This revised version of It's A Wonderful World (1939) comes from The James Stewart Blogathon! Hosted by The Classic Film & TV Café from April 14th to April 17, 2014!
Welcome to Edwina Corday's Poetry Corner! Here's her poetry-chart-topping rhyme, "It's A Wonderful World":
The night will be here when we are gone,
Though we are gone, the stars will be here,
And other throats will sing in the dawn,
It’s a wonderful world, my dear
Don’t rack your brain trying to remember Edwina’s lovely poem from your poetry class; you’ll find her body of work in the Hollywood School of Poetry. Our gal Edwina is a ditzy but soulful poetess; yes, that’s what they call her in the comedy-adventure It’s A Wonderful World (1939), a poetess, not a poet. And no, it’s not Frank Capra's classic Christmas film It’s A Wonderful Life, though we wouldn’t blame you for the confusion; more about that momentarily. I guess poets were like that in 1939. But I digress!
|Things aren't going well for Guy!|
Where are Nick & Nora, and Asta when you need them?
|Dig that crazy Coke bottle Boy Scout disguise! |
Good thing Edwina has good "Guy" sight!
Well…almost! It’s A Wonderful World was watchable enough, but for much of its 86-minute running time, I found it more amiable than actually wonderful, or laugh-out-loud funny, or nail-bitingly suspenseful. Sure, the film has its moments, but as a whole, it didn’t truly grab my undivided attention until about the last 40 minutes , when the joint was jumpin' with shooting, tension, and clever scheming to unmask the villains. But I’m getting ahead of myself!
Stewart plays a NYC private eye with the manly-man name of Guy Johnson. Showing his range just as he did in After the Thin Man (1936), Stewart’s Guy is no folksy charmer here, but a cynical tough guy who thinks dames are dopes, and isn’t afraid to cuff ’em one if they start squawking. If Guy tried that today, he’d be in for a lawsuit! Come to think of it, the role of Guy was probably good practice for the darker, more emotionally-complicated roles Stewart played under the direction of Alfred Hitchcock and Anthony Mann in the 1950s!
|Guy Kibbee as “Cap” Streeter is sapped by Edwina, |
who thinks she’s helping and thinks she killed Cap! Oy!
Guy works with his older, more seasoned partner Fred “Cap” Streeter (Guy Kibbee from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington; 42nd Street; Babbitt) for a private investigation firm called, appropriately enough, Private Inquiries. Their biggest client is the much-married souse and tobacco heir Willie Heyward, a.k.a. “Willie the Pooh” (played by Ernest Truex, great as put-upon milquetoast types in His Girl Friday; Whistling in the Dark; and TV’s Alfred Hitchcock Presents). Having previously worked demonstrating electric belts in drugstore windows for all to see before he became a private eye, cynical Guy is determined to hang onto his meal ticket: “Willie the Pooh’s my dream man, and I’m gonna keep fishing him out of manholes just as long as he keeps paying off.”
Too bad Willie gets himself framed for the murder of Dolores Gonzales (Cecilia Callejo from Blood and Sand; The Falcon in Mexico), a “Broadway nymph” and bubble dancer in the Sally Rand mold, who’d been all set to sue Willie for allegedly jilting her—until Guy and New York’s Finest find Dolores murdered on the floor with the ever-drunken Willie not knowing which end is up.
|“Willie the Pooh,” found at one of the |
places he's been seen going around.
self framed by Vivian Tarbel, a.k.a. the newly-minted Mrs. Heyward (Frances Drake of Mad Love and the 1935 version of Les Miserables) and her honey, Al Mallon (Sidney Blackmer, the great character actor who’s graced everything from Charlie Chan in Monte Carlo to Rosemary’s Baby). Before you can say “Philo Vance,” Guy is charged with conspiracy and sentenced to a year in Sing Sing.
But our perky poetess happens to see the whole thing. Before you can say “I swear by my eyes,” which Edwina says all through the picture, Guy takes Edwina hostage, and wacky hijinks ensue. Elsewhere, in one of my favorite bits, Sgt. Koretz tries to convince the local police that he was jumped by a mob instead of Guy tricking him and knocking him out singlehandedly. If you ask me, Guy could be so obnoxious sometimes, I wouldn’t have minded if someone had punched his lights out! For that matter, I’d love to see where Edwina got the notion that criminals are gallant. Maybe she’s been reading and writing too much poetry? Then again, Guy isn’t always as smart as he thinks he is, either! For instance, Edwina actually gets Guy out of a jam when they’re lost in the woods. Boy Scout Stanley Cavendish pretends to go for help, but Edwina realizes just in time that the scout is about to sic John Law on him! The kid isn’t even honest about his name; it’s really Herman Plotka! If you ask me, Guy needs to brush up his P.I. skills. Where’s Sam Spade when you need him? Stewart’s Coke-bottle glasses disguise cracked me up! (Fun Fact: Herman’s name comes from Mildred Plotka, a.k.a. Lily Garland in the 1934 comedy Twentieth Century.)
|How do you like them apples? |
Isn't this how Stockholm Syndrome starts?
As our dear friend and fellow blogger R.A. Kerr might say, a miracle happens, as described by my husband Vinnie: “Suddenly Claudette Colbert shifted the plot into reverse psychology!”
|A guy, a poetess...romance?|
|"Do you-all have shootin' in this play?"|
"Nothing but. It's the noisiest backstage since Ben Hur".
Leading man Stewart was under contract to MGM at the time, but the studio never seemed to know how to exploit his talents until other studios led the way for them. A 1937 loan-out to Columbia for Frank Capra's You Can't Take It With You had proven his skill at folksy comedy, which explains Stewart’s casting in this screwball farce. But his fans at the time were horrified to see him playing a cynical, chauvinistic private eye who at one point even slugs his leading lady!
As Frank Miller explains in his article on the TCM Web site, “Claudette Colbert had looked forward to getting MGM’s legendary glamour treatment. However, her hopes “were dashed when director W.S. Van Dyke was assigned to the picture. Although he had helped create the screwball genre as director of The Thin Man in 1934, he was popular with studio head Louis B. Mayer mainly because he worked quickly, earning the nickname ‘One-Take Woody.’ His female star was appalled at how quickly he threw the film together, being used to the more leisurely pace at her home studio, Paramount, where great care was always taken to showcase her beauty.” Anyway, Colbert got more opportunities for glamour roles at MGM in films like The Secret Heart (1946).
Although It's a Wonderful World got some good reviews, particularly from Hecht fan Otis Ferguson in The New Republic, it was mostly dismissed by critics for having too many cheap laughs. Writing for the New York Times, Frank Nugent complained, “Ben Hecht must have sent out native beaters with tom-toms and slapsticks to drive stray gags from miles around into the Metro corral for It's a Wonderful World....The comedy is almost too strenuous for relaxation." After only three years as an MGM producer, Frank Davis would return to writing after this picture, scoring some of his biggest successes with his scripts for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945) and The Train (1964). Before that, however, he would issue his own rather prophetic assessment of the production: “The studio should have known that Jimmy Stewart would never do any of those unconvincing things. However, I predict that his next film, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington , will more than make up.” And how!