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Magic Town

Magic Town(1947)

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Magic Town (1947)

Magic Town (1947) directed by William Wellman from Robert Riskin's screenplay adaptation of a story he wrote, Magic City , with Joseph Krumgold about what was - at the time - a new science of polling to gauge public opinion. It was created out of Riskin's experience while he was chief of the overseas motion picture bureau of the Office of War Information during World War II.

"Rip" Smith (James Stewart) runs a polling company that conducts surveys. He believes that he has found a small town that serves as a perfect sample of the national demographic, and travels there with his team to conduct a poll. There, he meets Mary Peterman (Jane Wyman), who wants to grow the town, which would destroy what Rip believes to be his perfect microcosm. He goes on a campaign to keep the town as it is, putting him at loggerheads with Mary, to whom he is now attracted. In the cast were Kent Smith, Ned Sparks, Wallace Ford, Regis Toomey, Ann Doran and Donald Meek. Famed newscaster Gabriel Heatter appears in a cameo as himself.

Magic Town , the first film produced by Robert Riskin Productions, was shot at the RKO lot, the RKO Ranch in Encino, just over the Sepulveda Pass from the studio, and in Chico, California from October 24, 1946 to mid January 1947, with additional scenes shot in the two weeks from mid to late June, 1947. Character actor Donald Meek, who played Mr. Twiddle, passed away in the middle of production on November 18, 1946. Riskin was forced to alter the script slightly to explain his absence by having Ned Sparks' character tell Stewart "Mr. Twiddle took the earlier train." Another alternation had to be done with the name of the town. Originally, it was Grandville, but there was only one actual Grandville in the United States, which could open the producers to a lawsuit, so it was changed to Grandview, because there were thirteen Grandviews at that time and none could claim it was based on them.

Like most films, the casting was not set in place at first. Director William Wellman was considering Janet Blair for Jane Wyman's part, as he had directed her in Gallant Journey (1946), and later Arleen Whelan and Loretta Young were both announced in the press as having accepted the role. Young was about to begin production, but fell ill, and RKO borrowed Wyman from Warner Bros., where she was under contract. The one constant was James Stewart's character, which was written expressly for him by Riskin, who also modeled the hardware store in the film after Stewart's father's real-life hardware store where he proudly displayed his son's Academy Award. As late as July 1946, Riskin was trying to get Irving Berlin to write a theme song for the film, but Mel Torm and Bob Wells eventually composed one as an instrumental.

The original cut ran three hours and was screened to a preview audience at that length. The audience reaction cards saying that the narrative was confusing and disconnected necessitated reshoots with new footage and retakes of old. It didn't help. When the film was released in October 1947, New York Times critic Bosley Crowther wrote that the film "lacks conviction, for all its humorous reflections of small-town life and for all the loose-jointed, soda-cracker acting of James Stewart in the principal role. And that, we're afraid, is because Mr. Riskin wasn't altogether sure of his point--or, maybe, tried to build a bridge to it with a lot of rather old theatrical boards. [...] In fact, if a scientific breakdown of public opinion on this film were made, we would fear for its optimism."

The public appeared to agree with Crowther, and the film lost $350,000. In 1953, Bank of American National Trust and Savings was awarded a deficiency judgment of $598,582 against Robert Riskin Productions for money owed after the film was foreclosed on due to the loss at the box office.

SOURCES:Crowther, Bosley "Magic Town' Film Site Where James Stewart Polls Public Opinion and Courts Radiant Jane Wyman, Bill at Palace" The New York Times 8 Oct 47 Internet Movie Database

By Lorraine LoBianco

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