AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Street Scene
Director: King Vidor (Dir)
Release Date:   5 Sep 1931
Premiere Information:   New York opening: 26 Aug 1931
Production Date:   completed late Jul 1931
Duration (in mins):   80
Duration (in reels):   9
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Cast:   Sylvia Sidney (Rose Maurrant)  
    William Collier Jr. (Sam Kaplan)  
    Estelle Taylor (Anna Maurrant)  
    Beulah Bondi (Emma Jones)  
    David Landau (Frank Maurrant)  
    Matt McHugh (Vincent Jones)  
    Russell Hopton (Steve Sankey)  
    Greta Granstedt (Mae Jones)  
    Eleanor Wesselhoeft (Greta Fiorentino)  
    Allan Fox (Dick McGann)  
    Nora Cecil (Alice Simpson)  
    Margaret Robertson    
    Walter James (Marshal James Henry)  
    Max Montor (Abe Kaplan)  
    Walter Miller    
    T. H. Manning (George Jones)  
    Conway Washburne (Danny Buchanan)  
    John M. Qualen (Karl Olsen)  
    Anna Konstant (Shirley Kaplan)  
    Adele Watson (Olga Olsen)  
    Lambert Rogers (Willie Maurrant)  
    George Humbert (Filippo Fiorentino)  
    Helen Lovett (Laura Hildebrand)  
    Richard Powell (Officer Harry Murphy)  
    Jane Mercer    
    Monti Carter    
    Louis Natheaux (Easter)  
    Virginia Davis (Mary Hildebrand)  
    Kenneth Seiling (Charlie Hildebrand)  
    Howard Russell (Dr. John Wilson)  
    Harry Wallace (Fred Cullen)  
    Florence Enright    
    Renee Shearing    
    Marcia Mae Jones    
    Lawrence Wagner    
    Samuel S. Bonnell    
    William Higbee    

Summary: On a hot evening in a New York tenement, neighbors gossip about each other as they return home. The main object of comment is the sadly romantic Anna Maurrant, who is having an affair with married milk collector Steve Sankey. Anna's brutish husband Frank is often away, and while he is supicious, he has no proof of the affair. Frank comes home and yells at Anna for not knowing where their children Willie and Rose are, while social worker Alice Simpson reprimands poverty-stricken Laura Hildebrand, who is about to be evicted, for taking her children, Mary and Charlie, to the movies. Kindly Filippo Fiorentino, who longs to have children with his wife Greta, gives the Hildebrands money for the show, and socialist Abe Kaplan argues with Frank about the negative effects of capitalism. Abe's son Sam tells the building's most active gossiper, Emma Jones, to mind her own business when she passes along a juicy tidbit about Anna to Greta, and later, Rose comes home. She is accompanied by her married office manager, Mr. Easter, who wishes to set her up in an apartment. Although Rose desperately wishes to escape her dirty, mean-spirited surroundings, she refuses to become Easter's mistress. After Easter leaves, Rose talks with Sam, whom she regards as a best friend even though he is in love with her. She encourages Sam to believe in himself and nourish his individuality. The next morning, Sam's sister Shirley, a schoolteacher who has sacrificed everything so that her brother might succeed in life, asks him why he wants to get involved with Rose, as she is not Jewish. Sam tells Shirley to forget her race prejudices, after which Frank yells at Anna as he leaves for work. The Hildebrands are evicted, and Shirley asks Rose not to encourage Sam's romantic ideas about her, because Shirley wants him to go to law school. Rose assures her that she does not want to be married yet, and she leaves with Easter for the funeral of their employer. Sam sees Sankey arrive to visit Anna, then watches in horror as Frank comes home unexpectedly. Sam yells a warning to Anna, but it is too late, for Frank has caught the lovers together. Frank shoots his wife and Sankey, then rushes away. Rose arrives home as Anna is taken away in an ambulance. While the neighborhood thrives on the scandal, Rose returns from the hospital, where she saw her mother die. Easter offers to help her, but Rose states that she will be able to care for herself and Willie. After Rose has packed her clothes, the police capture Frank, who tells Rose that he meant to be a better father. Sam wants to go away with Rose, but she tells him that they are too young to be married, and that it is important for him to fulfill his goals first. Rose hugs Sam and Shirley, tells them that she will see them again, and then leaves to begin a new life away from the tenement. 

