling "Just because I stop you on the street and try to borrow a buck, you think you can tell me what to do. As far as I am concerned, you know what you can do with your lousy part." In 1936, Murray's body was found in the Hudson River and it's never been verified whether he was a suicide or an accidental drowning. Vidor was so haunted by his death that he tried to raise money for a film called The Actor in 1979, which was based on Murray's tragic life but the project never materialized.

Director: King Vidor
Producer: Irving Thalberg
Screenplay: King Vidor, John V. A. Weaver
Cinematography: Henry Sharp
Editing: Hugh Wynn
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, A. Arnold Gillespie
Cast: Eleanor Boardman (Mary), James Murray (John), Bert Roach (Bert), Estelle Clark (Jane), Daniel G. Tomlinson (Jim), Dell Henderson (Dick), Lucy Beaumont (Mother).
BW-94m.

by Rod Hollimon
The Crowd

The Crowd

Just a few years before King Vidor thought up the concept for his 1928 silent classic The Crowd, he was at Universal pictures working diligently as a company clerk by day and secretly writing comedies at night to submit to the studio under the pseudonym Charles K. Wallis. Because Universal employees weren't allowed to submit original work to the studio, Vidor was fired from his clerk position when he revealed the true identity of the mysterious Charles K. Wallis. After his termination, Universal quickly hired Vidor as a comedy writer, but that job was short-lived. A few days after Vidor took the comedy writing position, Universal stopped making comedies. Vidor would eventually break into directing starting with a series of short dramatic films that highlighted the work of Salt Lake City Judge Willis Brown, and later a Christian Science film called The Turn in the Road (1919) which was financed by nine doctors. Vidor fine-tuned his craft over the next few years directing films at his own studio, Vidor Village. Unfortunately, his studio wasn't as financially successful as he had planned and was closed down in 1922, just two years after it opened. Vidor then went to work for the newly formed Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studio where he developed a close working relationship with studio mogul Irving Thalberg. It was at MGM where his status would go from small-time contract director to renowned screen artist. Vidor enjoyed his first major success with The Big Parade, an epic drama about a doughboy's life-changing experiences in the First World War which grossed more than $18 million in 1926. Two years after The Big Parade, Vidor directed novice actor James Murray in The Crowd, a realistic film about an ordinary man trying his best to survive the defeats and setbacks he encounters while trying to make a life for himself and his wife in the bustling metropolis of New York. Vidor wanted an actor who was the perfect embodiment of a working class citizen and Murray was the real deal; a guy who had worked his way cross country to California as a dishwasher, coal-shoveler, and boxcar rider. The director first spotted Murray, who was working as an extra at MGM, near the studio casting office and arranged a meeting with him. But Murray didn't think Vidor was really a director and didn't show up for the interview. Vidor hunted him down anyway with the studio's help and eventually convinced the actor that he could play the part. In his biography, A Tree is a Tree, Vidor recalled that "when I showed the test to Irving Thalberg, we both agreed that James Murray, Hollywood extra, was one of the best natural actors we had ever had the good luck to encounter." The making of The Crowd presented Vidor with some major technical challenges. For the famous scene where the camera travels up the side of a skyscraper, through a window and into a sprawling office space with rows of workers, Vidor started his sequence at the entrance to the Equitable Life Insurance Building in New York City during lunchtime. In his autobiography, he added, "the camera started its upward swing and when the screen was filled with nothing but windows, we managed an imperceptible dissolve to a scale model in the studio. This miniature was placed flat on the floor with the camera rolling horizontally over it...As the camera moved close to the window another smooth dissolve was made to the interior scene of the immense office. The desks occupied a complete, bare stage and the illusion was accomplished by using the stage walls and floor, without constructing a special set. To move the camera down to Murray, an overhead wire trolley was rigged with a moving camera platform slung beneath it. The counterbalanced camera crane or boom had not yet been designed and built, but the results we achieved were identical with those of today." In his quest for authenticity, Vidor insisted on real locations whenever possible, stating, "For scenes of the sidewalks of New York, we designed a pushcart perambulator carrying what appeared to be inoffensive packing boxes. Inside the hollowed-out boxes there was room for one small-sized cameraman and one silent camera. We pushed this contraption from the Bowery to Times Square and no one ever detected our subterfuge." Upon completion, The Crowd proved to be so uncompromising and unsentimental in its approach that MGM mogul Irving Thalberg held up its release for a year. Although it was eventually released to international critical acclaim, The Crowd hit too close to home to be a success with mainstream audiences who wanted to escape their everyday problems at the movies. As for James Murray, his career went into a quick decline due to chronic alcoholism and he became a skid row bum. Vidor encountered him panhandling on Hollywood Boulevard several years later and offered him work in his upcoming film, Our Daily Bread (1934), but the actor refused his help, snarling "Just because I stop you on the street and try to borrow a buck, you think you can tell me what to do. As far as I am concerned, you know what you can do with your lousy part." In 1936, Murray's body was found in the Hudson River and it's never been verified whether he was a suicide or an accidental drowning. Vidor was so haunted by his death that he tried to raise money for a film called The Actor in 1979, which was based on Murray's tragic life but the project never materialized. Director: King Vidor Producer: Irving Thalberg Screenplay: King Vidor, John V. A. Weaver Cinematography: Henry Sharp Editing: Hugh Wynn Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, A. Arnold Gillespie Cast: Eleanor Boardman (Mary), James Murray (John), Bert Roach (Bert), Estelle Clark (Jane), Daniel G. Tomlinson (Jim), Dell Henderson (Dick), Lucy Beaumont (Mother). BW-94m. by Rod Hollimon

Quotes

The crowd laughs with you always...but it will cry with you for only a day.
- Title Card

Trivia

The first American film to show a toilet.

King Vidor filmed many scenes in New York City streets using real crowds instead of extras, real buses and trains, and even real traffic cops. In one scene, a police officer is looking toward the camera, admonishing someone to "move along". In fact, he was actually addressing Vidor and his disguised film crew. Vidor cleverly incorporated it into the scene.

King Vidor shot nine different endings before settling on the one used in the finished film, because MGM did not like to release films without a positive ending.

Notes

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.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1928

Released in United States March 1976

Released in USA on video.

Selected in 1989 for inclusion in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.

reels 9

Released in United States March 1976 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Special Programs - The Americas: A National Portrait) March 18-31, 1976.)

Released in United States 1928