The Crowd (1928)

“We do not know how big the crowd is, and what opposition it is . . . until we get out of step with it.” Easily one of the greatest silent films, The Crowd was directed by King Vidor (The Big Parade) and features amazing cinematography (brilliantly shot on location in New York City and sometimes with a hidden camera). James Murray stars as the idealistic “John Sims,” who was born on the Fourth of July and believes strongly in the American Dream, as well as in his own unlimited potential. So he sets out for the Big Apple, where his life gets bogged down as an anonymous worker amid endless rows of desks in a faceless corporation. (The office scene reportedly inspired a similar shot in Billy Wilder’s 1961 film, The Apartment, which starred Jack Lemmon.) Sims falls in love with “Mary” (Eleanor Boardman, who was Vidor’s wife at the time) during a blind date at an amusement park (my favorite scene!) and impulsively proposes marriage to her at the end of the date. The film details the couple’s ongoing struggles as they cope with a series of personal and financial tragedies. In 1934, Vidor filmed a sequel, Our Daily Bread, which featured different actors portraying John and Mary Sims. Tragically, Murray’s career fizzled soon after The Crowd and he succumbed to alcoholism, while drifting into bouts of homelessness. In 1936, Murray drowned after either falling or jumping off a pier into the Hudson River. The Crowd was reportedly the first U.S. film to show a bathroom with a toilet. In A Century of Films (2000), critic Derek Malcolm writes, “Vidor’s fluid camera combined the best of European expressionism with the more ‘natural’ realism Hollywood film-makers sought to catch.”

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