The Crowd (1928)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Urban Drama, Psychological Drama  |   Run Time - 104 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Mark Deming

One of the last great pictures of the silent era (The Jazz Singer had opened the previous year, and by 1929 the American silent cinema was dead), The Crowd has stood the test of time better than almost any other film of its era. King Vidor's story of the small victories and many defeats in the life of an all-too-ordinary man bears a ring of truth that sounds as clearly now as when it first hit the screen; James Murray and Eleanor Boardman achieve a low-key naturalism that nearly makes one forget that they're actors (that the troubled Murray never had another role of this caliber is nearly as tragic as anything that happens to his character). The film touchingly captures the drama of the many small events that make up a life, and Vidor's deceptively simple but highly intelligent visual style tells the characters' small story on a canvas just broad enough to show how small they really are without drowning them altogether. Unlike most films about an "ordinary guy," who usually rises to triumph or descends to tragedy, The Crowd avoids melodrama and Frank Capra-style hokeyness; the often sad circumstances of John and Mary are as common as can be (love, marriage, birth, death, disappointment, despair, reconciliation, and survival) and as compelling as life itself. Vidor's brave decision not to give the film a traditional happy ending (he grudgingly shot one that has thankfully been lost to the ages) may have prevented it from becoming a box-office hit, although, contrary to legend, it did earn a small profit. But while this film describes a life in which the brass ring will never be reached, it also makes clear that each life, no matter how ordinary, holds a story worth hearing, and Vidor's gift for telling that tale in all its humble detail is what makes The Crowd so special.