The Story (continued)
The Crowd (1928)
"CHRISTMAS EVE - Home, Sweet Home."
Their dream house turns out to be a cheap apartment next to the noisy, elevated train (but with indoor plumbing and a toilet) - [the first American film to show such an appliance], John mindlessly strums on his ukelele without a care in the world:
Wife and I are happy
And everything is swell;
It's heavenly inside our flat
But outside it is El!
To conserve space in their cramped flat, their bed is hidden in a compartment in the wall during the day. On the occasion of the newlyweds' first Christmas Eve with Mary's relatives, she is cooking a Christmas turkey dinner:
Mary: Mom and the boys will be here soon. Better get ready...it's after six.
John (the doorbell rings): You'd better answer. They're your family.
Mary exchanges gifts with her dour-faced, hard-of-hearing mother and brothers Jim and Dick, while John delays in the bathroom - reluctant to meet her folks who think he's a wastrel. She brags about "another new trick" which her husband has invented. After being coaxed to perform, it turns out to be an unfunny 'trick' about breaking his arm. Protective of their sister, the brothers-in-law nag Mary's feckless husband about his inability to support her and to cleanly shave his face - reinforcing to their mother about how inept he is:
Mother: Before you attempt any more tricks, young man, I'd like to know if you got your raise yet.
John: No...but everybody tells me my prospects are good.
Jim: (spoken into his mother's right ear) He says, 'No' ...as usual.
Dick: (spoken into his mother's left ear) He says he has prospects...as usual.
Jim: (spoken into his mother's right ear) Soap on his ear...from shaving.
Dick: (spoken into his mother's left ear) Probably from yesterday.
John's stash of alcohol is depleted (he recovers an empty bottle of bootleg hidden under the bathtub in their bathroom) - he blames it on a fictitious plumber: "It looks like the plumber has been here again." He quickly agrees to flee from the unfriendly company of his wife's family to walk over to Bert's place to borrow some bootleg whiskey. As he departs, his wife knowingly cautions him:
Mary: Careful, dear! Don't slip on the ice!
John: (boastfully) Don't be foolish! Why should I slip on the ice?
After slipping down the front steps, as his wife expected him to, he runs to Bert's place. There, a flirtatious young lady in a party mood bolsters his self-esteem as she flings herself at him for a dance: "Oh, Gee, Baby! How did the angels ever let you leave Heaven? Gee, but you're a great, big, good lookin' some-account man!"
Show me the way to go home
I'm tired and want to go to bed.
Bert escorts his singing, drunken friend back home late that evening after everyone has left:
Bert: Somethin' you ate no doubt.
John: S'no doubt. (He gestures toward his place) S'my castle.
John tiptoes into their living room/bedroom where Mary is already in bed - without turning her head from her pillow, she shoots him a look with her eyes. He excuses his tardiness with a lame explanation:
John: Looked all 'round town. Couldn't find a drop. (With a contrite look, he glances around.) S'Mom and the boys went?
Mary: (with love and understanding) They don't understand you...but that doesn't matter.
John: Do you understand me?
Mary: (She sympathetically smiles at him) (I think I do.)
He walks over to the table where he gathers up three gift-wrapped presents for her. With his back to her, he glances at the small tokens of his love, and clutches them to himself, realizing how inadequate they are to express his affection for his unconditionally-loving wife. In the scene of poignant, romantic realism, John takes the gifts back to the bed - she opens the long skinny one first - it's an umbrella:
John: You're a wonnerful little woman. (She raises the umbrella in the room - he criticizes her for the inpropriety of her action and snatches it from her.) Whuzza idea...always doin' somethin' wrong?
Mary: (They quarrel lightly) (...It's mine, give it to me. It's my umbrella. It's mine.)
