Cast & Crew
Around the turn of the century in the small town of Grovers Corners, folks were never afraid to leave their doors unlocked. Doc Gibbs, his wife Julie, son George and daughter Rebecca live next door to Charlie Webb, his wife and daughter Emily and son Wally. While Julie confides Mrs. Webb about the trip she dreams of taking with her husband, George confides in Emily about his dream of becoming a farmer and Emily worries about attracting a man. Two years later, at the town soda fountain, George begins his courtship of Emily, and in one year, after high school commencement, the couple's wedding day arrives. On the morning of the wedding, a nervous George pays a visit to his prospective father-in-law for advice, and later, as they march down the aisle, the participants are visited by second thoughts as they all begin new phases in their lives. Nine years pass, and Julie now rests in the town cemetery. Emily, expecting her second child, is very ill, and as she drifts into death, she sees her mother-in-law and all the others that have passed on. Trying to recall her life, Emily remembers the day of her sixteenth birthday, but the memories of past happiness prove too painful for her and she returns to the living to give birth to her baby.
Edward P. Goodnow
Edward P. Lambert
William Cameron Menzies
Lewis J. Rachmil
Best Art Direction
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
Martha Scott, 1914-2003
Martha Ellen Scott was born in Jamesport, Missouri on September 24, 1914, and raised in Kansas City, where a high school teacher encouraged her interest in acting. She majored in drama at the University of Michigan and after graduation, she joined The Globe Theatre Troupe, a stock company that performed truncated Shakespeare at the Chicago World's Fair in between 1933-34. She went to New York soon after and found work in radio and stock before playing making her breakthrough as Emily Webb in Our Town. When the play opened on Broadway in February 1938, Scott received glowing reviews in the pivotal role of Emily, the wistful girl-next-door in Grovers Corners, New Hampshire, who marries her high school sweetheart, dies in pregnancy and gets to relive a single day back on Earth. Her stage success brought her to Hollywood, where she continued her role in Sam Wood's film adaptation of Out Town (1940). Scott received an Academy Award nomination for best actress and was immediately hailed as the year's new female discovery.
She gave nicely understated performances in her next few films: as Jane Peyton Howard in Frank Lloyd's historical The Howards of Virginia (1940), opposite Cary Grant; the dedicated school teacher in Tay Garnett's Cheers for Miss Bishop (1941) in which she aged convincingly from 17 to 85; and as a devoted wife to preacher Frederic March in Irving Rapper's warm family drama One Foot in Heaven (1941). Sadly, Scott's maturity and sensitivity ran against the glamour-girl persona that was popular in the '40s (best embodied by stars like Lana Turner and Veronica Lake) and her film appearances were few and far between for the remainder of the decade.
Her fortunes brightened in the '50s, when she found roles in major productions, such as a suburban wife trapped in her home by fugitives, led by Humphrey Bogart, in William Wyler's taut The Desperate Hours (1955) and played Charlton Heston's mother in the Cecil B. Demille's The Ten Commandments (1956) and again for William Wyler in Ben-Hur (1959). Scott found steady work for the next 30 years in matronly roles, most notably on television, where she played Bob Newhart's mother on The Bob Newhart Show (1972-1978) and the mother of Sue Ellen Ewing on Dallas (1978-1991). Her second husband, pianist and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Mel Powell, died in 1998. Survivors include a son and two daughters.
by Michael T. Toole
Martha Scott, 1914-2003
Our Town on DVD - the 1940 version
Now available on DVD from FOCUSfilm Entertainment is Hollywood's first take on Thornton Wilder's famous stage play. Boasting a top-notch cast and crew, producer Sol Lesser's Our Town was nominated for five Academy Awards®, including Best Picture, Best Actress (Martha Scott), and Best Score (Aaron Copland). The production was manned by veteran moviemaker Sam Wood, director of such Hollywood pictures as A Night at the Opera (1935) and Goodbye Mr. Chips (1939). But aside from Wilder, Lesser, and Wood, considerable talents all, it was the accomplishments of production designer William Cameron Menzies that turned a well-acted adaptation of a popular stage play into a visual gem. A dominant figure in Hollywood's movie design scene during the transitional years of the silent to talkie era, Menzies' prestige and talent solidified the production designer's role in Hollywood moviemaking. Menzies' considerable influence can be seen in two other productions released the year after Our Town, Citizen Kane (1941) and The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941).
The script was adapted by Thornton Wilder, Frank Craven (who also plays Mr. Morgan), and Harry Chandlee, based on Thornton's original play. Many of the cast members from the original Broadway production were carried over for the movie; William Holden was one of newcomers. Frank Craven's homespun Greek chorus/narrator pops into the drama via a subjective point of view structure. With the exception of Groucho Marx's occasional direct address to the camera, audiences were not used to the immediacy of a character talking to them, as if they were watching a stage play instead of a motion picture. This remarkable narrative device is not restricted to just Mr. Morgan though. Other supporting characters get into the action addressing the audience, such as Guy Kibbee taking questions about the socio-political demographics of the town from a viewer in the "audience."
