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"I Want to Get Clever...": The Corn Is Green (1945)

Review Copyright Roger Zotti, 2000


Corn

In The Corn Is Green (1945), Bette Davis gives a vital, restrained performance as Miss Lily Moffat, a 50-year-old schoolteacher who comes to teach in a poor Welsh mining village. Soon, she discovers that one of her adult students, Morgan Evans, possesses a touch of genius.

"I want to get clever, still," Morgan says to her. "I want to know what's behind all them books."

Working ceaselessly with Evans for two years, Moffat knows that if he can pass the Oxford University scholarship examination, he'll escape working the mines and living a life of poverty.

When Morgan learns he has passed and won the scholarship, it's an equally triumphant moment for him, the villagers, and Moffat. As he's carried on the shoulders of his friends, Davis's expression bespeaks happiness and pride in his achievement.

///

Davis was 36 years old when she took the role of Lily Moffat, a woman with a fierce passion for imparting knowledge to her students.

That her interpretation of the character is one of compassion, determination, and quiet dignity is proved in the scene when Morgan, after a bout of heavy drinking and feeling sorry for himself because his fellow miners called him "teacher's dog," accuses Moffat of using him and of not being genuinely interested in him.

With artful yet sensitive directness, Davis's Moffat tells Morgan that

Your life is just beginning. Mine is half over. I have spent two years on you. Ever since that first day, the mainspring of the school has been your career.... I have lain awake making plans—large and small, sensible and silly plans for you. And you say I have no interest in you.... I don't like this sort of conversation. Please don't mention it again. If you want to go on, be at school tomorrow. If not, don't.

///

Critics were impressed with Davis's performance. E. Arnot Robinson, writing in Picture Post, said: "Drab outwardly, the school mistress, in Davis's hands, became someone consumed by inward fire, by the sheer joy of imparting knowledge."

Thanks to Davis's performance, Otto Guerney of the New York Herald Tribune said, the film "emerged as a notable item of film fare, a full, ripe, ear of emotion and enjoyment."

///

Seven years after appearing in the film, Davis was introduced to the real life inspiration for her character, a schoolteacher named Miss Cooke. "The play is the true story of Miss Cooke and her student, Emlyn Williams," Davis proudly wrote in Mother Goddamn.


    Cast: Bette Davis, John Dahl, Joan Lorring, Nigel Bruce, Rhys Williams,
      Mildred Dunnock, Arthur Shields
    Directed by Irving Rapper
    Screenplay by Casey Robinson and Frank Cavett
    Music by Max Steiner
    Edited by Frederick Richards


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