In their cramped, inadequate, dingy apartment next to the elevated train, many minor imperfections and annoyances (a faulty toilet, an unhinging door, an uncooperative hideaway bed) begin to produce mounting frustration in John's attitude toward their average, bleak, middle-class life. His unfulfilled ambitions cause him to childishly blame and chastise Mary for every break-down. He holds onto an unrealistic dream that one day, he will be a perfect success:
John: (regarding the toilet) Why didn't you tell me this was busted? (regarding the door) You've got this on the blink, too! For the love of Mike, will...will - will you please have that darned thing fixed today? Nothing works right around this place!
They flip a kitchen cupboard door back and forth at each other, and miss passing a plate of bread between them - it crashes to the floor: "Why didn't you take it?" asks Mary. The pressure and antagonism of their marriage impacts their ability to communicate. At the early morning breakfast table, John winces when Mary accidentally squirts him with grapefruit juice. He complains about her dowdy, unkempt, drab appearance, and she is unjustly criticized for the problems they experience during their expanding domestic quarrel:
John: Your hair looks like Kelcy's cat! (He cruelly thrusts the sugar spoon at her when she can't locate it.) Can't you do anything for yourself?
Mary: (She rises from the table, upset.) I'm getting sick and tired of you always criticizing me!
John: Forget it, Mary! I'll overlook your faults! (He sprays himself with milk when he pops open the glass bottle - he explodes with exasperation) Why can't you tell me when things are full?
Mary: You'd try the patience of a Saint!
John: You're no soothing syrup yourself!
Mary: (It's not my fault.)
John: (As he bolts to the door to leave for work.) Take it from me, marriage isn't a word...it's a sentence!
Fed up and exasperated with his incessant, harsh, unsparing negativity, she hurriedly packs a bag with her clothing: "I'm leaving!" she threatens. He gestures that it's fine with him. For a long moment (in one of the film's long takes), she is stunned - she stands staring at the door he has just slammed behind him. Grief-stricken, she begins to tremble and weep over their constant, tedious arguments, bickering and unhappy marriage. As she moves her hands over her face and down her body, she remembers that she is carrying the beginnings of life within her - in a simple yet subtle pantomime (without titles), she delicately communicates that she is pregnant with his child and has forgotten to tell him. She halts him from leaving for work through a second-floor window, and tenderly gestures for him to come back for a few minutes.
Hesitantly, she finds the words to explain to him that she was so preoccupied that she forgot to tell him that she was pregnant in a beautifully-affecting scene:
Mary: I...I didn't get a chance to tell you - (I'm pregnant) (She looks away, and then nods affirmatively as the truth dawns on him. They embrace and kiss.)
John: (vowing) From now on I'm going to treat you different, dearest.
They re-enact the breakfast scene - he waits on her and serves her coffee. He selflessly attends to her every need and flatters her with the same words he spoke to her next to Niagara Falls during their honeymoon:
Mary, you're the most beautiful girl in all the world.
Their marriage is renewed and revitalized. He parts for work after smothering her with loving affection - they blow each other kisses from opposite ends of their apartment. He pops back in the door, cradling and rocking his hat in his arms like a baby, while flirting and making funny faces at her. It is a marvelous good-bye scene and extreme about-face for the couple.
At his office desk, John is anxiously awaiting news of the birth of his child: "There should have been word from the hospital before this." Suddenly, he is summoned from his place in the center of the vast room of workers and taken to the phone. He hurries back to his desk, tells Bert: "Well...I'm a father!" and then optimistically promises his pal as he hands over his work: "When I get my big job, Bert, I'll take care of you for this."
Inside a hospital corridor, John frantically asks various medical personnel: "Do you know where my wife is?...Where'll I find Mrs. Sims?...Where's my wife?...I'm Sims, Doctor! John Sims! Her husband!" A doctor grips his upper arms and reassures him: "Don't worry! We've never lost a husband yet!" Partially calmed, he rotates his hat brim between his hands. He considers opening the door to "Nursery No. 3" with a "NO ADMITTANCE" sign on it. Other expectant husbands (one of whom is a black man) are lined up on a bench, all expecting to be imminently notified. A nurse calls out: "John Sims!" and he is brought into Ward No. 3.
