Directed by King Vidor
Inducted to the National Film Registry in 1989
What It’s About:
The Crowd follows the story of John Sims. When he is born on July 4th, 1900, his parents have great aspirations for his life, and as he grows up, he takes those aspirations to heart, thinking that he’ll one day be a great and important man. He gets a job in New York City, falls in love, gets married, and has children. All the while, the pressures of life continue to eat away at him and he soon realizes that life is much harsher and more cruel than society would have you believe. Can the “American Dream” be reality, or is it exactly what its name implies: only a dream?
Context and Significance:
The director, King Vidor, intentionally cast an unknown actor (James Murray) in the lead role, since he wanted to reinforce the idea that his character was just a face in the crowd, rather than using a well-known actor that would stand out. Vidor claimed that Murray was an extra that he found on the MGM lot, however, Murray had appeared in a few small film roles before.
Tragically, Murray’s life ended up reflecting that of his character—he became an alcoholic and a panhandler, living on the street. When King Vidor discovered this, he offered him a job, but Murray refused. Eight years after the release of this film, Murray was found dead in a river, likely as a result of an accidental drowning, though the possibility of suicide was never ruled out.
MGM wasn’t pleased with the film’s dour tone, so seven endings were filmed and tested with audiences, and when the film was finally released, it came with two endings that the theaters could choose to show. Most went with the original ending that Vidor intended, though a few showed the more cheerful ending that MGM wanted.
This film is just as relevant today as it was when it came out in 1928. Anyone who has ever felt like “a cog in the machine” or had the realization that adulthood doesn’t hold the excitement and promise that it seemed to when you were younger will see a bit of themselves in John Sims. It’s really unfortunate that this film is so hard to find nowadays (I’ll discuss that below), because it deserves to be seen and known as much as classics like Casablanca and Citizen Kane.
In addition to great writing (and acting), The Crowd is also full of great camera work: there are dynamic shots of locations like the streets of NYC and Coney Island, experimental shots that use image juxtaposition to express things like thoughts and memory, and of course there’s this iconic shot:
If you can get your hands on this movie, I highly recommend it! Otherwise, perhaps we should start a letter-writing campaign to Warner Bros (who currently holds the rights) asking for this to finally be released on DVD/Blu-ray?
The Crowd is extremely hard to find. It was released on VHS and Laserdisc in the 80s, but it hasn’t had a home media release since then. It apparently has aired on the cable channel “Turner Classic Movies” in the past (and thus probably will again in the future), and according to JustWatch.com, it’s currently available to stream with certain cable TV subscriptions (such as DirecTV and Fubo). I found it on DVD at my university library, however, it appears to be a Chinese release of the DVD (Chinese characters were used throughout the packaging, as well as in the DVD menu screens), and a review of the film that I found on YouTube also appears to feature a Chinese copy of the DVD, so it does appear to have a Chinese home media release, but I imagine that those would be hard to come by in the U.S. (There also appears to be bootleg copies of the DVD on eBay, so do with that information what you will.)
Information sources and additional resources:
- The Wikipedia page for The Crowd: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Crowd_(1928_film)
- An interview with King Vidor about The Crowd: https://youtu.be/SQOxFFQn1vw
- An introduction to The Crowd from Turner Classic Movies: https://youtu.be/Qa7R2zmcX40
- A review and analysis of The Crowd: https://youtu.be/Nhn6PRWccTY
- An interview with Carl Davis, who composed a score for the film in 1981: https://youtu.be/EW_V0jRSPak
- Another review/intro to The Crowd: https://youtu.be/0rNuMMKE6U4
- Brief article from AFI about The Crowd: https://catalog.afi.com/Catalog/moviedetails/3514
- An article from Turner Classic Movies about The Crowd: http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/100/The-Crowd/articles.html
- The original 1928 review from The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/1928/02/20/archives/the-screen-don-juans-of-the-deep.html
- A review that also contains an extremely in-depth plot summary of The Crowd: https://www.filmsite.org/crow.html