Magic Town (1947): Small Town Comedy Starring Jimmy Stewart and Jane Wyman

Set in the fictional town of Grandview, Magic Town was a Capraesque movie in theme and tone, due to the script, written by Robert Riskin, and star, Jimmy Stewart, though it was directed by William Wellman.

The filmmakers hoped that the film’s new and timely issue–it was one of the first Hollywood features about the then-new science of public opinion polling–but it was a flop (see below).

Stewart plays Lawrence “Rip” Smith, a former basketball player and ex-military guy who runs a company that performs polls and consumer surveys.

He is obsessing with finding a “magical mathematical formula” to conduct the perfect survey, but has to compete with rival companies. Since he lacks funds, he is far behind his major rival, George Stringer.

The now-cynical pollster comes across a small American town, which seemingly represents a perfect balance of ethnic types, professions, political beliefs, and personal opinions.

Smith publicizes this discovery, leading to media attention and an onslaught of entrepreneurs. Not surprisingly, all of this hoop;a has an adverse effect on the “average” citizens and daily life; for one thing, real estate escalates beyond any proportion.

It also seriously threatens Smith’s romance with the good-hearted local girl, Mary Peterman (Jane Wyman), who feels that her friends and neighbors are being abused and exploited.

The tale begins satirically, before turning predictable and sentimental.

One of the colorful supporting characters is played by screwball-comedy favorite Donald Meek, who died during production, which called for rewrites.

At the time, Magic Town was a commercial disappointment–it was released just after It’s a Wonderful Life, the ultimate collaboration of director Capra and star Stewart.

The Time critic noted in his review (October 20, 1947): “‘Magic Town’ is another of those seriocomic fables in favor of the American Way of Life, which, it appears, cannot be made without Jimmy Stewart.”

The N.Y. Herald Tribune wrote in its review (October 8, 1947): “Stewart’s portrayal of a poll-taker who plays a mean trick on some nice people and then becomes remorseful enough to save them from the folly is both energetic and likable.”

Credits:

RKO Pictures

Theatrical release:

On DVD:
Runtime: 1

Cast

James Stewart as Rip Smith

Jane Wyman as Mary Peterman

Kent Smith as Hoopendecker

Ned Sparks as Ike

Wallace Ford as Lou Dicketts

Regis Toomey as Ed Weaver

Ann Doran as Mrs. Weaver

Donald Meek as Mr. Twiddle

Ann Shoemaker as Ma Peterman