Street Scene

Street Scene
It’s the late 1920s. A summer evening. New York City. And it’s a hot one.

Women in house dresses fan themselves as they gossip on the stoop of the brownstone tenement where they live. Dirty-faced children try to cool off by running into the spray from an open fire hydrant. Men with rolled up shirtsleeves walk home after a long day’s work, perspiring in the humidity. Some wear loosened ties and carry the evening newspaper; others wear coveralls and carry empty lunch pails.

They’ve come from all over the world – different backgrounds and different religions. And they all live here, in this apartment building, forming a community of sorts on this New York side street.

Street Scene blossomed from a writing exercise by playwright Elmer Rice. The result was The Sidewalks of New York in which one of the scenes, Street Scene, offered enough substance to stand on its own.

The play earned Rice the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1929, and when the opportunity to make his story into a film, he also wrote the screenplay.

For the most part, the film has the same look and feel of the stage play. The only set is the front of the tenement and most of the action takes place on the front stoop. Open windows offer the chance for the residents to engage in conversation with those on the street without ever leaving their apartments.

As the supporting characters pop in and out of their windows, the stories of their lives begin to unfold into rich depictions of their often-painful lives. Some seek love, others face eviction. Most are just trying to squeeze a little happiness out of a life that has failed to reach expectations.

Some cope with their disappointments through anger or alcohol; others are grounded in the moment and take delight in the pleasure of a cold ice cream cone. But the characters continue to reach for dreams that are just beyond their grasp.

The story is an ensemble piece so it is difficult to name a single true protagonist. The closest would be young and pretty Rose Moran who seeks life beyond the city and is the only one who achieves her dream albeit through tragic events.

The harsh reality of city life is the true antagonist of the piece. It works like a pressure cooker, slowly increasing its force until there is a release or an explosion.

Street Scene cleverly has both and it results in a very compelling story. The characters' "life-scenes" are poignant and prove that even the most ordinary life is actually quite extraordinary.

** I did not receive any remuneration of any kind for this review.

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