James Stewart and Claudette Colbert in It's a Wonderful World (1939)


(director: W.S. Van Dyke; screenwriters: Ben Hecht/based on a story by Ben Hecht & Herman J. Mankiewicz; cinematographer: Oliver Marsh; editor: Harold Kress; music: Edward Ward; cast: Claudette Colbert (Edwina Corday), James Stewart (Guy Johnson), Guy Kibbee (Cap Streeter), Frances Drake (Vivian Tarbel), Richard Carle (Major Willoughby), Nat Pendleton (Sgt. Koretz), Edgar Kennedy (Lt. Miller), Ernest Truex (Willie Heyward), Sidney Blackmer (Al Mallon), Cliff Clark (Capt. Haggerty), Cecilia Callejo (Dolores Gonzales), Leonard Kibrick (Herman Plotka), Andy Clyde (Gimpy), Cecil Cunningham (Mme. Chambers), Hans Conried (Stage Manager), Grady Sutton (Lupton Peabody); Runtime: 86; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Frank Davis; MGM; 1939)

“Wonderful screwball comedy.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

W.S. Van Dyke (“The Thin Man”/”San Francisco”/”Rage in Heaven”), known for working fast and having the nickname “One Take Woody”, directs this wonderful screwball comedy and cleverly gets the most out of the magnificent farce written by Ben Hecht & Herman J. Mankiewicz. It’s a very funny story about a NYC private eye on the run from the law when he hides his wanted for murder framed client from the police. In recent years it has become a cult favorite but was ignored by most of the jaded critics upon its theater release, as they had grown weary of screwball comedies and unfairly took their poor attitude out on this brilliant comedy. This was one of the finest and one of the last screwball comedies made during the 1930s. It has unfortunately been overlooked by a large segment of movie-goers, but has gotten new life with video.

Dolores Gonzales (Cecilia Callejo) is killed in her hotel room by Al Mallon (Sidney Blackmer) and he frames the drunken tycoon Willie Heyward (Ernest Truex), who is caught in the room by the cops holding the murder weapon. The hell-raising Willie swears to the private eye, Guy Johnson (James Stewart), he hired for a $100 a week to protect him, that he’s innocent and was out partying all night. Guy figures that his client’s new wife, Vivian (Frances Drake), set hubby up to inherit his $10 million fortune.

When Guy is caught by the knuckle-head cops, Sgt. Koretz (Nat Pendleton) and Lt. Miller (Edgar Kennedy), and is sentenced to a year in prison, he escapes on the train ride before reaching Sing-Sing by jumping into the river while cuffed to Koretz. Guy is intent on saving his innocent client from the chair, for the sake of justice, and also because Willie promised him a $100,000 reward if he can catch the real killer. When a pesty ditsy poetess, Edwina Corday (Claudette Colbert), spots the escapee in a Tarrytown park freeing himself from being handcuffed to the detective, he kidnaps her and she’s forced to help him elude the manhunt as he steals her car, pretends to be her chauffeur in another car he steals and later dons a boy scout disguise to fool the police on his trail. When Edwina reads of his escape in the newspapers, she for the first time believes he’s on the level. Inspired by his noble heroism, she recites to the unsophisticated private dick her most famous poem–which happens to have the same title as the film. Edwina then forces her help on him, as she romantically gushes over the hunky man and even helps him get an acting gig in Saugerties, Long Island, so he can trap all the culprits who have gone there to act on the blackmail of a character called half-a-dime.

Also a riot is Guy’s private detective partner, Cap Streeter (Guy Kibbee), the mark in the running gag of getting repeatedly bumped in the head. Also a hoot, in a droll way, is the elderly boss of the detective agency, Major Willoughby (Richard Carle).