Our Town (1940)

90 mins | Drama | 24 May 1940

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HISTORY

According to a 1937 news item in Var , 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 LAEx 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 HR , Lesser planned to film in Technicolor under the direction of Ernst Lubitsch. A later item in HR notes that a scheduling conflict prevented William Wyler from directing the film. A column in LAEx 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 NYT , 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 ... More Less

According to a 1937 news item in Var , 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 LAEx 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 HR , Lesser planned to film in Technicolor under the direction of Ernst Lubitsch. A later item in HR notes that a scheduling conflict prevented William Wyler from directing the film. A column in LAEx 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 NYT , 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 HR 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. More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
10 May 40
p. 3.
Film Daily
13 May 40
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
11 May 39
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Sep 39
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Nov 39
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Jan 40
pp. 6-7.
Hollywood Reporter
10 May 40
p. 3.
Life
27 May 40
pp. 53-55.
Los Angeles Examiner
11 May 1939.
---
Motion Picture Daily
14 May 40
p. 8.
Motion Picture Herald
23 Mar 40
p. 30.
Motion Picture Herald
16 Jun 40
pp. 48-50.
New York Times
9 Jun 1940.
---
New York Times
14 Jun 40
p. 25.
Variety
4 Dec 1937.
---
Variety
15 May 40
p. 16.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Pres
Prod
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Assoc des
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATOR
Int dec
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Orch dir
SOUND
Sd tech
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
Unit mgr
Still photog
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the play Our Town by Thornton Wilder (New York, 4 Feb 1938).
DETAILS
Release Date:
24 May 1940
Production Date:
mid January--early March 1940
Copyright Claimant:
Principal Artists Productions
Copyright Date:
7 June 1940
Copyright Number:
LP9691
Physical Properties:
Sound
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
90
Length(in reels):
10
Country:
United States
PCA No:
6071
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

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 ... +


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. +

GENRE
Genre:
Sub-genre:
Domestic


Subject

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.