Season’s Jeer and Cheer

by A. Jay Adler on December 24, 2012
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No doubt many will be ritually watching It’s a Wonderful Life this holiday season. I recall with satisfaction when my brother, Jeff, and I discovered the film on late night television after a print was finally turned up in distributor mothballs, many years before the film became, for some, the tiresome phenomenon it has now long been: the Pachelbel canon of movies.

There is another Jimmy Stewart film waiting to be similarly discovered, the very next film, in fact, that Stewart made after Wonderful LIfe, William Wellman‘s 1947 Magic Town. The largely forgotten Wellman directed the first A Star Is Born as well as Jimmy Cagney‘s The Public Enemy. He teamed on this film with Robert Riskin, who wrote, interestingly, several of the famous Capra films, though not Wonderful Life. Magic Town is probably the best Frank Capra film not made by Frank Capra (much as I think Roman Polanski‘s Frantic – with Brian DePalma‘s Obsession second – the best Alfred Hitchcock film not made by Alfred Hitchcock).

In Magic Town, Jimmy Stewart’s character arc is reversed from that of the previous film. He plays a cynical if naturally “charming” pollster who surreptitiously seeks to use the mathematically and naturally perfect American small town of Grandview in order to advance his career. In the process, he ruins the town and then has to save it, discovering his goodness. Jane Wyman plays the daughter of the editor of Grandview’s newspaper, the lovely and decent, but wily foil to match the big city huckster. As in any Capra Capra film, there is a full cast of supporting characters – and a town meeting hall with a pot belly stove.

Like its predecessor, the film was a commercial flop. It remains so obscure that there is to be found only this “charming” clip on the web.

 

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7 comments

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Arnie Cabasso December 27, 2012 at 11:32 am

My last viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life is tainted too, but for a more prosaic reason. We were all gathered around, as I was waiting to cry towards the end, when my daughter bent over and the cat bit her on the behind. So that year, I missed the scene of the town’s people putting all their money in the basket because I was chasing Smokey around the family room. It sounds like a Simpson’s episode, but this is a true story.
I wish you all, Janet, Rob and Jay, a Happy New Year.

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A. Jay Adler December 27, 2012 at 5:39 pm

I believe Smokey, in a nutshell, is why some people do not appreciate It’s a Wonderful Life.

By the way, Arnie, this Rob is a different Rob from the one you probably think him to be, but he’s a swell guy deserving of your good wishes.

All around!

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Rob December 25, 2012 at 9:00 am

To my surprise, you can stream Magic Town on Netflix. So I plan on watching it. Thanks for the tip.

In my humble opinion, a Christmas classic that doesn’t get much ink was the Twilight Zone’s, The Night of the Meek, with Art Carney. Bit of a feel-good Christmas episode, but a superb Carney, some great character actors, and a strong hit of Serling subversiveness makes it quite entertaining.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dkYN2s9KCyw (1)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q0-ftAKuo8s (2)

Merry New Year, Jay!

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A. Jay Adler December 25, 2012 at 11:35 am

A Rod Serling original and Rob’s a willing suspender of disbelief. Health in the New Year to you, my friend.

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Rob December 26, 2012 at 3:31 pm

Thanks, Jay. Same to you.

And when it comes to the intersection of Christmas and TV/film, I count myself among those who firmly believe that Bumbles do bounce.

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Janet December 24, 2012 at 10:25 pm

I rarely watch It’s a Wonderful Life, so when I did watch it recently, I loved it.

Gotta say though, Jay,” the Pachelbel’s Canon of movies” is a pretty good line.

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A. Jay Adler December 25, 2012 at 11:20 am

I continue to love It’s a Wonderful Life, though the experience of it is tainted. The Pachelbel canon was long ago pushed beyond my ability to listen to it.

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