It’s a Wonderful World

Gasser

It's a Wonderful World (1939)

     I must say it is nice to finally have a comedy to post about, and a good one too, although I don’t think I had ever heard of it before. It’s a Wonderful World from 1939 is a slapstick adventure between Jimmy Stewart and Claudette Colbert. Although the title might have you wondering if I have in fact confused this with Stewart’s It’s a Wonderful Life, the plot line is also similar to another Colbert film involving the gal, with a guy, trying to reach a destination and evade the authorities. You might know that one as 1934’s Best Picture winner: It Happened One Night.

     The best term to describe this film is “fun.” We have Stewart as a private eye who ends up an accomplice to a murder because of ties to a wrongly accused man. He escapes police custody on his way to jail after he discovers the clue he needs to find the actual killers. While on the lamb he bumps into Colbert’s poet and ends up taking her along. Of course hilarity ensues and they gradually fall for each other.

     My feelings for Stewart have transformed over the years but have not wavered much from a sentiment that he is perhaps a mediocre actor. Too many exposures to It’s a Wonderful Life in my youth have led me to loathe that film and for a long time Stewart himself. I maintained until recent years that he could only play one character, the one we see in George Bailey. Perhaps things turned around for Stewart in my eyes when I saw Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Regardless, I still maintain that Stewart’s inability to alter his voice from distinctly Jimmy Stewart limits his acting skills. Now, I am not one to claim that an actor’s worth lies in his ability to speak with a southern twinge or a cockney bravado. Take, for instance, Ingrid Bergman in For Whom the Bell Tolls. She plays a Spanish mountain girl and despite her Swedish accent, makes it work. I did not even question her vocal inflections in this role (perhaps I was too distracted by her hair). Contrariwise, consider Audrey Hepburn in The Unforgiven. That one-of-a-kind (nice try, Jennifer Love Hewitt) French/English/Belgian accent of hers destroys the perception of her as a half American Indian, half white girl. Mind you it probably was not the accent that killed that picture (or her baby, but I won’t go there).

     Returning to Stewart, It’s a Wonderful World, is the first picture I’ve seen of his (that I recall) that allows him to have a little fun with accents and to prove my point. As he attempt to elude the police, he dons a Boy Scout troop leader get-up and claims to be an English actor. He offers up one line in that brogue that could not fool anyone. Later he masquerades as a southern gent and even more poorly performs that talking task. I realize these ramblings are strictly opinion and would be open to argument, if you can find one. Until then, It’s a Wonderful World gets the middle rating of Gasser because it is cute and funny but not a whole lot more.

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2 Responses

  1. I see that “contrariwise” in there, and it does me proud!

  2. I love Jimmy Stewart and for that matter ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ I agree that Stewart, like quite a few leading men, has a distinctive voice and that it fits naturally with a certain persona, leading to a temptation to typecast him. Bogart is the same. But acting ability is not quite the same thing as versatility. Jimmy Stewart’s job was often to be the best George Bailey he could be, and he was very, very good at it. Given that face, that body, that voice, he might still have failed to unlock the synergies as well as he did. To make a coarse parallel, John Coltrane would not have made a great Paul Desmond and vice versa, but it doesn’t follow that either is limited in a way that undercuts his claim to greatness.

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