Corn Is Green, The (1945) 114m. ★★★½ D: Irving Rapper. Bette Davis, Nigel Bruce, John Dall, Joan Lorring, Rhys Williams, Rosalind Ivan, Mildred Dunnock. Thoughtful acting in this story of devoted middle-aged teacher Davis in Welsh mining town coming to terms with her prize pupil. Emlyn Williams' play was adapted by Casey Robinson and Frank Cavett. Remade, beautifully, for TV with Katharine Hepburn in 1979.The Corn Is Green
(Irving Rapper, 1945)
According to Wikipedia
, Davis returned to this role in the 1970s in a musical stage adaptation that transplanted the story to the American South. Even though that production was a disaster, I almost wish the 1945 film had taken a similar approach to adapting Willams' play. There's a surprising amount of singing in Rapper's film — you know how miners are after work — but it remains largely peripheral, unable to impede on the theatricality of the story. I would have loved for the film to use those miners as more of a foregrounded chorus. Also, moving the story out of Wales would have been a blessing, if only to get the film out of the shadow cast by How Green Was My Valley
. I generally try not to let the existence of an earlier film factor into my criticism — e.g., "How can you like Y when X did it so much better?" — but I couldn't escape that feeling here. The Corn Is Green
feels rather stilted and artificial compared to Ford's film.
Suffice it to say, this isn't the film I wanted it to be. That extends to the story as well. I would have been very happy to see Bette Davis's Goodbye, Mrs. Chips
, with all the conventions of the inspiring teacher narrative. In actuality, Davis' character does very little teaching in the film. She's more of a school administrator — half principal, half guidance counselor — and Morgan Evans, the star pupil played by John Dall, is practically a co-lead. That's unfortunate, because Morgan Evans (they say his name five thousand times) is a rather bland character and John Dall is no Bette Davis. It doesn't help that he looks all all of his twenty-four years when he's supposed to be playing a teenager; but he also just doesn't project any of the hidden intelligence his character is supposed to possess. He's all surface.
Besides Davis' character, the most interesting figure in the film is the town itself, and it too gets too little screen time. The film is at its most entertaining when Davis' fierce progressivism clashes with the ingrained traditionalism of the community, as represented by the "Squire" character played by Nigel Bruce. Bruce is fine here, if perhaps overused (a little of his schtick goes a long way), but his greatest contribution is merely providing a foil for Davis, especially with his chauvinism bringing out Davis' wonderful feminism. I wish more of the story had followed along those lines; it's another reason why the focus on a single student instead of a wide array of students is regrettable.
I really liked Joan Lorring in the first half of the film, when she's a completely minor (and somewhat confounding) character. There's a strong vividness and even electricity to her performance (which feels more 1950s than 1940s), and it really helped enliven the film. I correctly guessed that she'd originated the role on stage — it just has that feel to it. When her character's role in the story becomes more overblown in the second half, Lorring's performance unfortunately follows suit. I still liked her more than Mildred Dunnock, who seemed to spend the movie doing an impression of Glinda the Good Witch.
Possible Nominations: Best Actress - Bette Davis, Best Supporting Actor - John Dall, Best Hidden Gem
Oscar Nomination: Best Supporting Actor - John Dall, Best Supporting Actress - Joan Lorring
Chances that somebody else will watch this: 95% chance that Sandy will seek this out
I wish I could join you on that Hidden Gem consideration, but I was just too disappointed. Even my grade below feels generous — more a product of how much I wanted to like the movie than of how much I actually liked it. And, as implied above, I preferred Lorring's performance to Dall's, but I don't rally see this film making my final ballot at all, alas.Potential Nominations: Actress (Bette Davis), Supporting Actress (Joan Lorring)Grade: