“The Crowd,” the 1928 silent film, stands as the quintessential King Vidor directed movie, with charming interludes of pure comedy mixed with genuine emotional depth. Even though we can see the main character’s many flaws, we continue to route for him because he maintains his basic desire to support his wife and family despite a boring job and a questionable attitude towards his future prospects.
James Murray plays John Sims, an insurance clerk who maintains his loyalty to his company despite being stuck in a warehouse-like office crunching numbers with dozens of other men. He abandons his plan to study one night when a co-worker, played by the portly Bert Roach, invites him to double date with Mary at Coney Island. John and Mary have a short romantic interlude that leads to marriage and family, but things unravel as John succumbs to the pressures of his dead-end job.
I give a lot of credit to Vidor for presenting such a common story without much irony. The plot points include John being born, his settling into a clock-watching insurance clerk, and a family tragedy with trounces his confidence and idealism. Mary, played by Eleanor Boardman, remains supportive, but John’s behavior pushes her to the breaking point.
Vidor filmed much of the film in New York, and he achieved some spectacle shots of crowds. As much as John tries to distance himself from the crowd, he keeps getting pulled along with it. Vidor gives us a big movie with big ideas, but he also manages to maintain a tight domestic story with very good performances from Murray and Boardman.