Bette Davis plays a schoolteacher who arrives in a small Welsh coal mining hamlet and, over local objections and obstacles, establishes a school for the children and discovers a literary prodigy, played by John Dall.
I recognize this synopsis sounds less than thrilling, but the film proves understated and resonant with stand out performances by Davis and Dall.
Davis convinces playing a woman at least fifteen years her senior and commands our attention as a veteran educator commands a class. She delivers her dialogue with relish. When she says, “I have never talked to a man for more than five minutes in my life without wanting to box his ears,” we believe her.
Dall, in his screen debut, holds his own. He sells his character’s inner conflict without playing to the back rows and his convincing accent had me wondering if he was UK-born.
The script trusts these performances. When Dall turns his back on school, Davis says with blunt force, “I don’t understand you.” Thanks to their respective talents, in that moment we understand them both. No emotive speeches are necessary or offered.
Joan Lorring proves the exception. She plays Davis’s housekeeper’s lecherous daughter who sinks her claws into Dall. Her over-the-top performance, replete with a stereotypical cockney accent, renders her character a one-dimensional villain. She’s not a character, she’s an insurmountable obstacle to Dall’s success. Pure plot. Yet, the film recovers thanks to a plausible but unexpected twist that renders the ending bittersweet.
One could also nitpick the film’s depiction of time. At one point, we’re told three years have passed, which would show in Dall’s character, yet he looks the same. A forgivable shortcoming.
The lackluster production proves less forgivable. How Green Was My Valley featured a full reconstructed Welsh mining village. The Corn is Green proffers obvious matte backgrounds. It deserved better.