This gripping melodrama from 1945 is Elia Kazan’s directorial debut as well as his masterful adaptation of Betty Smith's then very popular novel. The story takes place in New York's Brooklyn poor neighborhood, where the Nolan family, Irish immigrants, find it hard to come up with monthly expenses including rent.

Katie Nolan (Dorothy McGuire) is an attractive yet hard-working housewife, cleaning the stairs and selling rags to earn extra pennies, while husband Johnny (James Dunn) is a charming but often drunk man with artistic ambitions. The few earnings from his various odd jobs are usually frittered away in gambling halls. Nevertheless, the couples 13-year-old daughter Francie (Peggy Ann Garner) loves everything about her dad and has artistic ambitions of her own – perhaps that’s the reason why she feels closer to her father than her strict mother who wants Francie looking for a job immediately after leaving school. On the other hand, 12-year-old son Neeley (Ted Donaldson) is pretty loyal to his mum. If the daily life of the Nolans wasn’t hard enough, Katie's much more glamorous and spirited sister Sissy (Joan Blondell) marries for the third time. It’s 1912 and Sissy’s outragious behaviour causes a scandal that prompts Katie to break up with her sister - much to the annoyance of her her children who think of her aunt as a highly interesting and entertaining person! In addition, young Francie is unhappy that their landlord seems to cut off the branches from the tree in the courtyard which she and her dad refer to as ‘the tree of heaven’.

As the daily drudgery and bickering within the Nolan family continues, Francie in particular finds comfort in her gran Rommely (Ferike Boros) reading them stories and always pointing out how important a proper education is – an advice that Francie, who has ambitions to become a writer, takes very seriously. However, her local school will never fulfil such ambitions and to embark on a higher education is out of the question due to lack of money. Fate seems to take a turn for the better when dad Johnny lands a reasonably well-paid job as a ‘singing waiter’ and promises his daughter a better future and a better education – much the the chagrin of his wife who expects another baby but as yet hasn’t found the courage to tell anyone. Mr. Nolan and his daughter visit the admin department of a posher school in the nearby neighborhood and he ‘borrows’ a fake address from that district to make his daughter eligible as a pupil. The plan works and Francie is one step closer of fulfilling her dream. Christmas times nears and Katie finally announces the news of her pregnancy. The family seems to come together closer upon hearing the news and Katie even reconciles with her sister Sissy, who herself has just had a baby. The Nolans move upstairs into smaller premises so they can save more pennies. Daddy Nolan hasn’t forgotten about his promise to daughter Francie and is aware that the new school comes with higher costs that need to be paid… unfortunatly it’s deepest winter and work is spare, nonetheless he goes out looking for work but when he fails to return Katie and the rest of the family are informed by the sympathetic officer McShane (Lloyd Nolan) that a tragedy has occurred… a tragedy that will change the lives of the Nolan family forever.

This atmospheric film also has its humorous moments and the performances could hardly be better - especially Dorothy McGuire (THE TURNTABLE) is outstanding as a young woman confronted with a harsh life, though some critics thought she was too glamorous to play a hard-working Irish immigrant of working class stock. In addition, the Nebraska-born actress did not have the hard Brooklyn accent required for the part. The Blu-ray edition offers various bonus material such as commentary, making-of-docu, portrait of Dorothy McGuire and an illustrated info booklet.