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One Third of a Nation

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One Third of a Nation is a poignant and socially-conscious drama movie released in 1939, directed by Dudley Murphy, featuring the acting talents of Sylvia Sidney, Leif Erickson, and Myron McCormick. The film offers an incisive and thought-provoking commentary on housing conditions, poverty, and social disparities in the United States during the 1930s.

Sylvia Sidney, celebrated for her intense performances and naturalistic acting style, plays the leading role of Mary Rogers. Mary is a humble but hardworking woman dwelling in the slums of New York City alongside her younger brother, Joey (played by Sidney Lumet). Her life is emblematic of the struggle and strife of those living in substandard housing conditions, battling against the hardships of life in order to survive.

On the other side of the socio-economic spectrum is Peter Cortlant, a wealthy, unassuming, and an affable young man played by Leif Erickson. Peter inherits a massive housing empire upon the death of his elder brother, consequently finding himself in control of thousands of slum houses which includes the one where Mary and Joey reside. His character represents the privileged class, naive to the squalor and harsh living conditions that the less fortunate have to endure due to his inherited wealth.

Rounding off the main trio is Myron McCormick, playing the role of Samuel 'Sam' Moon, a charming but ruthless real estate developer. He showcases the antagonistic side of capitalism, representing the individuals who exploit the misery and destitution of the poor for their personal gain.

A freak fire incident in Mary and Joey's tenement leads to Joey being severely injured, subsequently catching the attention of Peter. This event serves as an unsettling wake-up call for him, making him acutely aware of the condition of his inherited properties and the living conditions of his tenants.

Peter, whose life had been entirely detached from the bitter realities of slum-living, experiences a deep sense of guilt and responsibility for Joey's accident. His chance meeting with Mary brings him face-to-face with the grim truths of tenant life within his own holdings. Mary's resilience amidst raging adversity profoundly affects him, leading to an ideological struggle within Peter's consciousness.

This tragic event serves as a catalyst for Peter, who embarks on a mission to improve the living conditions for his tenants. Equipped with newfound empathy, Peter clashes with Sam Moon, the business-minded real estate developer, initiating a tale of social struggle and the drive for urban reform.

The film also explores the budding romance between Mary and Peter, however, One Third of a Nation is much more than a love story. It’s an unflinching portrayal of the gaping economic disparities of the time, spotlighting the plight of the aphonic lower strata and the inequality inherent in society.

One Third of a Nation effectively humanizes the issue of urban poverty and substandard housing while highlighting the necessity for empathy and action. The rich and nuanced performances by the lead actors do justice to their complex characters, taking the audience on a roller coaster ride of complex emotions and fraught social dynamics. Their storytelling prowess embraces you, creating a deep connection between the characters and the audience.

At its core, One Third of a Nation is a social drama, aiming at inciting both empathy and outrage, demanding action against social and economic disparities. Mary, Peter, and Sam’s lives symbolize the different aspects of the American society of the 1930s, drawing attention to the urgent need for societal reforms.

Though set in the 1930s, the themes of the film remain relevant even today, making One Third of a Nation a timeless piece of cinematic art. It tackles societal issues with a blend of realism and dramatization that leaves a lasting impact, encouraging viewers to ponder on their stance in the face of such injustices.

One Third of a Nation offers more than just an engaging and dramatic story. It is a socially conscious film designed to make its audience think and reflect. Its exploration of harsh societal realities combined with high-caliber performances make this film a pure cinematic gem from the late 1930s. Whether you fancy historical dramas or are looking for thought-provoking social stories, One Third of a Nation will not disappoint.

One Third of a Nation is a Drama movie released in 1939. It has a runtime of 79 min.. Critics and viewers have rated it moderate reviews, with an IMDb score of 6.1..

Dudley Murphy
Sylvia Sidney, Leif Erickson, Myron McCormick
Also starring Leif Erickson
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