Forgotten Films

Magic Town (1947)

Or I can't believe it's not Frank Capra. A big city pollster (played with sharp integrity by James Stewart) realises that the population of a particular small town perfectly reflects the opinions of a whole country and after relocating there secretly sets about trying to test and take advantage of this magical statistical anomaly -- until his colleagues in the industry get wind of it and the balances begin to change destroying the qualities that made this town magic.

Scripted by Capra's usual collaborator Robert Riskin but directed by William A. Wellman, Stewart is as good here as he's ever been and there is a real screwball quality to his character's relationship with local school teacher and newspaper owner played by Jane Wyman. Wellman noted later that he thought Capra should have directed, and the film has been criticized for its sometimes static production -- but as you can see from the accompanying screen shot, there is some beautifully symbolic imagery and it's well worth picking up on dvd.

Like many of Riskin's films this has a lot to say about how metropolitanism can overrun and destroy the character of small town life; it's startling in this age when large supermarkets and shopping malls are squeezing out independent retailers to see a similar threat being welcomed by the local government within this story, modernization fulfilling their dreams for the future. Essentially, they're welcoming Pottersville which means that ultimately this has a much darker edge than even It's A Wonderful Life.

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