A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945)

128 or 132 mins | Melodrama | February 1945

Director:

Elia Kazan

Producer:

Louis D. Lighton

Cinematographer:

Leon Shamroy

Editor:

Dorothy Spencer

Production Designer:

Lyle Wheeler

Production Company:

Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Full page view
HISTORY

The opening title card reads "Twentieth Century-Fox presents Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn ." The screen rights to Smith's novel became the focus of a bidding war among several studios before the book was even published, according to a 24 Jun 1943 HR news item. Twentieth Century-Fox obtained the rights to the best-seller for $55,000, and intended to star Alice Faye as "Katie Nolan," according to later HR news items. When Faye proved unavailable, Gene Tierney was tested for the role. On 31 Mar 1944, HR stated that actors "not officially announced but strongly rumored for roles" included Mary Anderson, Jeanne Crain and Fred MacMurray. The studio carried out an extensive search for an actor to play "Johnny Nolan," and on 16 Dec 1943, HR noted that Phil Regan was the "leading contender." James Dunn, who won the role in the film, was signed in Apr 1944, and a HR news item commented that "Dunn was tested twice, once at the beginning of the search, and again after all other possibilities had been abandoned and it was certain no top box office name would be available." Dorothy McGuire, who was only thirteen years older than Peggy Ann Garner at the time of filming, was borrowed from David O. Selznick's company for the production. Ted Donaldson was borrowed from Columbia, and John Alexander was borrowed from Warner Bros.
       A 19 May 1944 HR news item described one of the film's sets as "the most elaborate and, mechanically speaking, costly set to be used" on the studio's lot in several ... More Less