The camera tracks after him as he walks into a sanitized-looking room with white-garbed nurses and beds which are aligned around the perimeter. He finds his wife on the far side of the expansive room. He kneels at her bedside - nerve-wracked and agonized over being a new father. Roles are reversed - Mary comforts him: "Poor boy...I'm sorry you suffered so." The baby boy, wrapped in swaddling clothes, is brought to Mary's side. John promises to reform his attitude and try harder to make it in the world:
Mary: He's just like you, Johnny.
John: This is all I've needed to make me try harder, dear. I'll be somebody now...I promise.
"During the next five years, two eventful things happened to the Simses. A baby sister was born...and John received an $8 raise." During an outing to the beach with their two young children for a picnic, a carefree John plays a tune on his ukulele:
I'm so all alone -
An annoyed gentleman on the crowded sand complains at the noise: "In one ear I got it sand...in the other I got it you and your zither!" Their boy jumps up and down on one leg - and then the other - gesturing that he has to pee. Mary calls for John to attend to their son - and then to their baby girl. He takes both of them, one at a time, behind upright logs in the middle of the open sand so they have a little privacy.
To entertain himself, the Sims' rambunctious son runs circles around their blanket, spreading sand over Mary's freshly-baked cake. A coffee pot spills into the open fire cooking their meal. All the while, John haplessly plays on his musical instrument without assisting his frazzled wife. She is endlessly patient - waiting for his "ship" to come in - from "the North Pole." Mary feels that the beach picnic is nothing special - it is still a lot of work and the same old common-place activities in a monotonous cycle. John remains blindly deluded about his own abilities and fate, believing in his own grandiose schemes to make a windfall by winning slogan-writing contests:
John: Hey! Your fire's out!
Mary: Picnic my eye! I'm doing the same things I do every day!
John: Don't crab, dear. Everything's goin' to be roses...when my ship comes in.
Mary: Your ship? A worm must be towing it down from the North Pole!
John: Well, don't blame me! It takes time to get any place in my firm!
Mary: Time? Look where Bert's gotten to...while you're dreaming about it!
John: Who couldn't get some place if they wanted to hang around the bosses? I've got big ideas! That slogan, A Carload Full of Coughs was mine! Only somebody sent it in first.
Mary: For Pete's sake...stop tooting your horn and get me some dry wood!
John: (Over his knee, he breaks up a wooden sign for firewood.) This is the way I work! I'm the old go-getting kid! No matter what happens...you never hear me squawk! (He 'squawks' after burning his fingers while lighting the fire.)
Mary: (She soothes the burn by slathering butter over the wound.) There!
John: Thank you!
Mary: You don't need to!
His children ask: "We wanta ride horsey-back, Pop!" He obliges his daughter and the entire family shares a good-hearted laugh. He senses a turn in his luck:
John: This must be my day! I feel another advertising slogan coming on!
Mary: John, for once why don't you mail one of those slogans in?
John (as he juggles fruit): Sleight O' Hand! The Magic Cleaner! How's that for a darb?
Mary: (Oh John, that's good. That's marvelous.)
"Everybody wins a prize once in their lifetime...somehow. And $500 came to the Simses...all at one time." John has one brief unexpected triumph in his life when he wins one of the slogan-writing contests. Rocking wildly back and forth in a rocking chair, Mary creates a want-list:
Back bills $220. New things for baby 45. New things for Jr. 25. Finish paying furniture 85. Vacuum cleaner 75. Total $450 New dress 50. Total $500
John returns home with his arms filled with packages, exclaiming: "I've brought home the bacon, Mary! Five hundred bucks!" He shows off his congratulatory letter:
Dear Mr. Sims:
It gives us great pleasure to forward you our check for $500 for the GRAND PRIZE AWARD for your slogan "Sleight-O-Hand, The Magic Cleaner." We are certain the slogan will prove a great one.
The Holland Cleaner Company
Board of Awards