“You’ve gotta be good in that town if you want to beat the crowd.”
We all dream of being someone great. We dream of being above all those we pass on the street. We have a secret ambition to be better than all the people around us and those who have put us down in the past. We dream of achieving things few people in the world achieve. We want notoriety, fame, power, and money. We want our voices to be heard. For many of us all we can do is dream. We may have the ambition to achieve greatness but life in the real world gets in the way. Money, love, jobs, unforeseen events come and go and change us for either better or worse and change our charted course. We have to be our best and believe in ourselves and push ourselves to rise above all those around us. To begin to believe in and push ourselves we have to work hard.
In director King Vidor’s 1928 silent film The Crowd his main character John Sims was told by he was going to be somebody big. He gave his son every opportunity he could to help his son become someone. The first of many upsets in John life happens when his father dies suddenly.
At twenty-one, John moves to New York City for his opportunity to become someone big. He gets a job in an office with hundreds of other men. After work one day his friend Bert asks John to come with him to Coney Island. Bet has two girls set up for a date. John says he needs to study but he winds up going. Both meet up with Jane and Mary (Eleanor Boardman). John is paired with Mary. They both have a great time together.
Soon John and Mary are married. For Christmas Mary’s family comes over to their small apartment near the El. The family is not too nice to John. John knows where to get some liquor. He goes to see Bert and the two of them wind up getting drunk and staying out late.
Sometime later John gets angry at Mary for stupid things like something in the bathroom not working or the milk bottle being too full. Mary has enough of her husband blaming her for things she cannot control and packs her things to leave. Johns walks out the door which makes Mary really upset. He comes back upstairs with his tail between his legs to say he is sorry. Mary tells John they are having a baby.
Five years later they have a boy and a girl and John has gotten an eight dollar raise in his pay. Life could not be any happier for John and the family after he winds five hundred dollars in a slogan contest. Their children are out playing across the street. They call to their children to come to the house to see what John has brought home for them. The son runs across the street with his sister following. Unfortunately the sister is hit by a car and later dies.
Months later John is having trouble concentrating at work. He cannot take the pressure anymore and quits. He does not tell Mary until they are on a day trip. She tells her husband she understands and tells him encouragingly he will find a new one. In one week John goes through four jobs. Mary takes in dress making. Her father and brother come by. The father offers John a job working for him. He does not take it. Mary gets so fed up with John she slaps him. He takes their son walking along a bridge. He plans to commit suicide but he cannot bring himself to jump. He suddenly becomes optimistic. As they are walking home John hears someone call out for a possible job opportunity. It is for a juggler to stand outside a store in a clown suit. John takes it.
When he comes back home he finds Mary all packed and ready to leave with her father and brother. John pleads with Mary that he will work hard to win her back. She does not want to go, she knows how much John depends on her. John tells her to just come out with her and their son for the just the night to the circus that he bought tickets to. They go as a happy laughing family.
The Crowd is one of a handful of films that we can all learn from. No matter what life throws at you, you can make it. One minute you are on top of the world and the next you feel like you can never get up and do not want to get up. It also teaches you that what you planned and hoped for all your life may never happen. It may just stay a dream, a hope, a desire. I like to think that the story teaches you that in order to become someone big and above the crowd you have to be very dedicated, ambitious, and work very hard. It felt to me like John just kind of gave up once he met and married Mary. I know it was a different time but I would never want something like what happened to John to happen to me. My life right now kind of mirror’s John’s: no matter what he does he gets kicked down. He thinks he is alright and then something happens to push him down. I went through some rough stuff last year and it is hard to be optimistic but when you do have that spark of optimism amidst your sorrow it feels great.
King Vidor directed and wrote a great film. The Crowd is still significant today as it was eighty-six years ago. The visuals of the buildings and the actors that Vidor captures give the viewer a punch in the gut with reality. The Crowd has its moments where it is melodramatic but it is worth seeing. Maybe it will push you onto your journey to become that someone big you dream of being