The opening title card reads "Twentieth Century-Fox presents Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn ." The screen rights to Smith's novel became the focus of a bidding war among several studios before the book was even published, according to a 24 Jun 1943 HR news item. Twentieth Century-Fox obtained the rights to the best-seller for $55,000, and intended to star Alice Faye as "Katie Nolan," according to later HR news items. When Faye proved unavailable, Gene Tierney was tested for the role. On 31 Mar 1944, HR stated that actors "not officially announced but strongly rumored for roles" included Mary Anderson, Jeanne Crain and Fred MacMurray. The studio carried out an extensive search for an actor to play "Johnny Nolan," and on 16 Dec 1943, HR noted that Phil Regan was the "leading contender." James Dunn, who won the role in the film, was signed in Apr 1944, and a HR news item commented that "Dunn was tested twice, once at the beginning of the search, and again after all other possibilities had been abandoned and it was certain no top box office name would be available." Dorothy McGuire, who was only thirteen years older than Peggy Ann Garner at the time of filming, was borrowed from David O. Selznick's company for the production. Ted Donaldson was borrowed from Columbia, and John Alexander was borrowed from Warner Bros.
       A 19 May 1944 HR news item described one of the film's sets as "the most elaborate and, mechanically speaking, costly set to be used" on the studio's lot in several years. A full stage was taken up with the four-story replica of the Nolans' Brooklyn tenement house, and in one scene, "the cameras [were to] work on elevators to capture action in sequence on all of the floors during one take."
       According to information in the film's file in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the PCA initially refused to approve the screenplay due to "the bigamous characterization of Sissy." The PCA also disapproved of the light tone taken by the characters toward Sissy's marital escapades, and on 26 Apr 1944, suggested that the portrayal of Sissy as a much-married woman would be acceptable if it were clearly established that her previous husbands had died before she remarried. On 4 May 1944, the PCA approved the script, although the Office did issue further warnings that Sissy's "false philosophy" regarding the nature of love and marriage should be toned down.
       Smith's book and the film were the subjects of libel lawsuits brought by Smith's cousin, Sadie Grandner. Grandner alleged that Smith based the character of "Aunt Sissy" on her, but with malicious and slanderous implications upon her character, and that following the book and film's release, she had become the object of scorn and ridicule by her acquaintances. According to information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department, located at the UCLA Arts--Special Collections Library, Grandner filed suit against Smith and her publishing company first, before the film was produced. The studio, worried that she would hold them liable as well, deliberately "toned down" the portrayal of Sissy. The legal records reveal that in Feb 1946, Grandner, who filed suit against the studio under the name Sadie Kandler, dropped her claim in exchange for $1,500. The disposition of her suit against Smith and the publishing company is not known.
       A Tree Grows in Brooklyn , which benefitted the Naval Aid Auxiliary with its gala West Coast premiere, was first seen by U.S. troops in Manila, according to a 7 Feb 1945 HR news item. The picture garnered much critical praise and excellent box office receipts, and marked the dramatic film debut of director Elia Kazan, a renowned stage director who had previously worked on two film documentaries. When Kazan came to Hollywood for the production, he was accompanied by Nicholas Ray, with whom he had worked on the stage. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was the first film on which Ray worked, and he also makes a brief appearance in the picture as a bakery clerk. Although some modern sources list Ray as Kazan's assistant director, studio legal records credit him as a dialogue director. According to one modern source, Ray aided Alfred Newman in preparing the film's musical score. The picture marked a return to production by producer Louis D. Lighton, who had not personally supervised a film since the 1939 M-G-M film Lucky Night . A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was a personal triumph for Dunn, whose superb notices helped revitalize his career. Garner and Nolan also received much praise, and critics commented warmly on McGuire's transition from the childlike bride in the 1943 Twentieth Century-Fox production Claudia to the hardworking "Katie Nolan." The film was named one of the ten best films of the year by FD , the National Board of Review, Time and NYT . The picture also received an Academy Award nomination for Tess Slesinger and Frank Davis' screenplay. The screenplay was Slesinger's last, however, as she died on 21 Feb 1945. Slesinger and Davis were married and frequently worked together. Dunn was awarded a Best Supporting Actor Oscar and Garner received a special Oscar as "the outstanding child performer of 1945." According to a 3 Jun 1945 NYT article, the picture was among "the first selections for inclusion in the film section of the Library of Congress." The article quotes acting librarian Dr. Luther H. Evans as saying that "the chief purpose of the library in its film selections was to preserve those 'which faithfully record...the contemporary life and tastes and preferences of the American people.'"
       On 28 Apr 1949, Dunn appeared with Claudia Marshall in The Hallmark Playhouse 's radio broadcast of the story. Smith cowrote a musical play version of her novel with George Abbott, and it opened in New York on 19 Apr 1951, with lyrics by Dorothy Fields and music by Arthur Schwartz. Joan Blondell also starred as "Sissy" in the road company version of the musical play, which opened on 9 Oct 1952. In 1974, the NBC network broadcast a television film based on Slesinger and Davis' adaptation of the novel, also entitled A Tree Grows in Brooklyn . The 1974 production was directed by Joseph Hardy and starred Cliff Robertson, Diane Baker and James Olson. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
3 Feb 1945.
---
Daily Variety
24 Jan 45
p. 3, 5
Film Daily
24 Jan 45
p. 11.
Hollywood Citizen-News
2 Mar 1945.
---
Hollywood Reporter
24 Jun 43
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Jul 43
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Oct 43
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Dec 43
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
31 Mar 44
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Apr 44
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Apr 44
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
5 May 44
p. 21.
Hollywood Reporter
19 May 44
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Jul 44
p. 15.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Aug 44
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Jan 45
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Feb 45
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Feb 45
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Mar 45
p. 1, 6
Hollywood Reporter
5 Mar 45
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Mar 45
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Mar 45
p. 15.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Mar 45
p. 11.
Look
6 Feb 45
pp. 47-51.
Los Angeles Times
2 Mar 45
p. 8.
Motion Picture Daily
24 Jan 145
p. 1, 14
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
3 Jun 44
p. 1923.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
27 Jan 45
p. 2289.
New York Times
1 Mar 45
p. 25.
New York Times
4 Mar 1945.
---
New York Times
3 Jun 1945.
---
PM (Journal)
14 May 1944.
---
Variety
24 Jan 45
p. 10.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Adeline deWalt Reynolds
Johnnie Berkes
Joseph J. Greene
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Dial dir
Dial dir
PRODUCER
WRITERS
Contr to dial
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Orch arr
SOUND
Mus mixer
Mus mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec photog eff
Transparency projections shot
Transparency projection shots
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
PRODUCTION MISC
Research dir
Research asst
Head of landscape dept
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (New York, 1943).
AUTHOR
SONGS
"Annie Laurie," music by Lady John Scott, lyrics by William Douglas
"Cockles and Mussels (Molly Malone)" and "The First Noël," traditional
"Silent Night, Holy Night," music by Franz Gruber, lyrics by Joseph Mohr, English lyrics, anonymous
+
SONGS
"Annie Laurie," music by Lady John Scott, lyrics by William Douglas
"Cockles and Mussels (Molly Malone)" and "The First Noël," traditional
"Silent Night, Holy Night," music by Franz Gruber, lyrics by Joseph Mohr, English lyrics, anonymous
"Joy to the World," music by Joseph Handel, lyrics by Isaac Watts
"Away in a Manger," music by James Ramsey Murray, lyrics anonymous
"Adeste fideles (O, Come All Ye Faithful)," music by John Francis Wade, English lyrics by Frederick Oakeley.
+
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Release Date:
February 1945
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 28 February 1945
Production Date:
1 May--2 August 1944
Copyright Claimant:
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Copyright Date:
28 February 1945
Copyright Number:
LP13224
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Recording
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
128 or 132
Length(in feet):
11,583
Length(in reels):
13
Country:
United States
PCA No:
10160
SYNOPSIS

