Monday, September 30, 2019

CAFTAN WOMAN'S CHOICE: ONE FOR OCTOBER ON TCM


"Choose the least important day in your life. It will be important enough." That which is eternal in Emily Webb Gibbs tries to heed the advice of that which is eternal in Mother Gibbs, to discover that "Earth, you're too wonderful for anybody to realize you."

Martha Scott, Frank Craven, John Craven
Emily Webb, The Stage Manager, George Gibb
Broadway, 1938

Thornton Wilder's play Our Town was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1938. Martha Scott made her Broadway debut as Emily Webb in the production which ran for 336 performances. Understudies in the role were Dorothy McGuire who went on to her own hit play Claudia, and Teresa Wright who would originate the role of Mary Skinner in Life With Father.

Thornton Wilder's insightful presentation of daily life in Grover's Corners at the turn of the 20th century reflects life in all our towns in all our centuries. Since its debut, it has been popularly revived, adapted, and the first theatrical experience for generations of high schoolers.

Martha Scott, William Holden
Emily Webb, George Gibb

Frank Craven, the narrator/stage manager from the theatre, becomes the narrator/tour guide for the movie audience in the 1940 film produced by Sol Lesser (Tarzan series) and directed by Sam Wood (Goodbye, Mr. Chips). Craven also collaborated with playwright Wilder on the screenplay. Aaron Copland wrote the second of his seven film scores, following Of Mice and Men. He was nominated for the Oscar for both scores. Bert Glennon (The Rains Came) was the cinematographer, and it is a shame that the film fell into the public domain and most of us see only a shadow of what his artistry created. 

The facts of the New Hampshire town as to topography and population are wryly provided and we are invited to become voyeuristic observers of the commonplace, which mirrors our own experience. We are asked to study our own life, with all its hopes and trials, and inevitable end. Quietly and unexpectedly our relationship to the Gibbs and the Webbs, and others in Grover's Corners is cemented by sharing the big moments that come out of the small.  

The film is charmingly cast with Fay Bainter, Thomas Mitchell, William Holden, Beulah Bondi, Guy Kibbee, Stuart Erwin, and other familiar faces. Martha Scott, Frank Craven, Doro Merande and Arthur Allen reprise their Broadway roles. 

Our Town would not win any of the six Oscars for which it was nominated. However, the National Board of Review would award their Best Acting of the season to Martha Scott and William Holden.

Martha Scott, Fay Bainter
Emily Webb Gibb, Julia Gibb

The film presentation of Our Town is a sensitive and memorable adaption of a stage classic. The perceptive screenplay elicits unexpected emotional responses from an audience unused to seeing itself reflected in the mundane and magnificent. 

The film ending to Our Town is controversial to purists. The result was reached through the collaboration of Thornton Wilder and producer Sol Lesser. Hollywood in 1940 could not seem to imagine that audiences of movies and audiences of theatre were one and the same. An upbeat conclusion was required and the author adapted.

"Emily should live. In the theatre they (the characters) are halfway allegory. In the movie, they are very concrete. Let her live. The idea will have been imparted anyway." - Thornton Wilder 


Monday, October 21st the TCM daytime lineup features films taking place in smaller New England communities. Our Town takes centre stage at 12:30 EST.














2 comments:

  1. I saw a stage production of OUR TOWN when I lived in Ohio. It was... unusual. I initially took the sparseness of the set design to be an affectation of the director. A film version obviously wouldn’t need to resort to that, but I imagine it must feel very different to fans of the play. It’s kinda like the hubbub over this new CATS movie—the way the adaptation to a different medium can be jarring because of the changes.

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    Replies
    1. The popularity of something can lead to certain expectations. For the film, maintaining the "stage manager" was a nod to those expectations for those who might have found the full-on sets jarring.

      A musical TV production in the 1950s starred Eva Marie Saint and Paul Newman. Frank Sinatra was the stage manager and introduced the song Love and Marriage.

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