'A Tree Grows in Brooklyn' (1945): Explain scene: Henry kicks the bucket

Early in the movie, the following scene occurs (going off memory, so some bits aren’t quite right):

Katie Nolan has been scrubbing the floor or stairs. She gives her bucket to Neeley (to empty?). As they are walking to their apartment, they encounter young Henry Gaddis, brother of [forget name], who is in ill health (possibly TB?).

Mrs. Nolan asks Henry, “How’s your sister doing?” He responds, “Poorly, thank you.” Then he runs down the hall and kicks the water bucket out of Neeley’s hand.

Not sure the point of that scene, other than to introduce the sister’s character. Was there something in the book about Henry picking on Neeley? Didn’t see any point for him kicking the bucket (literally), unless that was some foreshadowing that his sister was to later do it literally. I think Henry disappears after that one scene.

I ran upstairs to find the book, but it must be behind one of the stacks.

Of course they had to leave a lot out of the movie, but Henry is just fed up with everybody’s preoccupation with Flossie’s illness. What is he, chopped liver? He loves his sister and all, but nobody ever asks him how he is. Just how is Flossie.

Neeley and Henry weren’t particularly at odds, but Smith does dwell quite a bit about the petty cruelty of Brooklyn kids to one another. If I can find the book later I’ll post some cites.

I’ve only seen the movie once, though I’ve read the book countless times. The movie, as I remember it, seems unrelentingly grim. In the book, we see the joy Francie takes out of life, despite the cruelties of both children and adults which ought to stamp the wonder of of her, but don’t.

And the father, as I recall, was portrayed just as a hideous drunken cad. Maybe he was, but in the book the children loved him; he was their father. There was no loving the father of the movie. I remember crying when he died when I read the book; my daughter tells me the same.

In the book Henry is dying of tuberculous. He gets tired of everyone asking about his health. He is only mentioned in the beginning and later when he dies.

It’s Henny, isn’t it? Not Henry?

That’s right, he is the sick one! The sister has a withered arm, and she makes one-armed costumes of various designs for dances she’s always going to.

Thanks so much for the spoiler in the thread title.

Not like I was just starting this book or anything. :mad:

Henny is indeed his name, and in the book he’s the one with illness (TB I believe). Considering I’ve seen the movie about half as often as I’ve read the book (which is a kabillion times), I’m surprised I don’t remember the bucket-kicking scene. It’s almost certainly not from the book itself, considering Henny is so sickly in that version of the story. I guess I’d imagine he lashes out at Neeley’s bucket out of simple fear/resentment at having a dying sister, and taking out his frustration on the only kid whose status at the moment is lower than his.

:eek: Yowsa, I gotta ask, what the heck movie did you see? No love for the father? I can’t even fathom that. The relationship between Peggy Ann Garner’s Francie and James Dunn’s Johnny is absolutely beautiful, heartbreaking, and filled with love. Dunn portrayed the role not as a “hideous cad” but as a tragically flawed but gentle, sensitive dreamer who clearly adores his family even as he fails them, over and over again. This was a life-or-death, make-or-break performance for the actor, who needed a comeback thanks to his own alcoholism, and he invested Johnny with a perfect mixture of tremulous hope and desperate sense of foreboding that were probably all too true to life.

Sorry, I don’t mean to rant or wax rhapsodic … but this is one of my favorite movies and performances, so I was flabbergasted to see what I think of as a brilliant, nuanced portrayal so harshly dismissed. I hope you see the movie again and maybe change your mind; perhaps your memory is just fuzzy?

Nothing’s really spoiled. Not only is Henny a very minor character (he’s just part of the local color, really), but there’s absolutely no suspense involved in his plot regarding his fate. I think in his introduction he’s described as the dying kid. Honestly, don’t worry about it.

OK, that’s it. I’m tearing the guest room apart tonight to find that damn book.

I can’t access photobucket at work, but I think I included the bucket-kicking scene in this album.

(The actor playing Henry (as he is listed in the cast directory) is part of some research completely unrelated to “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” hence the other snapshots.)