During the early part of the century, in the Irish-American section of Brooklyn, the poor Nolan family struggles to make ends meet in their tenement flat. Johnny Nolan, an infrequently employed singing waiter, is an alcoholic whose jovial, impractical nature is the delight and despair of his hard-working wife Katie, who serves as the tenement's scrubwoman. Their two children, the ever-hungry Neeley and the wistful, teenaged Francie, help Katie by selling rags. Francie idolizes her father, who encourages her to daydream about better times to come. One afternoon, Francie notices with dismay that the tree growing in the tenement courtyard is being ruthlessly trimmed. She is distracted, however, by the arrival of insurance agent Barker, who collects Katie's weekly premiums. Barker, a notorious gossip, reveals that Katie's sister Sissy has married for the third time. Katie is furious but the children are delighted that they will have another uncle Bill, for Sissy always calls her husbands Bill. Later that evening, Johnny comes home and learns from Francie that "their" tree has been cut. Johnny assures her that the tree will grow back in the spring, then leaves for a job singing at a wedding. When Sissy arrives soon after for a visit, Katie castigates her for marrying again without obtaining a divorce from her last husband. The earthy Sissy protests that she waited for seven years before re-marrying, and insists that she really loves her new man, who is a milkman named Steve Edwards. Sissy then joins the children on the sidewalk, and when a neighborhood woman complains about the Nolans borrowing her daughter's roller skates, police officer McShane breaks ... +


