28 February 2007 | silverscreen888
Thornton Wilder's Mood-Rich Stage Piece Becomes an Equally-Memorable Film
Like "Harvey", "The Second Woman" and "Good Morning, Miss Dove", "Our Town" is set in an underpopulated United States town. Its 1901 look shares features with theirs, as do some of its story elements. Everyone knows practically everyone else; and the very fact that such towns are not the sort of place where important thing happens renders what does happen peculiarly intense, as if it had been placed under a magnifying lens in a powerful light. Author Thornton Wilder and his co-writers here adapt what was a most successful and atmospheric play into a deliberately-paced by I suggest an absorbing screenplay. It has the build perhaps of "Picnic" with the underlying calm of a good early western; only the setting here is Grover Corners, New Hampshire, a decidedly northeastern setting.. Sam Wood directed the film with his usual understated skill; and the writers I believe have retained the best of Mr. Wilder's crisp and often memorable dialogue. The film really divides into three parts--which I would nominate as Introduction, George and Emily and Two Futures(?). George Gibbs and Emily Webb in this film become two of the best remembered characters in U.S. fiction. Sol Lesser produced, with music by Aaron Copland, whose repressed melodies seem to me perfectly to serve this understated masterwork of dramatic construction. Production designer William Cameron Menzies and cinematographer Bert Glennon here tried for an uncompromising atmosphere rather than quaint or merely attractive compositions. Julia Heron did the remarkable interiors, with simple but effective wardrobe by Edward P. Lambert. Among the cast, Martha Scott is wonderfully young and unspoiled, and as Dr. Gibbs, Thomas Mitchell plays with Fay Bainter as his wife more-than-expertly. As their neighbors Editor Webb and his wife, Guy Kibbee is unusually restrained and Beulah Bondi as usual solidly dependable or better in every scene she is given. Stuart Erwin ad Frank Craven (as the stage manager) are quite good, and young William Holden shows to much better advantage than he did in several other films of the period. The supporting cast is not given a great deal to do but they do it very seamlessly, in my opinion. But what one remembers of "Our Town" I assert is its haunting, almost poetic quality. The production's pace is leisurely without being slow, electrically tense without being excited and focused without becoming too sad. The story here is about life, death, youth, love, honesty and fear--and the narrative evokes these emotions in the viewer honestly I claim because it is never pretentious and never striving for the effect that it admirably earns. It is I argue a touching black-and-white classic; and it is quite well acted also throughout.