The earthy quality of Brooklyn tenement squalor, about which Betty Smith wrote so eloquently in the bestseller novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, has been given a literal translation to the screen by 20th-Fox to become an experiment in audience restraint. This is the story of the poverty-ridden Nolan family.

The earthy quality of Brooklyn tenement squalor, about which Betty Smith wrote so eloquently in the bestseller novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, has been given a literal translation to the screen by 20th-Fox to become an experiment in audience restraint. This is the story of the poverty-ridden Nolan family.

Tree recalls an absorbing period of a colorful tribe, of a Brooklyn neighborhood that was tough in its growing-up, where kids fought, where on Saturday nights fathers and husbands, loped uncertainly from the corner quenchery.

Some of this might have acquired the tinge of travesty in hands less skilled than those of Smith – or director Elia Kazan – but never does the serio-comic intrude on a false note; never does this story become maudlin.

To Dorothy McGuire went the prize part of Katie Nolan. It is a role that she makes distinctive by underplaying. James Dunn plays excellently. Peggy Ann Garner is the teenaged Francie, and the young actress performs capitally.

Where Tree is frequently slow, it is offset by the story’s significance and pointed up notably by the direction of Elia Kazan.

1945: Best Supp. Actor (James Dunn).

Nomination: Best Screenplay

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Production

20th Century-Fox. Director Elia Kazan; Producer Lovis D. Lighton; Screenplay Tess Slesinger, Frank Davis; Camera Leon Shamroy; Editor Dorothy Spencer; Music Alfred Newman; Art Director Lyle R. Wheeler

Crew

(B&W) Available on VHS, DVD. Extract of a review from 1945. Running time: 132 MIN.

With

Dorothy McGuire Joan Blondell James Dunn Lloyd Nolan Peggy Ann Garner
Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more