The Crowd (1928) Director: King Vidor
The Crowd is a remarkable film. It was a departure from King Vidor’s earlier silent film WWI epic, The Big Parade, as it mostly told the story of a single man in his struggle through everyday life, though it is certainly an epic film in other ways. Vidor would go on to receive a nomination from the Academy Awards for Best Director, and the film was nominated for several other Academy Awards.
It tells the story of an ordinary man in the big city, trapped in the crowd, as he struggles to make ends meet. He marries a young woman on a whim, and the film is notably candid about the trials faced by the young couple. It does not glamorize their romance. He works a boring job in a large and empty room amidst a crowd of people just like him. He lives in a packed upstairs tenement apartment in New York City. Tragedy strikes his family when his daughter is hit and killed by oncoming traffic – the crowd is sad with him for a day and then moves on. The crowd always laughs with you, but only cries for a day. He spends much of his life believing he is somehow different than the crowd, however the film ends on a happy note, just before his wife plans to leave him, he gets a day job working as a juggling clown. He decides to take his family to a show, where they take solace in the crowd, laughing at the stage performance.
The film has echoes of F.W. Murnau and Frita Lang. Six years after its release, Vidor self-produced a film that was a sequel of sorts, a depression-era man who lives far away from the crowd in the country, Our Daily Bread in 1934.
The Crowd is an essential silent film: beautifully made, with inspiring cinematography. It is both touching and humorous, though ultimately the film is a tragedy, a perspective on the pitiful existence of the common, urban man – a face in the crowd.