Elia Kazan made a spectacular film-directing debut with this adaptation of Betty Smith’s novel about an immigrant Irish family struggling to survive in early 20th-century New York City. Darryl F. Zanuck, then head of 20th Century-Fox, brought Kazan to Hollywood on the strength of his stage work directing such hits as The Skin of Our Teeth and One Touch of Venus, and worked closely on his transition to filmmaking. Zanuck even approved the construction of one of the studio’s biggest sets: a four-story tenement that allowed Kazan to move his cameras from floor to floor in a single take. Of course, with seasoned studio veterans like cinematographer Leon Shamroy and art director Lyle Wheeler on hand, all Kazan had to worry about was casting and directing the actors. That would turn out to be one of the film’s major successes. Kazan took a chance on James Dunn—a one-time star fallen on hard times because of alcoholism—to play the hard-drinking father of the Nolan family. He then teamed Dunn with 12-year-old Peggy Ann Garner, achieving such touching results that Dunn won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor and Garner won the Special Juvenile Oscar. The film’s box office success cemented Kazan’s future as a filmmaker.
(d. Elia Kazan, 112m, Digital)