Our Town ★★★½

One of the strangest classic-era Hollywood films, but that would be true by default of any remotely faithful adaptation of the extraordinary play. Thornton Wilder's specialty was compassionately, not condescendingly, locating the pain and isolation underneath societal mores; it's almost eerie to watch Hollywood stars and standards applied to the ghostly dread that overtakes this story in its third act, to say nothing of all the fourth-wall breaking and incessantly bleak dramatic irony, and while Sam Wood is a logical choice only in the sense of his apparent interest in middle American "values," the surreal visualization of William Cameron Menzies and the awkward but luminous crescendos of Aaron Copland's indescribable score permit this to feel like some radical act of art cinema screaming out from the netherworld of commercialism. It's amazing that it exists, particularly the cemetery sequence, at least until you take into account the "new" ending, which negates so much of the beauty, honesty, malaise and dismay of the play -- it cheats you out of that feeling you get when you first read or see it, of the emptiness and loss falling on you without a sense of forgiveness or sentimental explication, therefore it robs the source of its profundity, therefore it's a blight upon its own virtues. And until you see the play performed without that sense of unresolved longing, you don't realize how much the play depends on it; Shadow of a Doubt is the Hollywood feature that allows Wilder's ideas to carry all the way to their uncomfortable conclusion. It's a pity because a version of the Sam Wood Our Town that permitted Wilder's actual message and finale would be something quite remarkable indeed.