Oh my! Well, perhaps my memory is just fuzzy. It’s been quite some time. I love the book, I’ve loved it for years, and what I remember is thinking this has NONE of the power of the book. I should give it another try, based on your impassioned testimony. :slight_smile:

Hm, okay, now that I see it, cancel my more introspective analysis. It just looks like a rambunctious kid teasing another likeminded neighbor, one who’s probably done similarly mindless, harmless pranks in return. Neeley’s pretty rough-and-tumble and always gives as good as he’s got. Of course, in the book, we get to see him grow up and mature nicely (though not unrecognizably; one of my favorite lines in the book is Francie seeing just how much the best parts of her father and mother are combined in Neeley).

Dang, you always seem to have the most obscure, fascinating research questions! What is it you do, if you don’t mind my asking?

I hope I wasn’t too rude! I can’t blame you for being disappointed in the film, especially because by its nature it’s soooo truncated from Smith’s dense, rich, beautifully written prose. I adore ATGIB so much that missing even a single word feels like blasphemy. How can you encapsulate all of Francie’s observations, or the flashbacks to Katie and Johnny’s courtship (and beyond that to Mary Rommely’s marriage), in a two-hour or less film? They couldn’t go into details about Aunt Sissy’s job or sex life or multiple bigamies, or show Francie growing up, or Aunt Eva’s existence for that matter. (There’s Katie’s third sister too, but she’s extremely minor in the book except for dashing Francie’s fleeting dreams of glamorous nunhood.)

All that said, I do think the film (the original version, anyway, not the Cliff Robertson version) does as good a job as was possible at the time. The casting was perfect. Peggy Ann Garner is astonishingly good. All of Francie’s hopes and struggles with her life’s limitations are there in her sympathetic eyes. It took me a while to warm to Dorothy McGuire’s portrayal of Katie, but I think that’s a) because I don’t really like McGuire anyway, and b) Katie’s a hard character to like anyway, especially in the first part of the book. I hope you get to see it again and let us know what you think!

I don’t remember which I experienced first, the movie or book, so I don’t know if I was able to come to the film tabula rasa, so to speak. Sometimes I think it’s better to see movies first before reading the original; this way you get to view the film without expectations, while the book allows you to deepen your experience.

No problem. The actor playing Henry is uncredited in the movie, but listed in cast directories as “Vincent Graeff,” as are the other ones in the album.

He is almost certainly the same actor who played a bit character “Boxcar” in a number of the MGM “Our Gang” series. Curiously, in the “Our Gang” cast lists, the character “Boxcar” is credited to one “Billy Ray Smith,” with one exception, that one being Going to Press (1942), which lists both Vincent Graeff and Billy Ray Smith.

It’s a cinch that the appearances credited to Billy Ray Smith are the same person. And I’m 80% sure, based on the info of a real researcher, that “Billy Ray Smith” is indeed Vincent Graeff. I’ve actually been in contact with Vincent Graeff, and he did confirm that he did participate in the “Our Gang” series, as well as other movie roles, and I’m hoping that he will confirm that these images in this album are all of him. He did say he had no idea that he had been listed as “Billy Ray Smith.” So, I’m hoping to chip away at my remaining 20% uncertainty.

For the record: the first snapshot in the album is from the “Our Gang” short Election Daze (1942). The others are respectively from Mokey (1942), A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945), The Dark Corner (1946) (2), and Fighting Father Dunne (1950) (2).

Incidentally, in “Mokey,” the taller boy beside him, although the quality of the snapshot doesn’t do it justice, is almost certainly his older brother. The resemblance is too much to be coincidental, and there is a “Paul Graeff” listed as being in the movie.

Well the book spans a decade and a half, going back before Francie was born, Henny is the signal in the book, where he finally dies of TB and this signals to Francie a real change of life and her growning up.

Ever since Francie can remember Henny was going to die, but he never did. When he finally did, it signaled the first thing to Francie that was really done and over with and a sign she was growing up. Francie always is told to talk to Henny, Henny’s mother said “Doesn’t he look good Francie?” Henny replies “She tells a dying man he looks good.”

In the book Henny was just a person that had TB and was sitting around waiting to die.

The movie only focused on Francie as around a preteen or early teen and that really takes everything out of the Henny character. You don’t see Francie relate to Henny