Anne of Windy Poplars (1940 Film)

Anne of Windy Poplars was an eighty-six black-and-white film, released in 1940, based on L.M. Montgomery’s 1936 novel of the same name. The film, which was written by Michael Kanin and Jerry Cady and directed by Jack Hively, follows the 1934 RKO film version of Anne of Green Gables.

The film’s cast consisted of Anne Shirley (Anne Shirley), James Ellison (Tony Pringle), Henry Travers (Matey), Patric Knowles (Gilbert Blythe), Slim Summerville (Jabez Monkman), Elizabeth Patterson (Rebecca), Louise Campbell (Catherine Pringle), Joan Carroll (Betty Grayson), Minnie Dupree (Kate), Katherine Alexander (Ernestine Pringle), Alma Kruger (Mrs. Stephen Pringle), Marcia Mae Jones (Jen Pringle), Ethel Griffies (Hester Pringle), Clara Blandick (Mrs. Morton Pringle), Gilbert Emery (Stephen Pringle), Wright Kramer (Morton Pringle), Jackie Moran (Boy).

According to Montgomery’s correspondence with agent Ann Elmo and publisher Frederick A. Stokes, several Hollywood studios expressed interest in adapting Montgomery’s other novels for the screen after the success of the 1934 talkie. RKO optioned Rainbow Valley and Rilla of Ingleside; Magic for Marigold and Jane of Lantern Hill were considered as vehicles for Shirley Temple; Montgomery even suggested a loose adaptation of Anne’s House of Dreams with supporting character Leslie Moore as the heroine. Twentieth Century Fox even paid Montgomery $150 to use Montgomery’s short story title “The Man Who Wouldn’t Talk” for an unrelated film. In Anne of Windy Poplars, the only film to materialize from several years of discussion, Anne Shirley (once again played by Anne Shirley) is about to begin a vice-principalship at Pringleton School and looks forward to this time next year when she will become “Mrs. Dr. Gilbert Blythe.” Although Anne is a dedicated, kindhearted teacher, she has to contend with local politics and the hypocrisy of the Pringle clan, who are all against her because she is an outsider.

The New York Times review of the film was not overly enthusiastic:

March right up to the Palace, boys and girls, and cut yourselves a great big piece of cake, for “Anne of Windy Poplars” is the closest thing to a Sunday school picnic that’s come to Broadway in a long, hot Summer. Taking a juvenile classic, the scenarists have gone [sic] the original one better and become positively childish – the only difference being that children are less mawkish and sentimental than this. It is, simply, the story of the little school marm, full of sweetness and light, who descends upon a small town dominated by as unpleasant a family tribe as Hollywood has ever gathered under one roof. How she ultimately wins them over is told in dialogue so laced with bromidic beatitudes and with so much nonsensical gush that one observer at least came away as though he had eaten a box of marshmallows. Don’t blame the actors, for Anne Shirley is pleasantly sincere and the others to their best. The fault lies with the script and the direction. As drama, “Anne of Windy Poplars” is just so much pink lemonade. (“At the Palace” 13)

The film was released as Anne of Windy Willows in the United Kingdom to coincide with the change in the novel’s title for British editions. Character names do not appear in the film’s credits.

Selected Further Reading

“At the Palace.” New York Times, 23 August 1940, 13.

Lefebvre, Benjamin. “Stand by Your Man: Adapting L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables.” Essays on Canadian Writing 76 (Spring 2002): 149–69.

Montgomery, L.M. The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery, Volume V: 1935-1942. Edited by Mary Rubio and Elizabeth Waterston. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2004. [See pp. 309–10]

“Vintage Anne of Green Gables movies.” Avonlea Traditions Chronicle 1, no. 4 (1992): 1–4.