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.