Sunday, September 12, 2010

It's a wonderful what?

Tomorrow is the birth anniversary of Claudette Colbert, who is probably best known for her Oscar-winning performance in It Happened One Night. TCM is marking the day by showing a bunch of Colbert's work, starting with It Happened One Night at 6:15 AM ET. I've recommended it before, and so will mention the movie that follows, at 8:00 AM: It's a Wonderful World.

Colbert gets top billing, but the real lead is James Stewart. He plays Guy Johnson, a detective whose client (Ernest Truex) has been framed. Unfortunately, he's got some difficulty proving this, and for not turning over his client to police custody, he's arrested himself for being an accessory. On the train up to Sing Sing, Guy sees a newspaper article that has a clue which should lead to his client's exoneration, so Guy finagles a way to escape from the train. It's at this point that he runs into Claudette Colbert.

Colbert plays Edwina Corday, a famous poetess who is on the run herself. At first the two have an intense dislike for each other, but this is the sort of movie where you know they'll wind up falling in love. Before that can happen, though, they have to stay one step ahead of the police. Edwina isn't much help in this, but Guy knows he has to keep her around lest she go off to the police herself and reveal his location once she finds out who he really is. Ultimately, the two wind up working at a stock theater company where the presumed actual murderer is, and Edwina shows that she does have some resourcefulness.

It's a Wonderful World isn't the greatest movie made, although it's fun enough and a movie I'd call "comfortable". You'll recognize large portions of the derivative story line. Having to stay ahead of the cops, and the way they do it, is quite reminiscent of It Happened One Night, while the "couple tyring to solve a mystery" plot has shades of The Thin Man. Some of this may not be surprising, in part because It's a Wonderful World was directed by Woody Van Dyke, who also directed The Thin Man. Both movies were also made at MGM, so there is also the opportunity to use the same supporting characters. In this case, that means Nat Pendleton. He played the police detective around whom William Powell runs rings in The Thin Man, here, he plays a bumbling police sergeant who keeps losing custody of the James Stewart character. Much of the rest of the cast includes other familiar names, which is what makes the movie "comfortable": Edgar Kennedy, who had over 200 appearances in talkies (and spent good fifteen years making silent shorts as well) plays Pendelton's bumbling police partner; Guy Kibbee plays James Stewart's detective partner; and Frances Drake (Mad Love), Sidney Blackmer, and Hans Conried all get smaller roles. The execution isn't perfect, but the movie is nonetheless entertaining.

Despite its two bigger stars, It's a Wonderful World never got released to a DVD boxset, and has only seen a release as part of the Warner Archive collection. But at least it's gotten a DVD release.

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