Production Company: Feature Productions, Inc.  
Distribution Company: United Artists Corp.  
Director: King Vidor (Dir)
  Lucky Humberstone (Asst dir)
Producer: Samuel Goldwyn (Pres)
  Samuel Goldwyn (Prod)
Writer: Elmer Rice (Adpt)
Photography: George Barnes (Photog)
  Stuart Thompson (2d cam)
  George Nogle (2d cam)
  Judson Curtiss (Asst cam)
  Hal Carney (Asst cam)
  Harvey Gould (Asst cam)
Art Direction: Richard Day (Settings)
Film Editor: Hugh Bennett (Film ed)
Music: Alfred Newman (Mus dir)
Sound: Charles Noyes (Sd tech)
Production Misc: Robert McIntyre (Prod asst)
  Kenneth Alexander (Still photog)
Country: United States

Source Text: Based on the play Street Scene by Elmer Rice (New York, 10 Jan 1929).
Authors: Elmer Rice

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Feature Productions, Inc. 5/9/1931 dd/mm/yyyy LP2534

Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: Western Electric Sound System

 
Genre: Drama
 
Subjects (Major): Family relationships
  Gossip
  Infidelity
  Murder
  Neighbors
  Tenement-houses
 
Subjects (Minor): Childbirth
  Christopher Columbus
  Danish Americans
  Drunkenness
  Leif Ericsson
  Eviction
  Flirts
  German Americans
  Idealists
  Immigrants
  Italian Americans
  Jews
  Love
  Milkmen
  New York City
  Police
  Racism
  Schoolteachers
  Social workers
  Socialists and socialism

Note: Elmer Rice's play won a Pulitzer Prize for the 1928-1929 season, and according to a NYT article, was purchased by producer Samuel Goldwyn for $157,000. The actors reprising their roles from the Broadway production were: Beulah Bondi, Matt McHugh, Eleanor Wesselhoeft, T. H. Manning, Conway Washburne, John M. Qualen, Anna Konstant and George Humbert. Bondi made her screen-acting debut in this film. According to a FD news item, Nancy Carroll was originally set for the part of "Rose Maurrant."
       According to the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, Rice's play was considered controversial because of the characterization of social worker "Alice Simpson." Rice received many complaints from social agencies, including the Welfare Council of New York City. In a 2 Oct 1929 letter, a New York based Hays Office official warned Jason S. Joy, the Director of the Studio Relations Office of the AMPP, about the controversy and suggested that he keep it in mind in case the play was turned into a film. On 23 Mar 1931, the Welfare Council wrote to the MPPDA, requesting that they advise the production company working on the film about the protests over the social worker character. The letter warned: "...if the film presents the social worker in the light in which she appeared on the New York stage the film will undoubtedly meet with vigorous protests throughout the country." In response, Joy cautioned Goldwyn: "...we suggest that, unless some radical change be made in the characterization of Miss Simpson, it be definitely indicated that she is an agent for the party who is dispossessing the unfortunate family." Rice was very displeased with this and other changes suggested by Joy, and wrote a memo to Goldwyn's production executive Arthur Hornblow, Jr. suggesting various mock alterations. Among them, he proposed: "The charity worker can be changed to a Soviet agent, who is dispossessing the Hildebrands in order to precipitate a social revolution in America and make Clarence Darrow president. As she makes her exit, she drops her hand-bag and the bomb which it contains--destined for Will Hays--explodes and blows her to smithereens; and serves her damn--excuse me, darn--right, too." The problem was apparently resolved, and the picture received a seal of approval and a certificate when it was re-issued in 1935.
       Street Scene was named one of the ten best pictures of 1931 by FD 's Nation Wide Poll. In a modern interview, director King Vidor stated that some second unit photography was done in New York, and that cinematographer Gregg Toland, not George Barnes, who is credited on screen, worked with him on the production. According to a modern source, the picture was produced for less than its $584,000 budget. Rice wrote the book for a musical version of Street Scene , with music by Kurt Weill and lyrics by Langston Hughes, which opened in New York on 24 Feb 1966 with Catherine Christensen and William Lewis in the starring roles. Rice's play has also been dramatized on television three times. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Film Daily   3 Jun 31   p. 6.
Film Daily   30 Aug 31   p. 10.
HF   15 Aug 31   p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter   24 Jul 31   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   13 Aug 31   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   28 Aug 31   p. 1.
International Photographer   31 Oct 31   p. 29.
Motion Picture Herald   22 Aug 31   p. 32.
Motion Picture Herald   10 Oct 31   p. 41.
New York Times   27 Aug 31   p. 22.
Variety   14 Jan 31   p. 2, 4
Variety   1 Sep 31   p. 21.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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