For Reel


It’s a Wonderful World (1939)
February 10, 2012, 3:08 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: W.S. Van Dyke

Louis B. Mayer appreciated a director like W.S. Van Dyke, who earned the nickname “One Take Woody” for his famously quick, arguably careless shoots. While Van Dyke’s body-of-work might be scattershot and of little interest in assessing as a whole, he made a few memorable pictures, including The Thin Man, Manhattan Melodrama, and an underrated screwball comedy from the golden year of Hollywood, It’s a Wonderful World. James Stewart, who would fully come in to his own the same year with Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, plays a private eye on the run for a crime that he did not commit. He stumbles upon a wayward poetess, played by MGM’s newly acquired starlet Claudette Colbert, and together they work to solve the murder for which Stewart’s client is convicted. Colbert’s character initially isn’t far removed from the women of today’s romantic comedies – she’s obnoxious, over-eager, and gets herself and Stewart into a lot of trouble. She fulfills Stewart’s cynical slandering that, “I never knew a dame that wasn’t dead from the neck up.” How refreshing, then, is it to see that Colbert saves the day in the end using her intelligence, proving Stewart’s assumptions wrong. She’s a far cry away from a proto-feminist comedic lead like Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday, to be sure, but it’s a nice redemptive arc, and Colbert does a fine job at maintaining the underlying virtues of her character while her actions might suggest that she’s little more than a clown. The picture, written by the great Ben Hecht, unfortunately lacks the verbal sophistication of the best screwball comedies, though it does involve a number of memorable running jokes, such as Colbert’s insistence that she “swears by her eyes.”


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