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!
It's been years since I've seen it, but I think my memory of it gibes with yours. Very pleasant viewing if not wholly memorable. The only sequence I remember was the one involving the Boy Scouts. Pretty funny stuff, if memory serves. Or am I thinking of the boy scouts sequence involving William Powell in I LOVE YOU AGAIN (1940)? Anyway, your review of this one makes me want to see it again. Thanks, Dorian.ReplyDelete
Kevin, it does seem like some of the films from around 1939 through the the 1940s all seemed to be scrambling to jump on the screwball comedy bandwagon, especially when there were Boy Scouts in the mix. Heck, even the film noir THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW had a hilarious bit with little Spanky McFarland, stealing the show! It's been a while since I watched I LOVE YOU AGAIN; I'll have to catch up with it again. I enjoyed your comments, and thanks for your feedback. All best of good things and improving health to you from all of us here at Team Bartilucci!ReplyDelete
You've got "It's a Wonderful World" covered, but I do have to say that in that last act when things start hopping I have the time of my life laughing out loud like I was in my right mind (that's how the hubby describes it). As I recall, Nat P. does some of the most outrageous "takes" of all time. Few could get away with it and I wonder if he got pointers from Mr. Kennedy.ReplyDelete
Paddy, I love your coinage from IT'S A WONDERFUL WORLD ": I have the time of my life laughing out loud like I was in my right mind!" Your right mind sounds like my kind of place; you're clearly on Team B's wavelength! :-D And we just love us some Nat Pendleton, too, ever since we saw THE THIN MAN. I wouldn't be surprised to find out Edgar Kennedy gave our man Nat a pointer or two! :-DDelete
'Willie the Pooh'? Is that because he talks like Winnie-the-Pooh?ReplyDelete
Rich, I must admit Willie's "Willie The Pooh"'s moniker is as much of a mystery to me as it probably was from Willie (and the screenwriters, perhaps?)! I figure Willie dubbed it on himself during a bender! :-)Delete
Wait a minute. Didn't I just talk to you guys a few days ago?ReplyDelete
And yeah, put me down as one of those people who originally thought this was going to be about IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. It didn't help that James Stewart's name was on the credits (along with Claudette Colbert's, and my immediate thought was: "Is he stepping out on Mary? That's impossible. You don't step out on Donna Reed. In some states you can get the death penalty for that. Okay, so admittedly he's going for Claudette Colbert, who might be worth taking a bullet for. Still . . .").
(It's still early in the day for me.)
(Then again, Claudette Colbert would never name a girl "Zusu", so that'd be another reason, and can we PLEASE get on track here, Uncle Mikey?)
Considering the director, and the writers (oh yeah, and the cast), I'm surprised I haven't seen this film yet. The notion of Jimmy Stewart in Sing Sing alone would've been a draw, but wouldn't you know Our Man Stewart learned his lesson after shooting Alan Marshal in AFTER THE THIN MAN. You'll never catch Stewart without an exit strategy ever again! Obviously I've got to sit down and watch this one the next time (A) it shows up on TCM, and (B) Big Dummy Me pays closer attention and realizes it's not IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. I mean, it also has Frances "Wow, aren't I gorgeous in a filmy gown in a Boris Karloff movie" Drake, Sidney Blackmer and Hans Conried. What's not to like?
We're BAAAK! :-) Michael, we can't blame you for being a bit farshimmelt for confusing IT'S A WONDERFUL WORLD with IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, especially since it's been like some kind of all-star uber-Blogathon around here lately, not that we're complaining, though a scorecard couldn't hurt! :-D Your gags about Jimmy and AFTER THE THIN MAN cracked me up, and besides, we love us some Hans Conried here at Team B HQ! Thanks for coming back for more fun and frolic, my friend! :-DDelete
Agree, the film is a mixed bag and in the second half things do pick up. I have you to thank for watching this a while back after you first wrote about it. It's enjoyable without achieving excellence.ReplyDelete
John, I agree with you: IT'S A WONDERFUL WORLD is a hodgepodge, but that second half makes up for it big-time, especially Hans Conried and the catfight! :-) I'm glad you enjoyed this fun bit of fluff! :-DDelete
Never heard of this, Dorian. At least I don't think I've ever heard of this. You know how old lady memory goes - well, maybe you don't. First you have to BE an old lady. Ha! I probably thought it was IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE with typos. I'm not the world's biggest Jimmy Stewart fan as you may know, but I am a big fan of Claudette Colbert - LOVED her in IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT and CLEOPATRA for starters...ReplyDelete
Anyway, also loved your post, Dorian. But you probably already knew that. You do such a fabulous job after all. What's not to love?
I wonder where I'll find a copy to watch...
