Crowd, The (1928): King Vidor’s Oscar-Nominated Masterpiece

In “The Crowd,” originally titled “One of the Mob,” King Vidor examines with unprecedented realism the predicament of two individuals in the anonymity and indifference of New York City, which is meant to embody the vices of every Big City.

To avoid melodramatic treatment, Vidor focuses on the hopes and frustrations of two average people amidst the harsh metropolitan. He cast the two protagonists with unknown players: James Murray (an extra who happened to walk by) and Elizabeth Boardman (who later became Vidor’s wife). Murray plays a clerk holding a meaningless job in a huge office and living in a small and shabby apartment.

The film benefited immensely from on location shoot in New York City, an unusual practice at the time. The technical virtuosity of “The Crowd” is remarkable, particularly its startling opening image. A beehive of activities is recorded (through hidden cameras) in the streets of Manhattan, with the camera scaling the heights of a skyscraper. The camera climbs up, glides through a window into a large office, then stops at the hero’s desk.

The imagery of “The Crowd” had tremendous influence on the way that the Big City would be portrayed in Hollywood movies of the future. One of the most critically acclaimed silent films, “The Crowd” was nominated for two Academy awards: Unique and Artistic Picture and Best Director. The winners were Murnau’s “Sunrise,” and director Frank Borzage for “Seventh Heaven.”

“The Crowd” led to a sequel, of sorts. In “Our Daily Bread” (1934), Vidor shows again his belief in the rehabilitative and regenerative functions of rural life. Deeply disturbed by the unemployment and low morale of the Depression, Vidor sought to channel “this nationwide unrest and tragedy into a film.” “I wanted to take my two protagonists out of The Crowd,” Vidor notes in his memoirs, “and follow them through the struggles of a typical young American couple in this most difficult period.”

Oscar Nominations: 2

Unique and Artisic Picture
Director: King Vidor

Oscar Context

The award for Unique Artistic Picture prevailed only one year, and the winner for 1927-28 was “Sunrise.”

Frank Borzage won the Best Director Oscar for “Seventh Heaven.” One of Oscar’s biggest losers, King Vidor was nominated five times for Best Director but never won a legit statuette.

See Review and Comment of Our Daily Bread.