The story is a heavy-handed melodrama, but the filmmaking is light and fun with a surprisingly mobile camera. It goes down a slide at the fair! Shot by Henry Sharp (Ministry of Fear). Wow, this had a sequel in the sound era called My Daily Bread (the only other Vidor movie I’ve seen, though I don’t remember it).
Johnny is born on the 4th of July, 1900, is given every opportunity by his parents, has a big future ahead of him – but his dad dies when he’s twelve. Camera at the top of the stairs with the doctor, fifty neighbors gathered below, Johnny steps out from the crowd and walks upstairs towards the camera, almost in 3D.
John moves to New York City, gets a job as one of Jack Lemmon’s office-mates in The Apartment, a menial accountant but still studying at night because he’s gonna be someone big.
He meets a girl named Mary at Coney Island – they get hitched immediately
The couple heads out towards Niagara Falls aboard a train. You don’t see many 1920’s movies that address the pre-wedding-night virginal jitters. Apparently I’m the only one who noticed, since all the IMDB trivia items focus instead on a toilet visible in the couple’s apartment.
Honeymoon’s over – John and Mary bicker about every little thing. Her condescending family comes to visit on Christmas eve, so John ducks out and goes dancing at his coworker Bert’s place. During one blow-up fight Mary reveals that she’s pregnant, and her husband gets all emotional and promises to be a better man.
John gets a slight raise, while Bert gets a major promotion. He wins $500 from a slogan contest (after this and Christmas In July, I figure slogan contests used to be a major source of income for Americans) but their second child is killed by a truck.
John having number problems:
“The crowd laughs with you always, but it will cry with you for only a day.” Depressed and anxious, John quits his job, almost kills himself while taking junior for a walk, but is re-determined to support his family, gets a menial new job. They go to the movies and the camera pulls out, losing John in the laughing crowd.
The movie stars James Murray, whose career took off with this picture until he turned drunk/homeless/suicide after a few years, and Eleanor Boardman, Vidor’s wife and star of Souls for Sale and Borzage’s The Circle. John’s friend/boss Bert is Bert Roach, an original Keystone Cop. This was the movie beaten by Sunrise for the first “artistic” best picture oscar, Vidor beaten by Borzage (for Seventh Heaven) for the first best director.