Donald Meek

Magic Town (1947, William A. Wellman)

Magic Town is too much of one thing, not enough of another, but also not enough of the first and too much of the latter. There’s a disconnect between Wellman’s direction and Robert Riskin’s script. While Wellman can handle the broad humor of the script–there isn’t much of it and it stands out like a sore thumb–he also finds the humanity of the characters. Riskin’s not so much interested in the small h humanity of leads James Stewart and Jane Wyman; he’s more interested in the big story.

Stewart is a cutthroat–or so we’re supposed to believe–New York pollster who descends on an idyllic small town. It has the perfect ratio of people and opinions to match the national opinions and trends. With him, Stewart brings sidekicks Ned Sparks and Donald Meek. Sparks gets a couple things to do, but he and Stewart’s relationship is never clear and needs to be. Meek barely gets anything.

Of course, being a pollster, Stewart knows if the people learn they represent the national average, they’ll spoil. Following the Prime Directive, he pretends to be an insurance agent. The only one of the townsfolk in on the scheme is Kent Smith, who’s one sidekick too many. Riskin’s script gives Stewart two and a half external consciences for the first half of the picture, while he’s romancing Wyman, apparently thinking have too many external consciences will make up for Stewart not having an internal one.

Riskin’s wrong.

The first half of the picture is mostly Stewart and Wyman courting. They’re often lovely, thoughtful scenes completely out of place even in the first half. Looking back on them after Magic Town changes gears in the second half, they make almost no sense. It’s around the halfway point it becomes clear Wyman doesn’t really get to have a character in the film either. She doesn’t even get to take responsibility for her actions. And the last act treats her plain awful.

But she’s still good. Better than Stewart, who’s always likable, even when he’s being a complete jackass, if only because the film doesn’t recognize him having the ability to be responsible for his own actions.

Wellman approaches the filmmaking seriously when it comes to Stewart and Wyman’s ordeal. Magic Town looks like a dark noir, Joseph F. Biroc’s moody photography, Roy Webb’s emotive score. It’s just the script doesn’t recognize the ordeal. Riskin has some exposition he wants to get into the characters’ dialogue. He doesn’t have time to make the human drama work.

Nice support from Ann Shoemaker and George Irving.

Magic Town tries too hard with what its got without ever fixing what isn’t working.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by William A. Wellman; screenplay by Robert Riskin, based on a story by Riskin and Joseph Krumgold; director of photography, Joseph F. Biroc; edited by Sherman Todd and Richard G. Wray; music by Roy Webb; production designer, Lionel Banks; produced by Wellman and Riskin; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring James Stewart (Rip Smith), Jane Wyman (Mary Peterman), Ned Sparks (Ike), Kent Smith (Hoopendecker), Donald Meek (Mr. Twiddle), Ann Shoemaker (Ma Peterman), George Irving (Senator Wilton), Wallace Ford (Lou Dicketts), E.J. Ballantine (Moody), Howard Freeman (Nickleby), Mickey Roth (Bob Peterman), Mary Currier (Mrs. Frisby) and Harry Holman as the mayor.


Come Live with Me (1941, Clarence Brown)

Come Live with Me features exquisite direction from Clarence Brown. Whether he’s pacing out a reveal, directing a conversation or just being inventive with composition, he does an outstanding job. George J. Folsey’s photography helps, as do the fantastic sets.

It’s a shame good direction can’t overcome a truly lame screenplay from Patterson McNutt. The first hour or so of Live is fine, even if Hedy Lamarr is weak–the rest of the cast make up for her–but the final third is a disaster.

Lamarr is an exile from Nazi Germany who’s about to get sent back; she’s been carrying on with married man Ian Hunter. Hunter and his wife, Verree Teasdale (who’s magnificent), have a “modern” marriage, meaning they both step out as long as its stringless. Live is very good about implying.

But then Lamarr needs to get married to stay in the States and she finds James Stewart. Even though she’s an awful person, he falls for her and must win her over. So what wins her over? Good old American country Christian values. Well, New York upstate Christian values.

Adeline De Walt Reynolds is fine as the grandmother who convinces Lamarr, but her function in the narrative is pure laziness. Stewart’s playing a novelist; a decent narrative should be one of Live‘s imperatives.

Donald Meek and Tom Fadden are excellent in very small roles, compensating a little for Lamarr.

But nothing can make up for the script. And Herbert Stohart’s silly score certainly doesn’t help.

1/4

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Clarence Brown; screenplay by Patterson McNutt, based on a story by Virginia Van Upp; director of photography, George J. Fosley; edited by Frank E. Hull; music by Herbert Stohart; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring James Stewart (Bill Smith), Hedy Lamarr (Johnny Jones), Ian Hunter (Barton Kendrick), Verree Teasdale (Diana Kendrick), Donald Meek (Joe Darsie), Barton MacLane (Barney Grogan), Edward Ashley (Arnold Stafford), Tom Fadden (Charlie Gephardt) and Adeline De Walt Reynolds (Grandma).


The Studio Murder Mystery (1932, Joseph Henabery)

The Studio Murder Mystery is a lame little short mystery. It takes place at a Hollywood studio, just before and after a troublesome star is murdered. The before parts aren’t so bad–Henabery has a little fun with the movie in the movie stuff and the scene at the commissary where the cast’s gossip establishes the ground situation works too.

But then there’s the murder and the detectives arrive. Donald Meek’s the criminologist, John Hamilton’s the experienced copper. They have absolutely no chemistry together and Burnet Hershey’s script toggles between the two investigating. They never work together on the case.

The conclusion has a meager chase scene. Studio was obviously done cheap and Henabery just doesn’t have the chops to make a cheap chase work. He also can’t get it to pace well–the mystery is too thin–and Studio drags at nineteen minutes. The last handful are agonizingly boring.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Joseph Henabery; screenplay by Burnet Hershey, based on a story by S.S. Van Dine; director of photography, Edwin B. DuPar; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Donald Meek (Dr. Crabtree), John Hamilton (Insp. Carr), Robert Middlemass (Boris Seminoff), Thelma Tipson (Dolly Demarest), Walter Fenner (Ian Stevens) and Jane Bramley (Mae Norton).


The Trans-Atlantic Mystery (1932, Joseph Henabery)

The Trans-Atlantic Mystery is an early thirties mystery reduced to two reels. Gone is personality for the protagonist, gone is any humor between protagonist and sidekick; forget about a romantic interest or even any actual investigation.

Instead, it’s some scenes of criminal plotting, some violent activities, introductions to the suspects and then a little bit of suspense.

And, until the finale—when the detectives catch the criminal—it works really well.

But Trans-Atlantic has the benefit of good production values (though director Henabery is mediocre) and some excellent performances. Ray Collins is a vicious criminal who cajoles a victim’s valet into his criminal enterprise. Walter Kingsford is great as the valet (after the first “act,” he has more to do than Collins).

As the detectives, John Hamilton and Donald Meek are too tepid. They—and the rushed resolution—ruin the finale.

It’s too bad, it was rather neat.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Joseph Henabery; screenplay by Burnet Hershey, based on a story by S.S. Van Dine; director of photography, Edwin B. DuPar; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Ray Collins (Waite), Walter Kingsford (Dodge), Betty Pierce (Daisy), John Hamilton (Inspector Carr), Donald Meek (Dr. Crabtree) and Harry T. Morey (Ship’s Captain).


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