It’s a Wonderful World (1939): Van Dyke’s Screwball Comedy, Starring Jimmy Stewart and Claudette Colbert

W. S. Van Dyke directed It’s a Wonderful World, a screwball comedy starring Claudette Colbert and James Stewart 

Stewart plays private detective Guy Johnson, paid to watch over Willie Heywood (Ernest Truex), a wealthy man who likes to drink too much. However, when Heywood’s recent ex-girlfriend Dolores Gonzalez (Cecilia Callejo) makes a public nuisance of herself, a drunk Heywood visits her.

It’s a setup: Dolores is held at gunpoint by a man, and when Heywood arrives, the mystery man kills Dolores and frames Heywood for the murder. The only clue is a half of a dime in a piece of jewelry that the victim snatched from her assailant.

Guy then hides his client so he can catch the killer, but both are caught by the police, convicted and sentenced, Guy to prison for a year, Heywood to be executed.

Heywood’s new wife Vivian (Frances Drake) and her lover, Al Mallon (Sidney Blackmer), are behind the scheme.  The unfaithful woman discovers that her husband Ned Brown (George Meeker), presumed to be dead, is alive. Brown, an actor, arrives from Australia and starts blackmailing her.

On the way to jail, Guy comes across a clue, a newspaper ad from “Half a Dime” asking to be contacted. Guy jumps from the train, taking along the policeman handcuffed to him, Sergeant Fred Koretz (Nat Pendleton).

His struggle with Koretz is witnessed by the poet Edwina Corday (Colbert). After freeing himself from the handcuffs, he kidnaps Edwina to prevent her from informing.

At first, she thinks he’s a dangerous criminal, but she soon discovers he is honest about his mission, and sticks with him, to his annoyance, as he has no respect for women.

The trail leads to a theater group run by Madame Chambers (Cecil Cunningham). Guy gets hired as an actor to figure out who knows about the half dime. Guy brings in his associate, “Cap” Streeter (Guy Kibbee), to help with the investigation, only to have Edwina mistake him for a policeman.

Meanwhile, Vivian and Mallon decide it is better to silence her husband rather than submit to his demands. However, Mallon kills the wrong actor (a  replacement) during a performance of What Price Glory?

Guy is arrested by the police, but Edwina tricks them into going to Brown’s place to look for a diary that implicates Guy. When they drive to the given address, they catch Vivian and Mallon taking away a bound and gagged Brown.