Street Scene (1931)

Street Scene 1931 PosterWhile New York City is in the grips of a heat wave, the residents of one building beat the heat by sitting on the building’s stoop and catching up on gossip.  Emma Jones (Beulah Bondi), the building’s resident busybody, is only too happy to make sure everyone knows what Anna Murant (Estelle Taylor) has been up to.  Anna, married to the abusive and controlling Frank (David Landau), has been not-too-discreetly carrying on an affair with Steve Sankey (Russell Hopton), her married milkman.  Everyone knows what has been going on with Anna and Steve, but Frank is only suspicious at this point.

Meanwhile, Anna’s daughter Rose (Sylvia Sydney), like her mother, longs for something more satisfying out of life.  She has a job, but has to put up with constant advances from her boss, who wants to turn her into a kept woman.  However, Rose doesn’t want to take the easy way out.  Rose’s best friend is her neighbor, Sam (William Collier, Jr.), who is in love with her, even though she doesn’t feel the same way about him.  He’s studying to become a lawyer, but would gladly throw everything aside for the chance to be with Rose.

When Frank leaves town on business, of course Steve goes to see Anna.  But when Frank returns unexpectedly, the neighbors are powerless to stop the confrontation they know is about to happen.  When Frank finds Anna and Steve together, he shoots and kills both of them and runs away.  The police get to work investigating the crime while the neighborhood is both aghast and morbidly excited by the scandal.

Movies set during heat waves tend to fascinate me because they often seem to show how the heat can bring out the worst in people.  In Rear Window, L.B. Jeffries’ neighbor murders his wife.  Do the Right Thing is about racial tensions that are brought to a head on the hottest day of the year.  Even in comedies like The Seven Year Itch, it’s still a movie about a married man tempted to cheat on his wife.  Street Scene is definitely an early example of that theme.  Amidst the gossip about Anna’s affair with Steve, we see the residents of this neighborhood reveal their prejudices and other negative traits.  In fact, Street Scene is more of a character study than it is about the affair between Anna and Steven.  This is the kind of material that director King Vidor excelled at handling.  Street Scene isn’t one of my favorite heat wave movies, but I still found it very interesting and it is absolutely worth watching at least once.

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2 comments

  1. Enjoyed your write-up, Angela — and your observation about movies set during heat waves. I never thought about that! I like this movie a lot — I’ve seen it a few times now, and I like it more every time. And that scene where Anna and Steve are killed is positively harrowing!

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