FILM REVIEW: King Vidor and American Humanism
by David Shasha
The classic age of Hollywood films produced some great entertainment. Occasionally, the great masters would take a bit of a detour from their regular work and do what we would now call “personal” pictures.
One of the giants of the old studio system was King Vidor, who directed popular films like “The Champ,” “Duel in the Sun,” “Northwest Passage” and even assisted on “The Wizard of Oz.” In perhaps his greatest commercial production, 1938’s “The Citadel,” Vidor adapated the magnificent novel by A.J. Cronin that is one of the most potent examples of Religious Humanism ever produced by the Hollywood system.
And while his popular films are fantastic, his detours are fascinating examples of what sometimes was able to fall through the cracks of the system.
Vidor’s (released in 1929 it was his first talking picture) “Hallelujah,” with an all-black cast, was – for its time – a daring enterprise and even today can startle the viewer.
But in his two great humanist masterpieces, “The Crowd” and “Our Daily Bread,” he produced some of the most memorable art in Hollywood’s Golden Age.
“The Crowd” (1928) is one of the greatest silent films ever made. It deals with a young married couple and the tragic turn in their lives when a car accident takes one of their very young children. The film deals with the complexities of “making it” and the struggles of ordinary people in a world that is often less than forgiving when it comes to initiative and the human will. Along with F.W. Murnau’s “Sunrise,” “The Crowd” is one of the most intelligent and compassion movies of the silent era and remains poignant and truly powerful to this day. It is an unforgettable piece of cinema.
“Our Daily Bread” (1934) is a film that I have mentioned a number of times before, but it is always worth watching. Again, Vidor takes a young married couple and follows them through their struggles in life and in trying to establish themselves with dignity and integrity. After some difficulties, the couple decides to move from the unforgiving city to the country where they build up their farm with the help of a plethora of poor people who are themselves fleeing their urban surroundings and are looking for a better life. Amazingly, “Our Daily Bread” flirts with Marxist collectivism as it is deeply critical, as was “The Crowd,” of the soul-destroying world of corporate America and promotes the idea that to achieve true human satisfaction we must all act in an altruistic fashion to reach our economic goals.
Both of the films represent the genius of American Humanism in ways that seem to be absent from our contemporary culture. They are bold and dramatic statements that present ideas and values that are central to who we are as people.
The films are being screened in Turner Classic Movies June’s salute to the great directors. A block of King Vidor’s movies will be shown this coming week as part of a larger series that includes all the greats: John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock, Clarence Brown, William Wyler and so many more.
For more information on the series see the TCM website:
“The Crowd” will be screened on TCM Wednesday, June 3 at 9:00 PM
“Our Daily Bread” will be screened on TCM LateWednesday-Early Thursday, June 3-4 at 4:45 AM