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Our Town (1940) First Time Viewing


Det Jim McLeod
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Life, love and death in the film version of Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer Prize winning play.

I have read the play a few times and loved it. This is the first time I saw the film and loved it too.

If you are more familiar with William Holden's later, more cynical screen characters you may find it jarring to see him playing an awkward adolescent. Martha Scott (who was nominated for an Oscar) is excellent as his winsome girl friend, later wife. Frank Craven recreates his Broadway role as the Stage Manager, just called Mr Morgan in the film. The breaking the fourth wall may have worked better on stage but it still is interesting to have 1940 movie characters speaking directly to you. The supporting cast of veteran character actors like Fay Bainter, Thomas Mitchell (very busy during this time), Beulah Bondi and Guy Kibbee are great too. 

The third act, involving death, is softened a bit, I guess due to the Production Code of the time, but the graveyard and ghostly scenes are still very eerie. 

What do you think of this one?

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This is a wonderful film. And with a great score by Aaron Copland. Seeing Frank Craven repeat his Broadway role is one of those great instances of the performance of a lifetime captured on film. Same with Charlie Winninger in SHOW BOAT.

OUR TOWN has not fared too well celluloid-wise. The film was orphaned early on and there are compromised 35mm reels at UCLA. Most of the 16mm prints around are awful dupes. I have a rare 16 from an original negative and, believe me, with this film it makes a difference. The transfer running on TCM appears to be from an original 16 print. Because the film is public domain, I would not expect a restoration any time in the forseeable future.

One of my film treasures is a print of an episode of Lilli Palmer's NBC talk show in which she interviews Thornton Wilder. They don't discuss OUR TOWN, but this is one of the few extant films of the great American author.

 

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Around the time "Our Town" was filmed, William Holden told Joel McCrea; “I’m too young to get good parts.  I need lines in my face, like you and Coop.”  

As an aside; The song "Love and Marriage" was written for a 1955 Producer's Showcase  live TV production of "Our Town" starring Paul Newman and Eva Marie Saint, with Frank Sinatra as the Stage Manager. This enabled the TV show "Married With Children" to use the song as their opening without paying Frank royalties as this is one of the few songs he did not own the rights to. 

 

 

 

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1 hour ago, johnpressman said:

Around the time "Our Town" was filmed, William Holden told Joel McCrea; “I’m too young to get good parts.  I need lines in my face, like you and Coop.”  

As an aside; The song "Love and Marriage" was written for a 1955 Producer's Showcase  live TV production of "Our Town" starring Paul Newman and Eva Marie Saint, with Frank Sinatra as the Stage Manager. This enabled the TV show "Married With Children" to use the song as their opening without paying Frank royalties as this is one of the few songs he did not own the rights to. 

Interesting. But someone owned the song, someone was paid royalties. Yes?

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2 hours ago, Ray Faiola said:

This is a wonderful film. And with a great score by Aaron Copland. Seeing Frank Craven repeat his Broadway role is one of those great instances of the performance of a lifetime captured on film. Same with Charlie Winninger in SHOW BOAT.

OUR TOWN has not fared too well celluloid-wise. The film was orphaned early on and there are compromised 35mm reels at UCLA. Most of the 16mm prints around are awful dupes. I have a rare 16 from an original negative and, believe me, with this film it makes a difference. The transfer running on TCM appears to be from an original 16 print. Because the film is public domain, I would not expect a restoration any time in the forseeable future.

Seems like something Criterion would/could restore. They're restored other public domain titles. Maybe you should contact them and share your print, if it's the best one around.

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I believe I was exposed to it in junior high school English class; (although the school system in general was sucky for some reason) we were lucky enough to always receive a classic cinema adaptation of a great literary work in addition to the reading assignments. Huck Finn, Billy Budd, To Kill a Mockingbird, Moby Dick....

This particular title does not figure very well in my memory compared to others I was shown; it is a little awkward and strange and gloomy for a young mind to absorb. 'Death of a Salesman' was another one which I mentally shirked from. Why the heck adults wanted to rain-on-my-parade with stories extolling futility and death was unfathomable to me at the time.

I'm very much a fan of Thornton Wilder's 'Bridge of San Luis Rey' --one of my favorite prose works of all time--and though I've both read 'Our Town' and re-viewed the film at least once as an adult it still never pleases me very much. I took it in once and that was more than enough for me.

Jim McLeod, I applaud your interest in Wilder's fine theatrical legacy.

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p.s. young William Holden was also in 'The Moon is Blue'--which supposedly was an out-and-out scandal at the time. Should not surprise anyone to learn that Otto Preminger helmed the project, a man who seemed to take perverse delight in bringing racy themes to the public eye. It rather surprises me that its almost never talked about anymore, for all the furor it caused. Maybe TopBilled knows why this is. :)

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8 hours ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

Jim McLeod, I applaud your interest in Wilder's fine theatrical legacy.

Thanks, I will try to seek out "Bridge Of San Luis Rey". I could have done without your vulgar dig at the school system but you kept your comments pretty normal.

Alfred Hitchcock also hired Wilder to sharpen up the script for "Shadow Of A Doubt".

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11 hours ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

p.s. young William Holden was also in 'The Moon is Blue'--which supposedly was an out-and-out scandal at the time. Should not surprise anyone to learn that Otto Preminger helmed the project, a man who seemed to take perverse delight in bringing racy themes to the public eye. It rather surprises me that its almost never talked about anymore, for all the furor it caused. Maybe TopBilled knows why this is. :)

I think THE MOON IS BLUE was kept out of circulation for awhile. It probably did not air much (if at all) on network television. Even a cable channel like TCM doesn't broadcast it very often. It's also a film that seems quite dated and tame by modern standards. It hasn't stood the test of time and has become a curio more than anything. 

I'd say some Preminger's other envelope-pushing films hold up better. Titles like FOREVER AMBER and THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM.

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  • 3 weeks later...

'To Kill a Mockingbird' is currently running on the Great White Way in New York. Broadway, that is! But, with very mixed results so far. They got some popculture slouch named 'Jeff Daniels' (I never heard of this guy) in the role of Atticus Finch.

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