Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.
USA, 1940. Sol Lesser Productions. Screenplay by Thornton Wilder, Frank Craven, Harry Chandlee, based on the play by Thornton Wilder. Cinematography by Bert Glennon. Produced by Sol Lesser. Music by Aaron Copland. Production Design by William Cameron Menzies. Costume Design by Edward P. Lambert. Film Editing by Sherman Todd. Academy Awards 1940. National Board of Review Awards 1940. New York Film Critics Awards 1940.
Thornton Wilder’s poignant slice of small town life has, since it first premiered, become one of the treasures of the history of the American theatre, but unfortunately it can’t make for anything other than an adequate and mediocre film (the medium tends to do better turning forgettable novels or plays into film masterpieces than the other way around). Martha Scott reprises her stage role as the girl who loves handsome young William Holden, their preparation for their married life foregrounded by the interactions of their mothers (Fay Bainter, Beulah Bondi) and fathers (Guy Kibbee, Thomas Mitchell) before their own life and family takes over and propels them forward to their small but important destinies. The milieu of an ideal suburban community is one that studio heads would make millions exploiting in the coming years as Hollywood cinema would reach the height of its popularity during and after the war, yet calling specific attention to it as the special essence of American life, as this film does, makes it feel shallow and false (as opposed to passing off this idealism as normality in films like the Andy Hardy series). Wilder was forced to change the ending of his play and insisted that all rewrites were done with his permission, but there’s no denying that the alterations really undercut the value of it as a whole, while turning the stage manager into a common onscreen narrator takes what felt on stage like symbols with a surprising amount of life behind them into shallow characterizations on film.