Cast & Crew
William Collier Jr.
On a hot evening in a New York tenement, neighbors gossip about each other as they return home. The main object of comment is the sadly romantic Anna Maurrant, who is having an affair with married milk collector Steve Sankey. Anna's brutish husband Frank is often away, and while he is supicious, he has no proof of the affair. Frank comes home and yells at Anna for not knowing where their children Willie and Rose are, while social worker Alice Simpson reprimands poverty-stricken Laura Hildebrand, who is about to be evicted, for taking her children, Mary and Charlie, to the movies. Kindly Filippo Fiorentino, who longs to have children with his wife Greta, gives the Hildebrands money for the show, and socialist Abe Kaplan argues with Frank about the negative effects of capitalism. Abe's son Sam tells the building's most active gossiper, Emma Jones, to mind her own business when she passes along a juicy tidbit about Anna to Greta, and later, Rose comes home. She is accompanied by her married office manager, Mr. Easter, who wishes to set her up in an apartment. Although Rose desperately wishes to escape her dirty, mean-spirited surroundings, she refuses to become Easter's mistress. After Easter leaves, Rose talks with Sam, whom she regards as a best friend even though he is in love with her. She encourages Sam to believe in himself and nourish his individuality.
The next morning, Sam's sister Shirley, a schoolteacher who has sacrificed everything so that her brother might succeed in life, asks him why he wants to get involved with Rose, as she is not Jewish. Sam tells Shirley to forget her race prejudices, after which Frank yells at Anna as he leaves for work. The Hildebrands are evicted, and Shirley asks Rose not to encourage Sam's romantic ideas about her, because Shirley wants him to go to law school. Rose assures her that she does not want to be married yet, and she leaves with Easter for the funeral of their employer. Sam sees Sankey arrive to visit Anna, then watches in horror as Frank comes home unexpectedly. Sam yells a warning to Anna, but it is too late, for Frank has caught the lovers together. Frank shoots his wife and Sankey, then rushes away.
Rose arrives home as Anna is taken away in an ambulance. While the neighborhood thrives on the scandal, Rose returns from the hospital, where she saw her mother die. Easter offers to help her, but Rose states that she will be able to care for herself and Willie. After Rose has packed her clothes, the police capture Frank, who tells Rose that he meant to be a better father. Sam wants to go away with Rose, but she tells him that they are too young to be married, and that it is important for him to fulfill his goals first. Rose hugs Sam and Shirley, tells them that she will see them again, and then leaves to begin a new life away from the tenement.
William Collier Jr.
T. H. Manning
John M. Qualen
Marcia Mae Jones
Samuel S. Bonnell
The luck came with the casting. Goldwyn had hired eight actors from the original stage cast -- including Beulah Bondi and John Qualen, who would go on to notable careers as character actors -- but his associates suggested he throw in some prettier people to draw the crowds. Initially Goldwyn had sought Paramount Pictures' top leading lady, Nancy Carroll, to play the young Irish girl whose dreams are shattered when her mother's affair becomes known. The deal was all but signed when Paramount's managing director B.P. Schulberg informed Goldwyn that Carroll was no longer available. It wasn't that he had other plans for her, but he had other plans for a newcomer who had quickly become his protégée -- and his mistress.
Young Sylvia Sidney was new to the screen. She'd started on stage, made a few minor films, then returned to New York disgusted with Hollywood. She scored a hit on Broadway in Bad Girl, in which Schulberg spotted her. At his wife's urging, he signed her to a contract. Her first Paramount film, the crime drama City Streets (1931), was a huge hit that set her on the road to stardom as one of the decade's most appealing social victims. In the end, she turned out to be perfect casting for Street Scene.
Where Goldwyn's good judgment paid off was in his choice of talent behind the cameras. Chief among them was director King Vidor, whom Goldwyn hired for his expertise at handling social issues in such films as The Big Parade (1925), The Crowd (1928) and Hallelujah (1929). Vidor had been one of the first directors to move the camera after the arrival of talking pictures, which was also excellent preparation for adapting the one-set play. The obvious temptation with Street Scene would have been to open the play up with scenes in the apartments and other parts of the city, but Vidor realized that the play's single setting outside the apartment building was one of its greatest strengths. The closest he came to opening up the film was when he pulled the camera back further to add the street itself to the scene, something that had been lacking in the Broadway production. But to keep the film from being static, he worked with cameraman George Barnes to find innovative ways to move and place the camera. As a result, he never used the same setup twice.
To integrate the actors who were new to the material with those who had done the show on Broadway, Vidor rehearsed the script for two weeks, with Rice on hand to offer his insights. At the end of those two weeks, they performed the entire script for Goldwyn and invited guests to visit Richard Day's impressive tenement set. Afraid that Goldwyn would think this was going to be just another filmed play, Vidor whispered to him throughout the run-through to explain what he would do with the camera at certain points, but Goldwyn was so enthralled that he kept shushing him.
