Sunday, January 26, 2003


This early talkie is a social-issue melodrama that comes off a bit creaky nowadays but nevertheless has an interesting atmosphere and some good performances. The film (based on a play) follows the lives of a group of tenement dwellers over a 24-hour period; mostly we see them interact in front of the building, some on the front stairs and some sitting in their first-floor windows, trying to escape the summer heat. We never see the interior of the building and I can only recall one brief scene that takes place elsewhere. The movie is character driven: Estelle Taylor is the catalyst for much of the action as a woman who is cheating on her bullying husband, David Landau, whose explosion leads to the film's climax; Sylvia Sidney is her daughter who yearns for a better life; William Collier Jr. is the passive lad who loves Sidney but won't act on his feelings; Beulah Bondi (Mrs. Bailey in IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE) is the gossip hound who would seem to deserve a comeuppance but never gets one. The opening, with the palpable heat and the people gathered on the stoops, reminds me of DO THE RIGHT THING, and there's even a simmering subplot about racial prejudice here (Collier's character is Jewish). Very stagy, as befits its origins, but some interesting camerawork now and then helps. Sidney went on to do another film based on a play about New York tenement life, DEAD END.

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