DATELINE: Thorton Wilder Classic
Doro Mirande, Fay Bainter, and Martha Scott, stand out among the dead.
With music by Aaron Copland and set design by William Cameron Menzies, Thornton Wilder’s Our Town of 1940 is an emotional wallop, despite Hollywood’s interfering new-fangled ending. It’s the sort of thing that gave Hollywood a black eye for years.
Once the staple of high school reading lists, Our Town has fallen out of favor being the work of a dead white guy. Of course, that was the point of the play: but we now agree that Our Town is wasted on anyone young. And wisdom is never an easy lesson.
If you are beyond middle-age, seeing this again will be chilling. Instead of a homespun tale of Americana, this is a cynical and downbeat tale of birth, life, and death.
Though it starts out with amusing details of a 17-year old boy (William Holden, looking adolescent) and his next door girlfriend Martha Scott, as George and Emily. Set in 1901 until 1913, it seems like a quaint Mayberry in New England story.
Grover’s Corners was fictional, of course, set on the border of New Hampshire. Well, that’s where we live now—which certainly gave us pause. We are in the midst of the world of Our Town (exteriors filmed nearby). Wilder wrote the play while staying in Peterborough at the writers’ colony.
The setting feels more like Rindge or Jaffrey, NH, than artsy Peterborough.
The final third of the film takes place in the graveyard, brilliantly depicted with the dead (most of the cast) standing in solitary, morose fashion. It is a frightful depiction of what death means, and what life becomes.
According to this story, you have one day to re-live, as a ghost in time travel. These are trendy concepts today, let alone in pre-World War II America.
The ghosts debate that you should choose the most unfortunate day to re-live because happy times will be unbearable.
Performances are powerful—realistic and distressing. This is not a story for young people, but in 30 years they may be drawn to the play’s extraordinary insights, even those scornful diverse young critics of today.
Death is a great equalizer. The film is not tragic, only whimsical.