It’s a Wonderful World (1939)

  • Alright, so – after I watched the THE goddamn CIRCLE (1925), I had to watch a movie I knew would leave me in a good mood…thus, I am re-watching this charming little film.
  • Directed by W.S. Van Dyke.
  • Screenplay by Ben Hecht.
  • And starring, of course, James Stewart & Claudette Colbert. (And no, I feel like it should be mentioned, the title of this is not a play off the title of that other Stewart film of a similar name – that one didn’t come out until way after this, in 1946.)
  • Once upon a time, James Stewart was a private detective who does a lot of mess cleanup for a millionaire named Willie Heyward (Ernest Truex). One night, Heyward is framed for murder by his wife (Vivian, played by Frances Drake) & her crime partner lover, Al (played by Sidney Blackmer). James Stewart (his character’s name is Guy Johnson) knows immediately that it’s a frame-job – though he doesn’t know who’s doing the framing, yet – and sets out to help Heyward hide from the authorities.
  • Unfortunately, the police find them (Johnson & Heyward) relatively quickly and arrest them – eventually finding Heyward guilty of murder (for which he’s sentenced to death) and Johnson guilty for conspiracy (for which he’s sentenced to a year in Sing Sing).
  • Forgot to mention – the only real clue as to who really killed Ms. Gonzales (played, ever so briefly, by Cecilia Callejo) is a half dime she was clutching when she died. Find the other half of the dime…and find the person associated with the murder.
  • Now…we know that the half dime Ms. Gonzales was clutching was a good luck charm given to Al by Vivian – whose former (?) husband, an Australian (?) has the other half of the dime – but no one else within the story is privy to that information.
  • On the train to Sing Sing, however, Guy sees a personal ad in the paper that says “Why don’t you come to Saugerties Theater Wednesday evening and see your long lost husband? ” Signed, “HALF-A-DIME.”
  • ‘Hot dog!’ thinks Johnson. ‘A lead! Too bad I’m handcuffed to a prison guard and on my way to Sing Sing for a year!’

(Or at least…that’s what I assume he thinks, at that moment.)

  • Not to be deterred, Johnson has Nat Pendleton (the guard to whom Guy is handcuffed) go with him for some fresh air, and takes a quick & daring leap off the train & into the surrounding lake (?). He scuffles with Pendleton, and knocks him out – so that once they’re on the river (?) bank, he (Johnson) is able to go fishing through Pendleton’s pockets & find the key to release himself.
  • An adorable little mutt-terrier – oh yes, and Claudette Colbert – witness all of this.
  • James Stewart looks menacing as hell when he exits the river & confronts Colbert. (I know – a menacing Stewart is a difficult thing to picture – but it’s for real. He looks like a genuinely scary dude.) Claudette is effectively terrified…as are we.
  • Conveniently, Colbert (her character’s name is Edwina Corday) has a car & off they go in it.
  • Eventually, Claudette sets the back seat on fire, and the car explodes.
  • Thus, our two friends are set to walking alone together in the wilderness. This feels very familiar…especially since the girl in this scenario is Colbert – as it was in IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934).
  • To be fair, the Colbert + Stewart dynamic is very different than the Gable + Colbert dynamic – and both are enjoyable to to watch, in their own rights.
  • A boy scout (played by Leonard Kibrick) stumbles upon the pair in the forest, once it’s daylight, and the fake names Johnson gives the kid are Armand Applegate & Hortense Doolittle. The boy scout’s name is Herman Plotka – but he introduces himself as Stanley Cavendish. What a fun game!

(Here it is also fun to note that this is not the first time Hecht has written the name ‘Plotka’ into a script of his. In TWENTIETH CENTURY (1934), Carole Lombard’s character’s original name is Mildred Plotka…before she assumes the stage name of Lily Garland.)

  • After lots of scampering around & evading the police, Guy & Edwina make it to the Saugerties Theater. In order to gain access to the backstage areas, Guy assumes the identity of an Alabaman called Syril Hemingway, an actor who is allegedly filling a role in the play that needs last-minute filling.
  • Streeter (Guy Kibbee), Guy’s detective partner, meets them at the theater, as per Guy’s coded telegram. Unfortunately, Edwina is not introduced to Streeter prior to overhearing him calling the cops (for back up, but she doesn’t know this), so she knocks him unconscious with an iron bar.
  • Vivian & her miscreant partner are there at the theater, too – Vivian in the audience, & the partner backstage – though no one knows to look for Miscreant Partner Al until after Half-a-Dime Brown (Vivian’s ex-husband) is shot during the performance.
  • Guy (Johnson, not Kibbee) (it’s confusing, I know) wants to run while he’s got the chance, since his lead is now deceased & the place is swarming with cops who definitely want to re-arrest him – but Edwina begs him not to give up. In response, Guy punches her in the face to make her stop talking.


(Abuse is not funny – but trust me, this particular circumstance is.)

  • Just then, the plays director comes into the dressing room boohooing about how Georgie (the boy who’s been shot) was just filling in for Ned Brown, since Ned’d come down with the flu. She’ll never forgive herself for getting Georgie to step into that role for that one performance! Sob!
  • Luckily for everyone, the Poetess (Edwina – I think I forgot to mention that she’s a world famous poet) is a smart cookie, & she manages to lead the policemen to Half-a-Dime Brown’s cabin, where they find Vivian & Miscreant Al attempting to kidnap (Nednap?) Mr. Brown.
  • Hooray! The case is solved!
  • “Roses are red

Violets are blue

I get a hundred grand for this

But I want you.”

— Guy.

  • This was not as good as I remembered. For sure a happy tale (minus the couple of murders), but there wasn’t much substance to it. Definitely an enjoyable watch for the Colbert/Stewart combo, which is great – but I’ve decided that multiple viewings are not necessary at all.
  • Eh. It’s charming, but I wish it was a little better than it is.

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