Director of photography Bert Glennon's framing of the actors is often bizarre, unsettling and unexpected. Look at the church choir rehearsal scene. The actors are all crammed into the frame, creating an uncomfortable impression that runs counter to the homey, small-town feel. Not only the framing, but the interplay between shadows and light also contributes to this off-kilter feel for the small town. This is partially the work of the cinematography and production design, but the structure of the story as dictated by Thornton's play is just as responsible. In fact, the dark portrayal of Our Town may have convinced Alfred Hitchcock to tap Wilder to co-write Shadow of a Doubt (1943), a more unsettling, even homicidal portrayal of small-town America.
The audio and visual quality of the DVD is not the best. The soundtrack is muffled and scratchy, a disservice to Aaron Copland's sensitive score. Meanwhile, Glennon's careful black-and-white compositions and Menzies' expressionistic production design are often obscured and cloudy. The DVD's special features include the short film The Wizard's Apprentice (1930), boasting set designs by William Cameron Menzies and a story that is believed to be the inspiration for a segment in Fantasia (1940). Also among the extras is the 1943 short subject film The Town, a portrait of a "typical" Midwestern town and its residents produced for The American Scene film series by un-credited director Josef von Sternberg. Also of interest is a bonus audio track featuring the entire recreated production of Our Town for the Lux Radio Theater.
Our Town deserves a major restoration but this presentation will have to do in the meantime. To order Our Town, go to TCM Shopping.
by Scott McGee
Our Town on DVD - the 1940 version
Martha Scott (Emily) and 'Craven, Frank' (the Stage Manager) both originated their roles in the original 1938 Broadway stage production of "Our Town."
According to a 1937 news item in Variety, producers Jed Harris and William K. Howard purchased Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer Prize-winning play with the intention of producing it on Broadway and making it into a motion picture. Harris did produce the Broadway version of the play, but a pre-production news item in Los Angeles Examiner notes that Sol Lesser bought the motion picture rights in 1939 for $75,000 as the first picture in his United Artists releasing deal. According to another pre-production news item in Hollywood Reporter, Lesser planned to film in Technicolor under the direction of Ernst Lubitsch. A later item in Hollywood Reporter notes that a scheduling conflict prevented William Wyler from directing the film. A column in Los Angeles Examiner notes that the Lesser deal to purchase the play was delayed for several months because of the difficulty of translating the play to screen. The play was produced on a nearly bare stage and its main character died at the end.
According to an article written by Lesser in New York Times, the producer worked very closely with Wilder to modify the play. Lesser wrote that Wilder was informed of all changes to the original play and no change was made without his permission. Publicity materials contained in the production files at the AMPAS Library contain much of the correspondence between Lesser and Wilder, including Wilder's consent to change the ending of the play. In the original play, the character of Emily dies in childbirth. Wilder wrote Lesser: "Emily should live....In a movie you see the people so close 'to' that a different relation is established. In the theatre, they are halfway abstraction in an allegory, in the movie they are very concrete. So, insofar as the play is a generalized allegory, she dies-we die-they die; insofar as it's a concrete happening it's not important that she die; it is disproportionately cruel that she die. Let her live-the idea will have been imparted anyway."
The spare setting of the play provided a challenge to production designer William Cameron Menzies, who, according to press materials in the AMPAS Library, presented 1,200 sketches of camera set-ups and proposed such techniques as air brushing long shadows in the moonlight scenes between Fay Bainter, Beulah Bondi and Doro Merande. Publicity materials also note that actress Martha Scott, who played "Emily" in the play, was initially not considered for the role in the film because of her poor screen test for the character of "Melanie" in Gone With the Wind. It was only after auditioning many other actresses that the studio finally decided to audition Scott. This picture marked her screen debut. In addition to Scott, Frank Craven, Doro Merande and Arthur Allen reprised their stage roles. Except for two scenes, Craven, as the narrator of the film, worked entirely alone. A news item in Hollywood Reporter adds that backgrounds for the film were shot in Peterboro, NH.
The picture was nominated for the following Academy Awards: Best Actress, Best Picture, Best Art Direction, Best Original Score and Best Sound Recording. In 1950, NBC broadcast a televised version of the play starring Burgess Meredith. That year, ABC presented another version of the play starring Edward Arnold. In 1955, Frank Sinatra starred in an NBC broadcast of the play. In his role as a song-singing narrator, Sinatra sang "Our Town," "Love and Marriage," The Impatient Years" and "Look to Your Heart" by Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn. NBC also produced a version in 1959 starring Art Carney and in 1977 starring Hal Holbrook.