King Vidor’s “The Crowd” (1928): Revelatory and Still Modern

October 23, 2013 § Leave a comment

"The Crowd" by King Vidor/Courtesy AMPAS

“The Crowd” by King Vidor/Courtesy AMPAS

I had never heard of “The Crowd,” King Vidor’s amazing 1928 film about a feckless young man’s progress in work, love and life in New York City, until a few days ago. It was shown at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences last night as the opening film of the Mary Pickford Celebration of Silent Film in a handsomely restored 35mm print from Warner Bros. To put it mildly, it was stunning. Starring James Murray in the lead and Eleanor Boardman (Mrs. King Vidor) as his beautiful, long-suffering wife, the film contained more complex character development than any feature film in recent memory–and without dialogue.

As film historian Kevin Brownlow pointed out, “The Crowd” influenced many subsequent films and their directors. Billy Wilder owes the biggest debt to Vidor, as “The Apartment” contains not only its office scenario–the huge room full of clerks especially–but exterior shots of New York skyscrapers and thronged streets. (Not to mention that the Jack Lemmon character in “The Apartment” could arguably be seen as a more responsible version of “The Crowd’s” John.) In “The Hudsucker Proxy” The Coen Brothers used many of the same visual elements, along with a John-like wide-eyed clerk played by Tim Robbins. No less a genius that Vittorio DeSica told Vidor that he based “Bicycle Thief” on “The Crowd,” and clearly he took the street and theater scenes from it. Yet despite its influence, “The Crowd” was forgotten for decades and only recently reconstructed. I hope Warner Bros. will release it on DVD soon for the larger audience it deserves.

Those who missed “The Crowd” can still catch tomorrow night’s film, Ernst Lubisch’s “The Student Prince in Old Heidleberg,” starring Ramon Novarro, Norma Shearer and Jean Hersholt. Released in 1927 from MGM, “The Student Prince” was the brainchild of Irving G.Thalberg, who hired Lubisch to adapt a 1924 operetta based on the 1989 novel of the same name. Those unacquainted with “The Lubisch Touch” will see it in action here. For tickets, go to http://www.oscars.org/events-exhibitions/events/index.html

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