The only quarrel Vidor had with Goldwyn was over the soundtrack. Street Scene had been one of the first Broadway plays to include a score of sound effects, specifically street sounds played throughout the performance. Vidor had wanted to do the same thing with the film, but Goldwyn argued that talking films were still enough of a novelty that the audience would think the street noises had been recorded by accident. Instead, he hired Broadway conductor and composer Alfred Newman to create a background score, one of the first in film history. Newman attended rehearsals to scout out likely places for musical accompaniment, then composed a score that would become the definitive musical depiction of life in New York City. As Newman became one of Hollywood's most prolific composers, his Street Scene theme would reappear in a dozen films, even serving as the overture for How to Marry a Millionaire (1953).
Street Scene opened at New York's Rivoli Theatre on August 26, 1931, heralded by the most massive publicity campaign Goldwyn had ever engineered. Sidney was so nervous that night she couldn't speak, but she was called to the stage for several bows after the film. The picture firmly established her as a major leading lady, while bringing Goldwyn the best reviews of his career.
Producer: Samuel Goldwyn
Director: King Vidor
Screenplay: Elmer Rice, based on his play
Cinematography: George Barnes
Art Direction: Richard Day
Music: Alfred Newman
Cast: Sylvia Sidney (Rose Maurrant), William Collier, Jr. (Sam Kaplan), Max Montor (Abe Kaplan), David Landau (Frank Maurrant), Estelle Taylor (Anna Maurrant), Russell Hopton (Steve Sankey), Beulah Bondi (Emma Jones), Matthew McHugh (Vincent Jones), John Qualen (Karl Olsen). BW-79m.
by Frank Miller
The play opened in New York City, New York, USA, on 10 January 1929 and had 601 performances. Eight performers in the movie originated their roles in the play: T.H. Manning, Beulah Bondi, Conway Washburne, John Qualen, Matt McHugh, Ann Kostant, Eleanor Wesselhoeft and George Humbert. The play won the Pulitzer Prize in 1929 for best drama.
Louis Natheaux is listed in studio records for the role of "Easter", but he was replaced by Walter Miller.
Elmer Rice's play won a Pulitzer Prize for the 1928-1929 season, and according to a New York Times article, was purchased by producer Samuel Goldwyn for $157,000. The actors reprising their roles from the Broadway production were: Beulah Bondi, Matt McHugh, Eleanor Wesselhoeft, T. H. Manning, Conway Washburne, John M. Qualen, Anna Konstant and George Humbert. Bondi made her screen-acting debut in this film. According to a Film Daily news item, Nancy Carroll was originally set for the part of "Rose Maurrant."
According to the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, Rice's play was considered controversial because of the characterization of social worker "Alice Simpson." Rice received many complaints from social agencies, including the Welfare Council of New York City. In a October 2, 1929 letter, a New York based Hays Office official warned Jason S. Joy, the Director of the Studio Relations Office of the AMPP, about the controversy and suggested that he keep it in mind in case the play was turned into a film. On March 23, 1931, the Welfare Council wrote to the MPPDA, requesting that they advise the production company working on the film about the protests over the social worker character. The letter warned: "...if the film presents the social worker in the light in which she appeared on the New York stage the film will undoubtedly meet with vigorous protests throughout the country." In response, Joy cautioned Goldwyn: "...we suggest that, unless some radical change be made in the characterization of Miss Simpson, it be definitely indicated that she is an agent for the party who is dispossessing the unfortunate family." Rice was very displeased with this and other changes suggested by Joy, and wrote a memo to Goldwyn's production executive Arthur Hornblow, Jr. suggesting various mock alterations. Among them, he proposed: "The charity worker can be changed to a Soviet agent, who is dispossessing the Hildebrands in order to precipitate a social revolution in America and make Clarence Darrow president. As she makes her exit, she drops her hand-bag and the bomb which it contains-destined for Will Hays-explodes and blows her to smithereens; and serves her damn-excuse me, darn-right, too." The problem was apparently resolved, and the picture received a seal of approval and a certificate when it was re-issued in 1935.
Street Scene was named one of the ten best pictures of 1931 by Film Daily's Nation Wide Poll. In a modern interview, director King Vidor stated that some second unit photography was done in New York, and that cinematographer Gregg Toland, not George Barnes, who is credited on screen, worked with him on the production. According to a modern source, the picture was produced for less than its $584,000 budget. Rice wrote the book for a musical version of Street Scene, with music by Kurt Weill and lyrics by Langston Hughes, which opened in New York on February 24, 1966 with Catherine Christensen and William Lewis in the starring roles. Rice's play has also been dramatized on television three times.