The first recommendation from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book following my screening of American Beauty, takes me all the way back to 1928, to this silent film, that follows the tale of Mary (Eleanor Boardman) and John Sims (James Murray), as they struggle to survive and thrive, pursuing their hopes, as they struggle in the big, faceless city.
Growing up, young John is given every opportunity until disaster strikes, but he is still determined to make something of himself in the big world of New York City (some great shots here of 1920s Big Apple). He becomes just another cog in the machine, a number instead of a name, but still dreams big, forgoing social events to study and strive, until the night he meets Mary through a blind date.
The chemistry between the two is undeniable, even in a silent film, though some of the moments seem more than a little out of place today, John is a little physically presumptive with Mary right after their initial greeting. It’s a good thing she’s into him -otherwise the fact that he asks her to marry her after their first date is Very Creepy.
But that is all set-up to follow the pair as they try and make their way through life, and carve out a place for themselves in each others’ lives as well as in the city that doesn’t even seem to be aware of them.
With family pestering about John’s financial situation (and anything else they don’t like), and their tiny (and I mean tiny!) little apartment, John and Mary try to make the best of their situation, hoping love and their dreams will see them through.
But as the relationship progresses, and the conflict with his in-laws continues, he realizes that neither of them are happy, they bicker and John seeks escape with his friend Bert (Bert Roach) and his womanizing and partying ways.
The arrival of children continues to throw the state of the relationship into stark relief, as John remains in the same, seemingly dead-end job. When tragedy strikes John is forced to make some difficult choices.
There are tons of things to love in this film, Vidor’s framing of his images is exemplary, and by example, the lone shot of the young man climbing the stairs, separating himself from the waiting crowd below, is gorgeous.
I loved the fact that this film dealt with seemingly regular Joes, and their lives, their troubles, and just the not so very simple struggle of trying to get by day to day, month to month and year to year; to make something of oneself, and to hold those people who are most dear to you close and safe.
I don’t like the fact that Mary does all the housework, the cleaning, the cooking, and yes, it’s briefly mentioned, but it’s like her work doesn’t really count, only John, who is so intent on his ship coming in, and what will happen in the future, he doesn’t seem to be interested or always involved in what is going on in the now, until it’s too late and he makes a series of seemingly unrecoverable mistakes.
It seems that despite the fact that Mary is going through all these things as well, John is the one that is really coming apart at the seems, or is at least written that way. I would have wanted Mary to do more, and to have her character more involved as opposed to being a seemingly passive but incredibly supportive and loving character.
This was a fascinating film, again, one I had never heard of, and while I would have selected one of the other endings that was shot, Hollywood can’t help but want a happy ending…