Yvette, my friend, it's OK if you haven't heard of IT'S A WONDERFUL WORLD, since I've always suspected that MGM was probably hoping people would think it WAS ...WONDERFUL LIFE, the sneaky bunnies! By the way, I'm not quite a spring chicken myself; I'll a fresh-faced lass of 51 in June, and proud of it! And yes, it's OK if James Stewart isn't your dreamboat; different strokes for different folks and all, though I hear Jimmy was actually a likable joe in real life. Anyway, thanks a million for your kind praise for ...WONDERFUL WORLD, and warmest wishes to you and your adorable family from all of us here at Team Bartilucci HQ! :-DDelete
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Dorian, I've always wondered if this film would be better known if it'd had a different title. IT'S A WONDERFUL WORLD is kind of nondescript and not indicative of a screwball comedy. And, as you pointed out, I suspect some modern audiences now confuse it with IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. I think James Stewart and Claudette Colbert make a fun pair. I'm surprised they didn't make more movies together. And even if it doesn't get going until the final 40 minutes, the sight of James Stewart in his "boy scout" outfit is almost reason enough to watch!ReplyDelete
Rick, I totally agree with you that the title of IT'S A WONDERFUL WORLD is indeed rather nondescript, along with we viewers having to be patient until it finally roars to life during the last 40 minutes. You're right that Stewart and Colbert work together well, especially when they finally start letting their hair down, along with the film's swell supporting cast, and I agree that Stewart's Boy Scout disguise bit does come close to stealing the show! Thanks for joining the fun, and have a wonderful holiday weekend, pal! :-DDelete
Jimmy Stewart in a Boy Scout uniform? Willie the Pooh? Leading ladies getting slugged? Plus Dr. T? It sounds like it's a world, world, world gone . . . wonderful! I will be on the lookout for this, per your recommendation, especially of the latter 40 minutes. Team Bartilucci puts up a wonderfully entertaining post. Bravo!ReplyDelete
Toto2, we of Team Bartilucci HQ are tickled that you got a kick out of IT'S A WONDERFUL WORLD! You had me smiling with your comment "it's a world, world, world gone . . . wonderful!" It just goes to show that sometimes the last 40 minutes of a movie can be the funniest. As leading lady Claudette Colbert says, "I swear by my eyes!" Would an Oscar-winner steer you wrong? :-D Thanks for joining the fun at the the Jimmy Stewart Blogathon, and have a great holiday weekend!Delete
I too confused It's A Wonderful World with It's A Wonderful Life for some time. Upon realising the error of ways I watched the former and I LOVED IT! Although it's not the most accomplished film I enjoyed it so much - full of fun and silliness - I'm a fan of cheap laughs.ReplyDelete
Girls Do Film, in case I haven't mentioned it, I love your moniker Girls Do Film! Even though it it might not be some Oscar-winning masterpiece, by golly, I get a kick out of cheap laughs myself, especially those last 40 minutes that bring IT'S A WONDERFUL WORLD roaring to wacky life! Thanks for joining us here at Team Bartilucci HQ, and enjoy your holiday weekend! :-DDelete
Hmmm.... for some reason I bypassed this film (probably because of that darned title). But Jimbo + Claudette? Really, was I sleeping. Just to see them together would be worth sitting through anything - but I promise to really pay attention during the last 40 minutes!ReplyDelete
Marsha, you're not alone; IT'S A WONDERFUL WORLD seems to have been confusing bloggers for ages, it seems, even me at first! It's also a surprise to see ol' Jimbo being a tough guy, too; it just goes to show our Mr. Stewart had range. I think you'll get a kick out of that final 40 minutes; having young Hans Conried and the rest of the swell cast of character actors didn't hurt, either! :-DDelete
I've never seen this one – I confess I've never even heard of it! I'm really keen to see it, just to see James Stewart in this kind of role. It's too bad the fun/excitement of the last 40 minutes didn't extend to the beginning of the movie.ReplyDelete
And thanks for the mention! You are the absolute best. :)
Ruth, you're not alone; no doubt many movie fans were confused between IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE and IT'S A WONDERFUL WORLD. I'm not a teetotaler (I'm more of a Coca-Cola kind of gal) , but I wonder if movie fans have ever considered making it a drinking game? :-)Delete
I'm pleased as punch that you enjoyed my playful mention! Your witty pauses in your posts always make me smile, so by all means, allow me to return your kind compliment, my dear friend: You are the absolute best, too! Shall we call it a tie? :-D
P.S.: I'm enjoying the Villain Blogathon so far! Plugging away with PSYCHO as we speak!
It was a wonderful review. I'm adding this film to my watchlist because I love films with private eyes! and also Claudette Colbert, who was charming and a true star during the 1930s.ReplyDelete
Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)
Le, I enjoy movies about private eyes, too, so I'm pleased that you also enjoyed IT'S A WONDERFUL WORLD (not to be confused with IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE :-))! As I've said elsewhere here at my blog TALES OF THE EASILY DISTRACTED, I thought IT'S A WONDERFUL WORLD was OK, but the last act of the film truly worked best with the comedy and suspense blended together! Thanks for your comments, my friend, and I look forward to reading your comments over at CRITICO RETRO! Kisses to you too! :-DDelete
Don't worry, Le, I read and enjoyed your blog post about our man Jimmy Stewart, and I commented on it over at Critico Retro! You did a delightful review of it here at TALES OF THE EASILY DISTRACTED, too! Great job, my friend! :-DDelete