Martha Scott received her only Best Actress nomination of her carreer for playing Emily Webb, a bright, naive small town girl in the Best Picture nominated movie, Our Town. And by this she became one of those very few people who got nominations for their raved performances and then achieved nothing that lived up to the success of the first movie (if we count playing Ben-Hur's mother and appearing in Murder, She Wrote and Dallas as a success than it's not true for her). She reprised her Broadway role on screen just like Katharine Hepburn did in The Philadelphia story, so this role involved many traps.
Our Town is a good little movie based on the play of Thornton Wilder, whom I really respect and admire (if you haven't read The Bridge of San Luis Rey I recommend checking out). Because of him, I had high expectations, but then I did not hear many good things about this film, so I decided to watch it without thinking anything. The great actors in this movie give very decent, yet forgettable performances. William Holden goes quite over-the-top with his character, which is full of mannerisms and it's nothing interesting. I would have also expected more of Thomas Mitchell and Fay Bainter but they did not give me that much either. However, after watching the movie, I really wanted to read the play.
Martha Scott got a bit standard role as Emily, the naive girl living next door. She's a bit typical early 20th century girl, always being kind, helpful and naturally hard-working. She's a very bright young girl, who however feels very good in that small, insignificant town she lives in. The best thing about this performance is that (contrary to the movie), it never becomes theatrical and could use the opportunities of film. Also she was 28 at the time, much older than Emily, yet you can never feel that she's too old or miscast. However, I was quite dissatisfied with her performance and for a reason.
First of all, her very minimal screentime which makes her borderline supporting. At the beginning of the movie, she's barely on screen and when she's there, we are waiting for something, waiting, waiting and waiting. She's very much like her co-star William Holden in Stalag 17. First, the lack of screentime makes you excited and want to see her, but after a while you become bored and think that she will never really appear and right then she becomes the main character. I felt that she could do more, because she had the potential and the talent, she just simply did not have time to shine. In very few cases can a performer leave a lasting impression on you with such minimal time (Pat Neal and Simone Signoret come to my mind right now).
People mostly praise her last scenes (which I will mention later), I was however mostly impressed by the sequence where she goes on a date with William Holden. Right there she could truly shine and show how much innocence and love she can express with her face and eyes. In my opinion, William Holden did not get that scene right, however Scott was able to hold it together with her charm and loveliness. For me this was the highlight of her whole performance and the movie itself.
Our Town is a bit weird movie and yet there were some ideas I loved very much. In the wedding scene we could hear the thoughts of the people preparing. Scott's acting there was again excellent. In my opinion we could read everything from her very expressive face, you understand all of her emotions without even listening to what she says inside and this is quite an achievement.
And her big scenes towards the end are also very well-made, however I was not as impressed by her last monologue as I expected. I felt that it must have been very effective that time (it's typical 1940s acting there), but for me it was a bit cheesy and did not move me that much. She wanted to do so much and managed to do little. This is her biggest flaw, which is truly hers and not the screenplay's or the direction's (she was not the one in charge of her screentime).
Yet, her lack of presence effects my opinion about her unfortunately. Her whole performance fails to become substantial or really impressive. It's true that she shines sometimes, but it was way not enough to have a lasting impression on someone. I can't really say anything else, because this performance is not much. I'm a bit sorry as this could have been so much more. Nice, but not enough.
She's the definition of 3 Meryls.
So what do you think? It's time to give your final predictions! Risk and win! :)