A schoolteacher becomes the mentor of a talented young miner and seeks to get him into a university.A schoolteacher becomes the mentor of a talented young miner and seeks to get him into a university.A schoolteacher becomes the mentor of a talented young miner and seeks to get him into a university.
The Corn Is Green, a play by Emlyn Williams ran for 477 performances on Broadway between 1940 to 1942 and then in 1943 the road company was called back to Broadway to give another 56 performances during that season. The role of Ms. Moffatt the school teacher originated with Ethel Barrymore and three members of the Broadway cast repeated their roles for the screen, Mildred Dunnock, Rosalind Ivan, and Rhys Williams.
Because Ethel Barrymore would have been 61 at the time she debuted with The Corn is Green on Broadway and Davis only 37 of necessity the interpretations would have been different. Davis has been left some property in a Welsh village and she's unlike any woman who's ever come there. She has an MA from Oxford, the fact she can read and write strikes some as amazing. She resolves to teach the young folks in the village to do the same, a plan with which a lot of the villagers are opposed.
Most notably opposed is Nigel Bruce who plays the local titled gentry in the place and who prides the fact that the folks there call him 'squire' in many different tones of voice. He's a living embodiment of the Colonel Blimp character from Great Britain. He also is an owner of the local mine and he's quite frank in that if you start teaching people how to read and write who knows what kind of unrest it could lead to. He was my favorite character in the film. One scene in it is priceless how Bette Davis who first tells him what an oaf he is later decides to use a little flattery to get what she wants from him.
What she wants is his patronage for a certain young miner who shows great promise and a literary bent. That would be John Dall who if he can tear himself away from his drinking buddies at the tavern and the attentions of town tart Joan Lorring has a chance to go to Oxford, he's that intelligent.
Education was the theme here and a theme in that other Welsh classic How Green Was My Valley where the hopes and dreams of the Morgan family are wrapped up in Roddy McDowall going to school and getting an education to escape a life in the coal mines. But I found better comparisons with The Corn Is Green to a couple of modern classics, Good Will Hunting and All The Right Moves. Robin Williams reacted the same way in Good Will Hunting when he saw janitor Matt Damon do those math equations. Also John Dall wants to use his writing talents to escape the mines the same way Tom Cruise wants to use a football scholarship to escape the coal mines in Pennsylvania. And Cruise gets a lot of the same opposition that Dall gets from those jealous he has an opportunity to leave the mines.
Though Bette Davis was not nominated for anything, The Corn Is Green got two nominations John Dall for Best Supporting Actor and Joan Lorring for Best Supporting Actress. They lost to James Dunn and Anne Revere respectively.
Dall's career never got the momentum it should have from this film and from Alfred Hitchcock's Rope. He was very much in the celluloid closet and fear of exposure haunted him throughout a life that was given to a lot of substance abuse.
As for Lorring you have not seen too many low class tramps on the screen to match her. Dall gets her pregnant and her condition leads to the climax of the film. Lorring also never quite fulfilled the promise she showed in The Corn Is Green.
The themes of education and literacy are timeless, you can see it in the more modern films I've compared The Corn Is Green too. It's a film not to be missed or acquired if possible. And for Bette Davis's devoted fans, an absolute must. She would not get a part as good as Ms. Moffatt until she did All About Eve.
- Jun 6, 2008