The Crowd (1928)

The crowd laughs with you always … but it will cry with you for one day.

A young optimistic man named John Sims (Murray) moves to New York to lead a successful life. Driven for success, he works hard and studies after work in order to get up in the world. He ends up meeting a young woman named Mary (Boardman) through his colleague Bert (Roach). They soon get married and begin their life together. They have their fights and struggles, but overcome them and have kids. The roller coaster continues when the sudden death of his young daughter causes him to lose his job and he struggles to find work for several months. John is pushed to consider suicide, but is saved by the love of his son and he finds the strength to keep going.

German Expressionism in Hollywood

You only need to watch the first five minutes of The Crowd to see King Vidor‘s creativity and influence from German Expressionism. Vidor was purposeful in the crafting of the story so that it was full of foreshadowing and character development. We see a young John Sims determined to be something big, just like his Dad had told him, one of the major through lines of the film. His pride and determination are both his strengths and weaknesses as he finds his way through the big city life.

It is clear to see the influence of Metropolis on The Crowd. The opening shots of New York and his office are disorienting and busy in the same way that city life, and work, is depicted in Metropolis. The pace is fast, constantly moving, and breaking from the “crowd” can be disastrous. In Metropolis, the focus is less on the individual and more on the collective view on society and class warfare. In The Crowd, the focus is instead focused on the individual and how the power of society is too immense to overcome. Where Metropolis is an examination of how the system is broken and what is required to overcome it, The Crowd is showing how the system is broken and that all you can do is come to terms with it. These two views are vastly different, yet share a lot of the same symbolism and artistic style.

Story Structure

John Sims’ arc perfectly wraps in on itself. He begins optimistic and naïve. All he needs is an opportunity! His determination sets him on a course to achieve his dreams. Even as he embarks on his journey, he understands that it will take work and dedication. It is not until he gets distracted by the allure of a young woman that he gets knocked off that path. His new path is not bad, just different. It is the same path that his pal Bert occupies and he goes on to find great success. Jim however finds himself set on a path full of both joy and immense despair.

The naïve John see’s the crowd as full of boobs and those outside the crowd as saps. He and Mary even poke fun at a man juggling in a clown outfit to bring attention to a sign. John later finds himself thankful to be given that same position as a saving grace. The crowd that he looks down on soon humbles him and he finds himself both lost within the crowd and lost without the crowd.

Camera Work

King Vidor used the camera creatively. He sets up shots with interesting perspectives, like when a young John Sims inches up the stairs fearing the bad news about his father, or when the camera rides down the slide at Coney Island. There are also many examples of Vidor using tracking shots to keep the energy as actors move in between rooms and sets. The overall atmosphere throughout the film is extremely personal and intimate, and that is a direct result of Vidor’s use of the camera.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Directed by: King Vidor

Cinematography: Henry Sharp

Screenplay by: King Vidor & John V.A. Weaver

Editing By: Hugh Wynn

Starring: Eleanor Boardman, James Murray, & Bert Roach.

Runtime: 1h 30m

Genre: Drama

Distributed by: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

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