Magic Town (1947, William Wellman)

Somehow this is the fifth Wellman movie on the blog, even though I can never recall who he is or which films he directed, also getting him confused with William Wyler. I am remembering this movie as being somewhat Capraesque, but now maybe I’m getting mixed up with Here Comes The Groom, which we saw the same week. Anyway.

Jimmy Stewart (immediately after It’s a Wonderful Life) is an obsessed pollster who hits upon the statistically perfect town, which when polled on any question comes up with the same answers as the country as a whole. So he heads down there to conduct a covert polling operation, and bumps into Jane Wyman, who is trying to modernize and improve the town. Jimmy can’t have her mucking up his system, so he sets out to sabotage her, until his cover is blown and the town becomes overrun with media trying to interview every resident on every topic. And of course Jimmy and Jane fall for each other, but Katy says they lacked chemistry.

Two classic character actors played Stewart’s sidekicks – Donald Meek (timid balding fellow from You Can’t Take It With You and Stagecoach) and Ned Sparks, the prototype sour-faced cynical braying cigar chomper. At first I thought he was doing a poor William Demarest impression, but Sparks had gotten famous with this persona at the advent of sound film. Both he and Donald Meek coincidentally died immediately after filming – this was their last movie. Less successful as a character actor was Jimmy’s friend Hooperdecker, his inside man who helps set him up in town – played by Kent Smith of both Cat People movies. A hunky leading-man type crammed into a schoolteacher’s cheap suit, Katy remarked that he looked like Clark Kent.

Jimmy Stewart was maybe darker than he needed to be, a secretive war veteran who doesn’t work well with others, acting as puppetmaster of this small town. Wyman was looking young, four years before Here Comes The Groom, and got to play a surprisingly empowered (for a 40′s rom-com) newspaper publisher with political connections. The main thing that smelled funny to me was how perfect this small town was – an ideal, all-white, upper-middle-class society. That’s not a problem for a Hollywood movie in general, but this town isn’t “magic” because it’s ideal, but because it perfectly represents the greater United States, so should have its share of all classes and professions.

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