Our Town (1940) Movie Review

By: Alex Phuong (Two Beers) –

During the Oscar-nominated opening number in Beauty and the Beast, Belle exclaims, “There must be more than this provincial life!” Some people dare to dream big, which is also a major element of La La Land. In spite of the glamour of those two major Hollywood movie musicals, sometimes a great film is actually very simple. Thornton Wilder adapted his own play to create this hidden gem that encourages audiences to practice humility.

A Toast

The best element about this film is the nature of the adaptation of Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play. In the stage version, not much really goes on because the actors would perform on a mostly bare stage. It is actually amazing how Thornton Wilder and Sol Lesser were able to bring this stage play to the big screen. Frank Craven actually had two major roles in this film production because he played the narrator and also assisted with the adaptation. The plot itself is also extremely simple, but that is what makes this film so beautiful. The main theme is the notion of ordinary life being very extraordinary. Such a theme would appear time and time again in other novels and films, such as Michael Cunningham’s The Hours (which eventually led to the 2002 film) and About Time (2013). This film is simultaneously simple and profound!

Beer Two

Even with such praise, some audiences might not want to devote an hour and a half to this simple film. Martha Scott’s Oscar-nominated performance is also a bit questionable since she just played a stay-at-home mom with little fanfare. Her performance is also the completed opposite of Joan Fontaine’s celebrated role in Rebecca (1940). Interestingly, Scott reprised her stage role of Emily Webb in her film debut, but both Scott and Fontaine lost the Oscar to Ginger Rogers for playing the eponymous Kitty Foyle. Nevertheless, maybe this film was too simple, which could explain why it received six Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, without any actual wins.

Verdict

Our Town is a very unique film because it defies conventional Hollywood filmmaking. In fact, one of the taglines for this film is, “The screen’s most unusual picture.” It might not have the epic qualities of Titanic (1997) nor does it have the glamour of Shakespeare in Love (1998), but this is still an underrated classic. Annie Hall (1977) is actually one of the few films to receive the Best Picture Oscar in spite of its simplicity, so some audiences actually do see the brilliance within a very ordinary film. Basically, this film is a reminder that there is a major difference between glamour and beauty, and that everything beautiful is within the eyes of the beholder.

Our Town (1940) Drinking Game

Take a Drink: every time Emily Webb calls her kids to come down for breakfast

Take a Drink: whenever the narrator talks to the audience directly by breaking the fourth wall.

Drink a Shot: whenever the characters mention calendar dates (i.e. 1901) or romantic dates

About Alex Phuong

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