During the early part of the century, in the Irish-American section of Brooklyn, the poor Nolan family struggles to make ends meet in their tenement flat. Johnny Nolan, an infrequently employed singing waiter, is an alcoholic whose jovial, impractical nature is the delight and despair of his hard-working wife Katie, who serves as the tenement's scrubwoman. Their two children, the ever-hungry Neeley and the wistful, teenaged Francie, help Katie by selling rags. Francie idolizes her father, who encourages her to daydream about better times to come. One afternoon, Francie notices with dismay that the tree growing in the tenement courtyard is being ruthlessly trimmed. She is distracted, however, by the arrival of insurance agent Barker, who collects Katie's weekly premiums. Barker, a notorious gossip, reveals that Katie's sister Sissy has married for the third time. Katie is furious but the children are delighted that they will have another uncle Bill, for Sissy always calls her husbands Bill. Later that evening, Johnny comes home and learns from Francie that "their" tree has been cut. Johnny assures her that the tree will grow back in the spring, then leaves for a job singing at a wedding. When Sissy arrives soon after for a visit, Katie castigates her for marrying again without obtaining a divorce from her last husband. The earthy Sissy protests that she waited for seven years before re-marrying, and insists that she really loves her new man, who is a milkman named Steve Edwards. Sissy then joins the children on the sidewalk, and when a neighborhood woman complains about the Nolans borrowing her daughter's roller skates, police officer McShane breaks up the loud discussion. McShane, who is new to the neighborhood, is charmed by Katie's loveliness, but she is nonplussed by his attraction. Afraid that Sissy is a bad influence on the children, Katie forbids her to visit again. Johnny returns home late that night and is thrilled to see Katie waiting up for him. Francie and Neeley awaken, and Johnny regales them with tales of the wedding. After the children return to bed, Johnny promises Katie that he will make a "fresh start," but the pragmatic Katie knows that nothing will come of his big talk. The next morning, Francie and Neeley are on their way to school when they see the drunken Johnny staggering home. McShane escorts him up the stairs and is stunned to learn that he is Katie's husband. Later, Francie confides in Johnny her dream to attend a nicer school in a better neighborhood. Even though it means lying about their address, Johnny convinces Katie to let Francie go, and Francie becomes a member of Miss McDonough's class at the new school. Soon after, Katie moves the family to a tiny, less expensive apartment on the top floor of the tenement. Believing that Katie made the move out of stinginess, Johnny forlornly sings "Annie Laurie," accompanying himself on a piano left by the former occupant. On Christmas Eve, Miss McDonough encourages Francie to become a writer, and after class is over, Francie and Neeley obtain a leftover tree from a Christmas tree vendor. The children carry their prize home, and the Nolans are joined by Steve and Sissy, whose pregnancy has reconciled her with Katie. Katie confides in Sissy that she is pregnant also, and later that night, tells Johnny. Finally realizing why Katie moved them to the cheaper apartment, Johnny is further crushed when Katie insists that Francie will have to quit school before her graduation from eighth grade, so that she can go to work. Determined to keep Francie in school, Johnny leaves to find a job, but after he has been missing for over a week, Katie begins searching for him. Later, McShane brings her news that Johnny died from pneumonia while looking for work, and at his funeral, many people lament his loss. So grief-stricken that she cannot cry, Francie stoically agrees to work with Neeley in McGarrity's bar after school to help provide for the family. Katie is relieved that Francie can stay in school but is aware that Francie blames her for Johnny's death. After Sissy's baby is born safely in a hospital, Katie asks Francie to remain close by until her time comes, for they cannot afford a hospital. One afternoon, Katie goes into labor, and as Francie comforts her, Katie reveals how much she misses Johnny, and mother and daughter draw closer. They name the baby Annie Laurie, and the little family continues. Graduation day arrives, and while Katie attends Neeley's ceremony at the old school, Sissy goes with Francie. On her desk, Francie discovers a bouquet paid for with money Johnny gave to Sissy before Christmas, and also a card he wrote to her. The gesture finally enables Francie to release her grief, and after a good cry, she receives her diploma with her class. Afterward, the family has ice cream at the drugstore, and a neighborhood boy asks Francie out on her first date. When the Nolans return to their apartment, they find McShane helping Steve babysit Annie Laurie. Sissy and Steve leave, and McShane asks Katie if he can keep company with her, intending to marry her as soon as she feels that a decent interval has passed. Touched by McShane's kindness, Katie agrees, and Francie, as the eldest, also gives her consent. McShane promises to be a good friend to the two oldest children and asks permission to adopt Annie Laurie. When Francie and Neeley go outside to leave the courting couple alone, they remark that while their sister's life will be easier than theirs, she will not have as much fun. Francie then notices that her tree is growing again, just as Johnny promised it would. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

TOP SEARCHES

CASABLANCA

During World War II, Casablanca, Morocco is a waiting point for throngs of desperate refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe. Exit visas, which are necessary to leave the country, are at ... >>

CITIZEN KANE

Seventy-year-old newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane dies in his palatial Florida home, Xanadu, after uttering the single word “Rosebud.” While watching a newsreel summarizing the years during which Kane ... >>

REAR WINDOW

Laid up with a broken leg during the height of summer, renowned New York magazine photographer L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries enters his last week of home confinement, bored and ... >>

RAGING BULL

In 1941, at a boxing match in Cleveland, Ohio, pandemonium breaks out when Jake La Motta, an up-and-coming young boxer, loses a decision to Jimmy Reeves, suffering his first ... >>

CITY LIGHTS

At an outdoor dedication ceremony, a tramp is discovered sleeping in the arms of a statue as it is being unveiled before a crowd. He is chased into ... >>

The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.