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Film: The Crowd

The Crowd was one of the most daring, groundbreaking films made in Hollywood in the 1920s—or ever, possibly. Directed by one of the great filmmakers of the era, King Vidor, The Crowd stars James Murray as John Sims, a young man blissfully confident that he'll be a great success when he comes to the big city. The only problem is that he thinks he'll succeed by thinking up corny advertising slogans or finding some big idea rather than actually working hard or applying himself. Eleanor Boardman plays his loving, supportive wife Mary.

A horrible tragedy destroys John and sends him into a downward spiral. As his life slides out of control, he sees how "the crowd laughs with you always... but it will cry with you for only a day."

The Crowd was recognized as brilliant at the time, earning nominations at the first Academy Award ceremony for Best Director and Unique and Artistic Production (the latter being an alternate Best Picture award that was never given again). The years have not lessened its critical standing. In 1989 it was one of the first 25 films selected by the Library of Congress to be preserved in the National Film Registry.


Provides Examples Of:

  • Alone in a Crowd: A recurring motif—the film's central theme, in fact.
  • American Dream: Flavor 2, big-time. This was extremely unconventional for 1928.
  • Amusement Park
  • Babies Make Everything Better: Initially played straight, as a marriage that had descended into angry sniping finds new life after Mary tells John she's pregnant. Later subverted.
  • Big Applesauce
  • Bittersweet Ending: A Happy Ending at first glance, as John gets a job, reconciles with Mary, and gets a little money when one of his advertising slogans wins a contest. But the bone-chilling final shot reminds us that he is still a nobody.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: John could do so much if he'd just apply himself.
  • Busman's Holiday: When the family goes to the beach at Coney Island, Mary winds up cooking a picnic lunch with an inconvenient portable stove. She complains that it's the same thing she does every day.
  • Call Back: To the clown.
  • Epic Tracking Shot/The Oner: The famous shot where Vidor's camera swoops up a skyscraper and through a window (this actually a dissolve from a model) to find John at one of a sea of desks.
  • The Everyman
  • Executive Meddling: Happily averted. MGM boss Louis B. Mayer hated the movie and tried to impose a happy ending but King Vidor got his way.
  • Exploding Calendar: A rather clever variation on this trope, as the passage of time from 1900 to 1912 is illustrated by a line of dominoes with the years on them toppling over.
  • The Great Depression: NOT an example, actually, since this film was made the year before the stock market crash, but the scenes with hordes of desperate men looking for work are eerily prophetic.
  • Happily Failed Suicide: At the end of his tether, John attempts to end it all by leaping from a railroad bridge in front of a moving train, but is unable to go through with it.
  • I Just Want to Be Special: But he isn't.
  • Infant Immortality: Don't count on it.
  • Ironic Echo: While on his first date with Mary, John spies a man juggling balls while dressed as a clown and wearing a sandwich-board advertisement. Laughing and pointing, he says: "The poor sap! And I bet his father thought he would be President!" (In the opening scene, John's father told the doctor attending his birth, "There's a little man the world is going to hear from all right.")
    • Doubly ironic, in that John winds up taking the very same juggling job toward the end of the film.
  • Keep Circulating the Tapes: Not available on home video since a VHS version was released in the 1990s.
  • Meaningful Name: The lead characters are named John and Mary, emphasizing their ordinariness.
  • Niagara Falls
  • Non-Ironic Clown: Not at first.
  • Obnoxious In-Laws: Subverted. Mary's mother and brothers can't stand John—but by the end of the film we see that there's a reason for that.
  • Real-Life Relative: Eleanor Boardman was married to King Vidor at the time.
  • Sidekick: Subverted. Fat, jolly Bert seems like the prototypical sidekick to handsome protagonist John, but Bert actually works hard at his job and winds up far more successful in life than John does.
  • Significant Birth Date: Johnny Sims, American everyman, was born on July 4, 1900.
  • Skirts and Ladders: While boarding a double-decker bus, John and Bert let Mary and her friend board first and then sneak a peek as they're ascending the steps to the top.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: If this isn't the most cynical film made in Hollywood in the 1920s, it's a contender.
  • Title Drop
  • Toilet Seat Divorce: At one point John and Mary seem to be headed in this direction, complete with bickering about the broken toilet. (This is in fact the first known appearance of a toilet in an American film. With the imposition of The Hays Code in the 1930s, toilets would disappear from American movies again, not to reappear until 1960 with Psycho).

The CossacksCreator/Metro-Goldwyn-MayerA Day at the Races
SunriseAcademy AwardWings
The CossacksFilms of the 1920sThe Little Rascals
SunriseNational Film RegistryModern Times

alternative title(s): The Crowd
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