The Bette Davis Project: The Corn is Green (1945)

The Corn is Green (1945)

Synopsis:

Strong-willed schoolteacher, Miss Lilly Moffat (Bette Davis), is determined to do something about the appalling living conditions in a Welsh mining town. Against the strong objections of the local Squire (Nigel Bruce, Suspicion), Moffat builds a school in the village. She eventually discovers that a young man, Morgan Evans (John Dall, Rope), has great potential and Moffat helps him study for an Oxford scholarship.

Reaction & Thoughts:

Fine, fine adaptation of Emlyn Williams’s semi-autobiographical stage play, written by Frank Cavett and Casey Robinson, and directed by Irving Rapper (Now, Voyager). The play was a big success on Broadway, where Ethel Barrymore (None But the Lonely Heart) played the role of Moffat to great acclaim. Davis fell in love with the material and asked her studio to buy it for her. She’s good, but this is neither one of her best performances nor one of her best films.

Davis complained that the story had been Hollywoodized to the nth degree and there is some truth to that. It was entirely shot on studio sound stages and that’s okay. The Corn is Green was made at the height of the studio system and using real locations was out of the question. The sets are pretty impressive, but they went a bit too far trying to make everything look beautiful and you never get the feeling that this is poverty-stricken community. They even hired a professional chorus to play most of the young miners. Some rough edges were needed here.

Davis also insisted that she was too young for the role. I don’t buy that excuse. Davis did great as septuagenarian Elizabeth I in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939). She also played much older characters in both The Old Maid (1939) and Mr. Skeffignton (1944). I think she was a bit misdirected. Her Moffat is lady-ish when she should have been a bit more earthy — it’s a rather cold characterization. I would have loved to see a bit more humor and warmth.

The film really belongs to the supporting cast. Dall hits all the right notes as the poor, but proud young coal miner. He makes a believable transition from brutish teen to sensitive scholar. Joan Lorring (The Lost Moment and Three Strangers) provides the film with its bite as the tarty young woman who nearly destroy Morgan’s life. It’s a sexist role, but Lorring makes the most of a showy role. Dall and Lorring received well-deserved Oscar nominations for their respective roles. The cast also includes Rhys Williams (Mrs. Miniver), and Mildred Dunnock (Kiss of Death).

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

The Corn is Green is not perfect, but it does tell a human story of personal ambition, and perseverance. I haven’t seen it in a long time, but I thought the 1979 TV remake, with the indomitable Katharine Hepburn as Miss Moffat, was a tad better (directed by George Cukor, the TV film fixes some of the problems I had with the original). Davis did get a second crack at the story. In the 1970s, she again played Moffat in a musical version of the play. Davis, unfortunately, fell ill and the show closed down after a few performances. I’m still eager to see a film version of that musical (I can see Meryl Streep as Moffat). B&W, 115 minutes, Not Rated.

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4 responses to “The Bette Davis Project: The Corn is Green (1945)

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