In Brooklyn circa 1900, the Nolans manage to enjoy life on pennies despite great poverty and Papa's alcoholism. We come to know these people well through big and little troubles: Aunt Sissy's scandalous succession of "husbands"; the removal of the one tree visible from their tenement; and young Francie's desire to transfer to a better school...if irresponsible Papa can get his act together.
What a delightful combination of concepts this film is; it is one of the quintessential 1940s "good old" movies that is full of sentiment and endearment, yet it is a brilliant, thought-provoking study in the lives of a poor turn-of-the-century Brooklyn family.
Peggy Ann Garner's performance is, quite simply, the finest juvenile portrayal in film history. What makes her performance so great and unique is that she NEVER comes across as line-fed or artificial (as were so many child actors of the day, when children were often told off-camera that their favorite pet died to make their crying scenes realistic). In particular, the scene where she receives her flowers and the emotional overflow that follows is touching; it hasn't aged a bit over the years. Why she didn't go on to be a huge star is quite disappointing because she had the gift.
Dorothy McGuire is equally superb. Although her character is a hard, life-beaten woman, you feel a deep understanding for her and sympathize with her immensely because she is the bedrock of the family, the only one who maintains a sense of stability. She doesn't mean to be that way, but times were simply much harder then; life turned people that way.
But then again, the same feelings apply to James Dunn as the drifting father. To call him a lazy drunk would be very black-and-white thinking because his character was so much more than that; yes, he couldn't hold jobs because of his drinking but above that he was a wonderful father who provided the love and sense of imagination that his daughter so desperately needed. It is very clear to see why the two of them were so close, and why the rift between the daughter and mother was inevitable.
I also feel compelled to mention Joan Blondell's character; she is the perfect foil to her hard-as-nails sister. She softens up her sister just when she needs it the most, and makes her see things through more understanding eyes.
Overall this movie is a MUST for any person with a brain who appreciates classic film that has aged well into our modern sensibilities. Why this movie was not nominated for Best Picture (but two VASTLY inferior pictures--Mildred Pierce and Anchors Aweigh--were) is a tragedy. Again, though it is like many other 1940s sad films, it is unique in that it is such a deep character study; there are countless underlying issues that get explored as the film progresses. A fantastic debut for Elia Kazan, and a true gem of film history.
Director: Elia Kazan
Writers: Tess Slesinger (screenplay), Frank Davis
Dorothy McGuire ... Katie Nolan
Joan Blondell ... Sissy Edwards
James Dunn ... Johnny Nolan
Lloyd Nolan ... Officer McShane
James Gleason ... McGarrity
Ted Donaldson ... Neeley Nolan
Peggy Ann Garner ... Francie Nolan
Ruth Nelson ... Miss McDonough
John Alexander ... Steve Edwards
B.S. Pully ... Christmas Tree Vendor
Release Date:28 February 1945 (USA)
Sound Mix:Mono (Western Electric Recording)
Color:Black and White