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Our Town

Our Town(1940)

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Our Town (1940)

Our Town (1940) was director Sam Wood's sensitive film treatment of one of the theater's best-loved examples of Americana, Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer Prize-winning play about life in the fictional New Hampshire town of Grover's Corners in the years 1900 through 1913. Over the decades, the movie has won much praise for its outstanding production design by William Cameron Menzies, its memorable score by Aaron Copland and an unusually rich cast of supporting actors that includes Fay Bainter, Beulah Bondi, Thomas Mitchell and Guy Kibbee. Our Town won Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Actress (Martha Scott), Black-and-White Art Direction, Original Score and Sound Recording.

Frank Craven, repeating his stage role as the story's narrator, chronicles the lives of a handful of the town's citizens, centering on sweethearts Emily Webb (Scott, also repeating her Broadway success) and George Gibbs (William Holden). As the couple grows older, marry and face a potentially fatal childbirth, the film paints a delicate portrait of family life in a more innocent age. It culminates, as did the play, in a memorable graveyard scene.

There's a significant difference, however, in how the story plays out in the stage version and on film -- and those who do not wish to know the movie's outcome should stop reading here. In the play, Emily dies in childbirth and is allowed to spend one "typical" day back on Earth. But the film's creators, finding that ending too downbeat for movie audiences of the day, asked Thornton Wilder to allow Emily to survive her ordeal on film. To the surprise of some, the playwright agreed. Wilder wrote producer Sol Lesser that "Emily should live.... In a movie you see the people so close "to" that a different relation is established. In the theater, they are halfway abstractions in an allegory, in the movie they are very concrete.... It is disproportionately cruel that she die. Let her live...." And so, in the movie, the famous cemetery scene becomes a dream.

Producer: Sol Lesser
Director: Sam Wood
Screenplay: Harry Chandlee, Frank Craven, Thornton Wilder, from Wilder's play
Cinematography: Bert Glennon
Original Music: Aaron Copland
Production Design: William Cameron Menzies
Editing: Sherman Todd
Principal Cast: William Holden (George Gibbs), Martha Scott (Emily Webb), Frank Craven (Stage Manager and Mr. Morgan), Fay Bainter (Julia Gibbs), Beulah Bondi (Myrtle Webb), Thomas Mitchell (Dr. Frank F. Gibbs), Guy Kibbee (Editor Charlie Webb), Stuart Erwin (Howie Newsome, Milkman), Doro Merande (Mrs. Louella Soames, Town Gossip).
BW-90m. Closed captioning.

by Roger Fristoe

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