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A Tree Grows In Brooklyn
cast: Peggy Ann Garner, James Dunn, Joan Blondell, Dorothy McGuire, and Ted Donaldson

director: Elia Kazan

123 minutes (U) 1945
inD / Fremantle DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Emily Webb
The directorial debut for Elia Kazan, A Tree Grows In Brooklyn could be mistaken for a whimsical little movie but it's far better than that.

Charting the fortunes of the Nolan family in 1900s' Brooklyn, this film's darkness is hidden under a veneer of hope, as seen through the eyes of Francie, the teenage daughter. Francie's father John, whom she adores, is an alcoholic full of empty dreams while his long suffering wife Katie is almost emotionless in the face of her circumstances.

Francie and her papa are 'soul-mates' - she is the only person who believes in her father and his grand schemes and dreams. When the only tree visible from their Brooklyn tenement is cut down, it is only Francie and her father who are upset. The tree is an extended metaphor for the hope that is ever present in John and Francie; no one can cut down the dreams within a person, even if they never come true.

Peggy Lee Garner won an Oscar for the role of Francie, James Dunn won for his role as the tragic Johnnie. (Dunn's life mirrored that of his character in this film. He was an alcoholic and was often bankrupt and unemployable.) Kazan went on the direct classic films such as A Streetcar Named Desire and On The Waterfront, although his career has been blighted by controversy; his selection for an honorary Oscar angered many in the filmmaking community on account of him being among the first to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1952.

The supporting cast is engaging and prevents this film from sliding into sentimentality. Francie's wayward but fabulous aunt Sissy offers some light relief from the heaviness of the family's situation and Officer McShane is the 'knight in shining armour' who offers his hand to the emotionally repressed Katie Nolan and saves her from an even harder life after Johnnie dies.

This is a classic weepie that stands the test of time, despite being nearly 60 years old. Extras include a photo gallery and cast biographies.

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