Stream On: ‘A Tree Grows in Brooklyn’—by nature or grace?

By on October 5, 2023

Elia Kazan (A Face in the Crowd), called by The New York Times “one of the most honored and influential directors in Broadway and Hollywood history,” was born in Greece but grew up in New Rochelle, New York, just north of New York City. In 1945 he directed his first film, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, from the novel by Chapel Hill’s Betty Smith (who had a cottage here in Nags Head). Betty Smith was born in Brooklyn in 1896 and would have been roughly the same age as her protagonist Francie Nolan.


/Amazon /Not streaming /YouTube /🍅95%🍿91% /Trailer /1945 /PG

“And from these melancholy dispositions no man living is free, no Stoic, none so wise, none so happy, none so patient, so generous, so godly, so divine, that can vindicate himself; so well-composed, but more or less, some time or other, he feels the smart of it.” (Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy)

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know” (Keats, “Ode on a Grecian Urn”)

In 1912, little Francie Nolan (Peggy Ann Garner) of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, helps her poor family scrape by when she can by selling scrap copper with her brother Neeley (Ted Donaldson) for pennies. Her mother Katie (Dorothy McGuire) is a hard-working housewife who scrubs the floors of her tenement building and collects rags for sale to a scrap fabric dealer in order to provide for her family.

Francie’s father Johnny Nolan (James Dunn) is a happy-go-lucky, charming man who dreams his way through life. When he works it’s as a singing waiter. He is the apple of Francie’s eye: she loves her father madly. He’s also an alcoholic.

When he makes his entrance it’s into the family kitchen: He’s dressed to the nines for a job tonight, and Francie is there. He’s in a great mood, drinking coffee and singing for her. He has big dreams: after this job he’ll have enough in tips to parlay into some real money at the track. He asks Francie, “What’s the wish you wish the most when our ship comes sailin’ in?”

“Well, it already came true.” “What is it?” “Well … I wished that when you came home today, you wouldn’t be … sick.”

Francie’s mother is hard-working, long-suffering and tense. Her mother’s sister, Sissy (Joan Blondell), is a sassy, free-spirited woman who has recently married for the third time. (In the novel, she hasn’t bothered to divorce her earlier husbands. In the movie, she tells her sister that “seven years is a long time to wait—and I waited.” Apparently her husbands have serially abandoned her.) “All I know is it can’t be wrong or I wouldn’t feel like I do about it.”

Francies’ grandmother says Katie has “forgotten how to think with her heart.”

In school, Francie, hearing the Keats poem quoted above (Keats was an opium addict), asks her teacher, “If a man—I mean—somebody spent all his time trying to be like that—no matter what else he did, then it would be alright? Wouldn’t it?” Her teacher replies “I’m afraid I don’t understand a thing you’re saying, Francis.”

A tree that grows outside of the tenement provides the main metaphor for the film. Francie loves to look at it from the tenement window, but she’s devastated when a city worker comes and trims it back. Her dad tells her that the pruning is necessary for the tree’s growth and that it’ll grow back—eventually.

I can’t help but think that the novel or this film was one of Terrence Malick’s inspirations for his magnum opus The Tree of Life, in which the way of grace, as seen in one of the protagonist’s parents, contrasts but complements the way of nature, exemplified by the other parent, as life goes on.

The 1943 novel was one of the most popular Armed Services Edition books shipped to American military service personnel for free during World War II. Betty Smith said that she received ten times more fan mail from soldiers than she did from civilians. The film was widely praised; James Dunn and Peggy Ann Garner won academy awards. Leonard Maltin called A Tree Grows in Brooklyn “perfect in every detail.”

(Pete Hummers is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to earn fees by linking Amazon.com and affiliate sites. This adds nothing to Amazon’s prices.)

Click here for more Stream On: What to watch on TV columns by Pete Hummers. Columns are archived and updated when necessary on Substack.


Barnhill Building Group has been selected as the Construction Manager @ Risk by the College of the Albemarle and is seeking to pre-qualify construction trade contractors to submit bids for the furnishing labor, materials, equipment, and tools for the new College of The Albemarle – Allied Health Sciences Simulation Lab (COA Health Sciences) located in Elizabeth City, NC. Please note: Only subcontractors who have been prequalified by Barnhill will be able to submit a Bid.

The project consists of the new construction of a 38,000-sf, 2-story expansion to the existing Owens Health Sciences Center and will house classrooms, labs, and a simulation lab. The site is just over just over 4.5 acres and is located on an active campus. This new construction will be a steel structure with a brick and metal panel veneer, curtainwall, and storefront glazing with a PVC roof membrane.

Principal trade and specialty contractors are solicited for the following Bid Packages:

BP0100: General Trades

BP0105: Final Cleaning

BP0390: Turnkey Concrete

BP0400: Turnkey Masonry

BP0500: Structural Steel & Misc. Steel

BP0740: Roofing

BP0750: Metal Panels

BP0790: Caulking / Caulking

BP0800: Turnkey Doors/Frames/Hardware

BP0840: Glass & Glazing

BP0925: Drywall

BP0960: Resilient Flooring

BP0980: Acoustical Ceilings

BP0990: Painting & Wallcovering

BP1005: Toilet Specialties / Accessories / Division 10

BP1010: Signage

BP1098: Demountable Partitions

BP1230: Finish Carpentry and Casework

BP1250: Window Treatment

BP1400: Elevators

BP2100: Fire Protection

BP2200: Plumbing

BP2300: HVAC

BP2600: Turnkey Electrical

BP3100: Turnkey Sitework

BP3290: Landscaping

Packages may be added and/or deleted at the discretion of the Construction Manager. Historically underutilized business firms are encouraged to complete participation submittals.

HUB/MWBE OUTREACH MEETING: Barnhill Building Group will be conducting a HUB/MWBE Informational Session. You are encouraged to attend the following session to learn more about project participation opportunities available to you. These seminars will help to: Learn about project and scope; Inform and train Minority/HUB contractors in preparation for bidding this project; Assist in registration on the State of North Carolina Vendor link; Stimulate opportunities for Networking with other firms. Location and time TBD. Please visit our planroom at https://app.buildingconnected.com/public/54da832ce3edb5050017438b for more information.

Interested contractors should submit their completed prequalification submittals, by July 22, 2024, to Meredith Terrell at mterrell@barnhillcontracting.com or hardcopies can be mailed to Barnhill Contracting Company PO Box 31765 Raleigh, NC 27622 (4325 Pleasant Valley Road, NC 27612).


Sussex Development is soliciting bids to turnkey supply and install FF&E for the new Tulls Creek Elementary School, 125 Campus Drive, Moyock, NC27929. This project is a new ground-up 2-story, Pre-K thru 5th grade school, approximately 118,000 square feet. Bid documents may be obtained through Christopher West Interiors LLC. Request bid documents via email to interiors@cwiusa.com. Pre-Bid RFIs will be accepted via email until Wednesday, July 31, 2024 at 5:00PM EST. Pricing proposals are due Wednesday, August 14, 2024 by 5:00PM EST. All bids and inquires to be sent to interiors@cwiusa.com. Certified NC Hub, MBE, WBE, DBE, SBE are highly encouraged to participate. Sussex Development is an EOE and maintains a drug-free workplace.


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