27 August 2011 | secondtake
It's fun and upbeat, and that's enough...but it's sometimes just too fun and upbeat.
Magic Town (1947)
Just after his legendary (or now legendary) performance in "It's a Wonderful Life," James Stewart plays another regular guy who wants to cut his way through life differently. The director here is William Wellman, a seasoned everyday director, lacking maybe the initiative and originality of the great directors, but working with good materials.
There are a couple things at work here beyond the plot of a pollster looking for a shortcut to success. The first is how a small American town is used to talk about America itself, an idealized (and homogenous) cross section of what is best about the country. In a way, Grandview is a bit like Bedford Falls of "It's a Wonderful Life." It's an ideal people wanted to re-establish after the war, the sunny counterpart to the film noir side of Hollywood. Another thing is Stewart himself, who has so much personality and regular guy magic, he makes the movie, regardless of the rest of it.
The rest of it is wonderful enough--Jane Wyman (Ronald Reagan's first wife--they were still married for this film) as the leading lady and inevitable love interest, and realistic counterpart to Stewart's dreamer. And there is a whole slew of established contract players who are character actors and journeymen of the type that populated Hollywood still back then.
This is no searing classic, for sure, but it's endlessly funny, warm, and cheerful. By the end you'll be cheering for the good guys but you'll also (I assume) be moaning at the ridiculous optimism of it all. It's a feel-good story that feels a little too good. All the same, it feels good. Fun.