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   IT'S A WONDERFUL WORLD (1939) 

CAST
James Stewart
Claudette Colbert
Guy Kibbee
Nat Pendleton
Frances Drake
Edgar Kennedy
Ernest Truex
Richard Carle
Cecelia Callejo
Cliff Clark

DIRECTED BY
W.S. Van Dyke

PURCHASE


About Stewart




Time: 86 mins.
Rating: Not Rated
Genre: Comedy/Mystery/Romance


Stewart and Colbert deliver laughs and find romance on the road in this witty, smart and funny murder mystery that only true cinephiles have probably ever seen. Since it came out in 1939, notably one of Hollywood's creatively perfect periods, it had a lot of premium competition once upon a time, but should definitely be more popular now than it seems to be. It's a screwball comedy that allows Stewart and Colbert to really indulge their wacky sides. As private detective Guy Johnson, Stewart plays tough and temperamental as he tries to prove his client, Willie Heyward, is innocent of the murder charges that garnered him the death penalty. Aiding and abetting Willie lands Guy in the slammer as well, but he's not about to let him go down for a crime he didn't commit. After a daring escape, Guy "secures" the companionship of Edwina Corday (Colbert), a famous poetess, by stealing her car with her in it. Guy has very little time and with the police hot on his trail his options for transportation are limited.

Edwina is initially frightened to death, but quickly comes to realize that her boorish captor is really a good guy at heart on a time-sensitive mission to save his friend's life. Once she understands the situation, Edwina throws herself fully into the cause. Guy doesn't know whether to be upset or thrilled by her attempts to help, since her actions often cause more harm than good. For her part, Edwina has never had more fun, enjoying the adventure and the company despite the potential danger. The real killer is still out there and their plan to expose them and their dirty deed may end up costing them their lives. If he fails, not only will Willie be put to death, but Guy'll probably end up behind bars for good. The final act takes place during a stage play where confusion abounds and the killer makes a deadly move. Since the police believe Guy's a criminal it's up to Edwina to save the day by exposing the killer and thus winning Guy's heart. What makes this film so enjoyable is the complex story, which unravels at the perfect pace with just the right amount of danger and a generous dose of physical comedy.


"For a hundred dollars a week, nothing's undignified."

There's not a much of a sexual spark between Stewart and Colbert, which inhibits the romantic aspects of the story, but not enough to ruin the whole picture. They share great comic timing and are at their best when they're snipping at each other, which thankfully they do a great deal of. While Colbert is most famous for her other road picture, IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, her character here is stronger and smarter, more a capable partner than a frightened runaway. While both characters give her chances to be funny, this one capitalizes on her wit, using it to biting perfection, and her vulnerability when she reveals her true feelings to Stewart. It's a well-developed part that she's clearly enjoying. For his part, Stewart has rarely been as outrightly silly or rude as he is in this film. Guy's motives aren't always the most honorable and his low opinion of women constantly thwarts Edwina's hopes. He plays a crusty old man, in a lanky young body. It's fun to watch him play someone who's not a total pushover, even though it's occasionally unbelievable. He's not as sexy as Grant or Gable, but he seems to be more at ease making a fool of himself, which this script gives him ample opportunity to do.

While neither role is anything to write home about, the whole package – supporting cast, acting, writing, editing – comes together in a magically entertaining way. Though technically Stewart is trying to solve a murder, this is more comedy than mystery, especially since the audience knows who did it. The mystery is merely the thread that moves the characters along the road to romance, not the main thrust of the film. W.S. Van Dyke was one of classic Hollywood's best comedy directors and this film shows why. He casts the right actors in unusual and original situations and lets the comedy unfold. While the film has its' share of outrageous moments, they are never over-the-top or out of place. It's similar in tone to THE THIN MAN films (also directed by Van Dyke), which is probably why I liked WONDERFUL WORLD so much. Being a fan of Stewart and Colbert helps as well. The fact that it's not available on VHS or DVD could have something to do with its' lack of notoriety. Look for it on Turner Classic Movies. If you like screwball comedies, it's one worth seeking out.



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