Street Scene (King Vidor / U.S., 1931):

King Vidor's own The Crowd from a different angle, a cross-section terrarium: "Nothing but divorce, scandal and murder," grouses the hoary tenement dweller like an oblivious reviewer. Lee's Do the Right Thing is very much born in the kaleidoscopic preamble, a Gershwinesque note sends the camera gliding from rooftop to oscillating fan to Beulah Bondi ambling down the sidewalk "like a wet dishrag." Hell's Kitchen in the grip of a heat wave really is an inferno, "two, three thousand people, everybody sweating," the front of a brownstone holds Elmer Rice's venerable proscenium. Characters lean out of windows, sit on porches and pace back and forth for a multilayered tessitura of gossiping, warbling, kvetching, yearning. The truculent cuckold (David Landau) argues morality with the Jewish Trotskyite (Max Montor), the wannabe Italian tenor (George Humbert) and the Scandinavian philosopher (John Qualen) squabble over American history, the forlorn housewife (Estelle Taylor) and the milk collector (Russell Hopton) occasion the paroxysm that gets everybody's attention. The old guards of reactionary bluster and ineffectual intellectualism hold sway, youthful escape meanwhile is embodied by the sensitive ingénue (Sylvia Sidney) and the college dreamer (William Collier Jr.) with a taste for Whitman. "Some baby of a day!" The enduring bedrock (Wyler's Dead End and Preminger's The Man with the Golden Arm bear its influence) is a tangible melting-pot portrait not quite cooled by ice-cream, the clammy organism that is the neighborhood demands architectural fervor and receives it in Vidor's consummate montage: Close-ups in swift succession following the climactic gunshot, ascending crane shots as the heroine pushes her way through the vast swarm of onlookers, a George Bellows image half-obscured by an elevated train rattling by in the foreground. A theatrical snapshot that's also a heaving Vidor vision, chafing forces at play until they spill out of the screen within the screen, and from there to Rear Window is Hitchcock's secret. With Walter Miller, Matt McHugh, Greta Granstedt, Allen Fox, and Eleanor Wesselhoeft. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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