Tonight's classic film feature selection for Saturday Night Cinema is "Our Town." Our Town is a 1940 film adaptation of a play of the same name by Thornton Wilder, starring William Holden, Martha Scott, Fay Bainter, Beulah Bondi, Thomas Mitchell, Guy Kibbee and Frank Craven. It was adapted by Harry Chandlee, Craven and Wilder. It was directed by Sam Wood. The movie was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. Scott, who repeated her stage role as Emily Webb, was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress, and Aaron Copland was nominated for Best Score.
Our Town (1940) NYT Critics' Pick
THE SCREEN; 'Our Town,' a Beautiful and Tender PictureBy BOSLEY CROWTHERPublished: June 14, 1940
There is reason to take hope this morning, to find renewed faith and confidence in mankind——and, incidentally, in the artistry of the screen. For the film version of Thornton Wilder's prize-winning play, "Our Town," opened yesterday at the Music Hall, and a more tonic and reassuring avowal of the nobility which resides in just plain folks—and the capacity for expression possessed by the screen—has not come this way in longer than we care to recall.
Mr. Wilder's play, which opened on Broadway in the Winter of 1938, was a profoundly affecting drama, almost too sharply poignant in its exposure of human joy and grief for endurance. Gently, but without stint, it lay bare the human heart and revealed the defenseless impulses of that member. As a play it was done without scenery, thus evoking the most fragile imagery; and, for this reason, it seemed almost too spiritual for transference to the screen. But now that Producer Sol Lesser has had the insight to put it onto film—and to do so almost scene for scene and word for word—it is apparent that a finer original screen play could scarcely have been written.
For this is not an ordinary picture, not a straight-away plotted-story film. This is a picture which utilizes the fullest prerogatives of the camera to participate as a recognized witness to a simple dramatic account of people's lives, not just to spy on some one's fictitious emotions. On the stage there was a character, known as the stage manager, who conducted the action of the play; on the screen, a small-town druggist acts as guide and narrator on a leisurely tour of a little New Hampshire town. He introduces characters who speak directly to the camera—or to the audience—and he takes time out to make incidental remarks himself. Once he places his hand before the lens to stop a sequence and introduce another. The camera thus becomes animate, not just a recording machine. It is an exciting technique, used occasionally before—by Sacha Guitry notably—and enhances the scope of the screen tremendously.
The story of "Our Town," of course, is quite simple, but more powerful because of its simplicity. It is the story of several people living in Grovers Corner. N. H., during the early years of this century. And chiefly it is the story of a boy and girl, children of neighboring parents, who fall in love, get married and have a child.
But because of the technique employed we are permitted to see these people in their entirety; we see them in their normal daily tasks, we hear the thoughts which run through their minds and, at the end, we behold the dream of death and survival of the soul which is dreamed by the girl who is soon to become a mother. It is, in short, a comprehensive penetration of the hearts of these good people, an external glance at the toils and humors of their humdrum lives and an internal revelation of their sorrows which brings, as Matthew Arnold said, "the eternal note of sadness in."
Not enough can be said for the courage of Mr. Lesser in producing a picture in this fashion, nor enough for the excellent contributions of every one involved. Frank Craven as the druggist and narrator is the perfect New England Socrates—honest, sincere and profound. Martha Scott, as the young girl, is lovely and vibrant with emotion, and William Holden plays the boy with a clean and refreshing youthfulness. Excellent projections of small-town characters are given by Beulah Bondi, Thomas Mitchell, Fay Bainter, Guy Kibbee, Stuart Erwin and a host of other folks. And Sam Wood has caught in his direction all the flavor of smalltown life, with exciting visual elaborations upon the theme. Likewise the score by Aaron Copland offers a subtle tonal response to the vagrant moods.
We hesitate to employ superlatives, but of "Our Town" the least we can say is that it captures on film the simple beauties and truths of humble folks as very few pictures ever do: it is rich and ennobling in its plain philosophy—and it gives one a passionate desire to enjoy the fullness of life even in these good old days of today.
OUR TOWN; screen play by Thornton Wilder, Frank Craven and Harry Chandlee; based on the play by Thornton Wilder; directed by Sam Wood; music by Aaron Copland; a Sol Lesser Production released through United Artists. At the Radio City Music Hall.
Mr. Morgan, the Narrator . . . . . Frank Craven
George Gibbs . . . . . William Holden
Emily Webb . . . . . Martha Scott
Mrs. Gibbs . . . . . Fay Bainter
Mrs. Webb . . . . . Beulah Bondi
Dr. Gibbs . . . . . Thomas Mitchell
Editor Webb . . . . . Guy Kibbee
Howie Newsome . . . . . Stuart Erwin
Simon Stimson . . . . . Phillip Wood
Mrs. Soames . . . . . Doro Merande
Rebecca Gibbs . . . . . Ruth Toby
Wally Webb . . . . . Douglas Gardiner
Professor Willett . . . . . Arthur Allen
The Constable . . . . . Spencer Charters
Joe Crowell . . . . . Tim Davis
Si Crowell . . . . . Dix Davis