Comedy / Romance
Comedy / Romance
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Rip Smith's opinion-poll business is a failure...until he discovers that the small town of Grandview is statistically identical to the entire country. He and his assistants go there to run polls cheaply and easily, in total secrecy (it would be fatal to let the townsfolk get self-conscious). And of course, civic crusader Mary Peterman must be kept from changing things too much. But romantic involvement with Mary complicates life for Rip; then suddenly everything changes... —Rod Crawford.
Uploaded By: FREEMAN
Aug 15, 2021 at 04:03 PM
grade Movie Reviews
The only film I know of based on a classic sociology study
"Magic Town" is a film about something that we nowadays take as normal but which was a novelty in 1947. It was about the new "science" of public opinion polling. This was only understood poorly and not only by the public but by those who actually mattered: the politicians who would grow to need them. In 1936 the Literary Digest, a popular magazine of the day, had conducted a poll of it's membership on who would win the Presidency. It concluded that Governor Alfred Landon of Kansas, a capable man, would beat incumbent President Franklin Roosevelt. Unfortunately the readership of the Digest were upper class, and basically Republican (as Landon was). In November 1936 FDR won one of the biggest landslides in political history, with three quarters of the popular vote and all the electoral votes except for those of Maine and Vermont. Literary Digest went out of business shortly afterwords. In the decade since Roper and Gallup had been improving polling techniques, but the full system was still uncertain. In the 1948 election there would be another polling snafu, with most of the polls awarding the election to Governor Thomas Dewey of New York, as opposed to incumbent President Harry Truman. Harry won a remarkable come-from-behind over Tom, and enjoyed showing off a headline from the Republican "Chicago Tribune" saying that Tom won.In the midst of all this there was a classic sociology study entitled "Middletown". Set in the typical mid-American town (it was in the Midwest) the authors (a husband and wife team) showed how it's citizens opinions mirrored what mid-America believed. Ten years later the same authors published a follow up study of the town, and it turned there was little change in the opinion differentials between the town and the country.It is with the "Middletown" study that the background of this film was based. Jimmy Stewart and his assistants (including Ned Sparks and Donald Meek - in his last role) are pollsters, and Stewart has a theory he has been working on that would save pollsters millions. He believes there is a perfect community in the middle of America that can be used for polling it's citizens. He has been studying the problem for several years, and he has found a town where the percentages of the opinions of the citizens perfectly mirror those of the American people as a whole. Stewart goes to the town and sets up there with the intention of using the citizens as his poling guinea pigs, but (as the movie progresses) he gets involved with Jane Wyman and the others in the town. When Wyman discovers Stewart's plans she reveals them, and the town goes crazy. Their sudden unofficial power goes to their heads, and instead of giving the sensible polling answers to questions they give outlandish ones. This causes the crash of their reputation, and the crisis of the film.It is a first rate film and has some nice touches (including Gabriel Heater intoning on the radio). As an early story regarding the polling industry it is unique, and the film is well acted and directed (by William Wellman). Perhaps not a Capra movie, but it is a nice one all the same.
A charming little movie
Certainly not one of the great comedies, but charming and rather whimsical in its own way. In this day and age of raucous and crude humour (if you can call it that), a movie like "Magic Town" will probably seem hopelessly old-fashioned and dated, but for those who prefer a quieter and more gentle humour, "Magic Town" will fill the bill very nicely. Very Frank Capra-like (not surprisingly since screenwriter Robert Riskin collaborated with Capra numerous times), "Magic Town" reminds us of a by-gone era, a time when living in a small town meant knowing your neighbours, pride in your community, and the moral values of common decency and humility were still part of everyday life. James Stewart as the pollster who discovers a town full of people whose opinions exactly mirror the national thinking gives his customary good performance, as does Jane Wyman as the newspaper publisher who wants to see change in the town. Many well-known character actors (Kent Smith, Wallace Ford, Ann Shoemaker and particularly Ned Sparks) provide capable support. A slight offering, perhaps, but quite worthwhile.
This needed a lighter touch.
I have to admit the premise behind Magic Town was a really good and original one. The fact that small time pollster James Stewart discovers a town that is a microcosm of American thinking. What a shortcut, just move in there and poll the citizens on any question. But you have to do it with subterfuge and the town can never have any marked growth of any kind or the goose that's laying Stewart's golden egg is cooked.Enter Jane Wyman, acting editor of the small town paper who has some ideas about getting the town to grow. That sets up the conflict with Stewart and then the romantic complications set in. Their romance and their differing agendas set the tone for the rest of the film.I think with a lighter touch this could have been a classic film. It's not a bad film, it's moving in spots, but the subject matter doesn't lend itself to Frank Capra type populism. I'm sure this is a property that Capra himself must have rejected.Stewart and Wyman are ably supported by the usual group of great character performers that usually populate a Capra film. William Wellman directed this and I think he was out of his element. He's so much better in action films.It's also so old fashioned in its view of small town America. I can't believe that such a place like Grandview could possibly exist. Think about it, a cross section of America would have its bad people too among the population. Not a bad person in the whole town. And they even list a U.S. Senator in their population. That would in and of itself make it atypical by his mere presence. In fact when this film was made Harry Truman was president and certainly Independence, Missouri has never been "typical" since he came to political prominence.My favorite scene is the dance where the whole crowd except the outsider Stewart sing the high school song. It's sung to the tune of I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen. It's a nice moment and it demonstrates just how alien big city slicker Jimmy Stewart is in this environment. It's good, but it does tip over into the saccharine.Both Stewart and Wyman have certainly done better, but fans of both these performers will like it. But can you imagine what someone like Preston Sturges would have done with this material?
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