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It's a Wonderful World (October 13, 2011)

It’s a Wonderful World, is, well, wonderful. It’s not a very well known movie. Screwball comedies were one of the great breakthroughs in Thirties films – the term screwball meaning full of implausible, hilarious events. One of the first was Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night in 1934, which gave Claudette Colbert the opportunity to give the first of her great comic performances in pictures. It’s a Wonderful World was filmed from February through April, 1939, and was released in May, 1939. The script was by Ben Hecht, from a story by Hecht and Herman Mankiewicz. Hecht’s scripts were behind many classic films from the late Twenties through the Fifties. The milieus he added into this film – the worlds of a serial monogamist millionaire, a literary celebrity, and summer stock theatrical people – enlivens what would otherwise be a pretty pedestrian mystery. The picture was directed by W.S. Van Dyke, who was an MGM director with a reputation for sparely and quickly making films in many diverse genres. We saw his movie Penthouse earlier in this series.

This was five years after It Happened One Night, and this was Claudette Colbert’s first picture for MGM. She was thirty-five at the time. Her last picture, for her previous studio, Paramount, had been Ernst Lubitsch’s comedy Midnight. James Stewart was a thirty-one year old MGM contract player just breaking into starring roles, although he had been featured prominently in several films before then, including Capra’s You Can’t Take It With You for Columbia the previous year. His next role would be his breakthrough one, also for Capra at Columbia, in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. As in so many pictures, the depth and range of the supporting actors contributes a lot. In this one, we’ll see Guy Kibbee, Nat Pendleton (who played the good gangster in Penthouse), Richard Carle, Edgar Kennedy, Andy Clyde, Hans Conreid and Grady Sutton, among the memorable faces in the cast.

At the time of its release, the film critic Otis Ferguson wrote it was “One of the few genuinely comic pictures in a dog’s age.” The British reviewer Leslie Halliwell called it a “madcap comedy mystery which now seems much fresher and funnier than it did at the time. A highlight of the crazy comedy cycle.” 1939 was the apex of what is often called the golden age of Hollywood. This film is just a typical product of MGM, and typical of its time. It was not a prestige production at all, but nevertheless it is well written, well acted, and funny. I hope you enjoy watching it with me tonight.