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Magic Town

Magic Town(1947)

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The working title of this film was The Magic City. One of Robert Riskin's two onscreen credit reads, "Written and produced by Robert Riskin." Although two songs are credited on the film, only part of one was heard in the viewed print. In the film, James Stewart and Jane Wyman recite two poems, "Charge of the Light Brigade" by Lord Alfred Tennyson (1854) and "Hiawatha" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1855). This picture was the first independent production of writer Robert Riskin, a frequent collaborator of director Frank Capra, and marked comic actor Ned Sparks's return to the screen after a four-year absence. Actor Donald Meek died on November 18, 1946 while the film was in mid-production. Meek's sudden departure from the story is noted in the film by the line, "Mr. Twiddle took the earlier train," which is spoken sadly by Sparks's character to Stewart's. Although Sherman Todd and Richard G. Wray are credited onscreen as editors, Otho Lovering is listed as editor in Hollywood Reporter production charts. In addition, Stanley Goldsmith is mentioned in Hollywood Reporter pre-production news items as assistant director, but Art Black, a Capra collaborator, is credited onscreen as the film's assistant director.
       Contemporary news items add the following information about the production: The story of the picture "evolved" from Riskin's experiences while serving as chief of the overseas motion picture bureau of the Office of War Information. Director William Wellman worked on the "mechanical" aspects of the screenplay with Riskin. To avoid controversy, Riskin changed the name of his fictional town from Grandville to Grandview because while there was only one real Grandville in the United States at the time, there were thirteen Grandviews. In April 1946, Wellman reportedly was considering Janet Blair, whom he had directed in Columbia's film Gallant Journey, as the picture's female lead. Both Arleen Whelan and Loretta Young were then announced as the stars, but Young was forced to leave the production before shooting began because of ill health. RKO borrowed Jane Wyman from Warner Bros. for the production. Kay Mulvey, the Western editor of Woman's Home Companion, was signed to play "Ma Peterman," but Ann Shoemaker appeared in the part. Harvey Fischman, a former "Quiz Kid," Lee Phelps, The Sheriff's Boys Band, who were to "impersonate a junior high school outfit," Marvin Lee, Richard West, Mike Marienthal and Polly Bailey were announced as cast members, but their participation in the final film has not been confirmed. "Burlesque kings" Eddie Kane, Billy Newell and Bert Hanlon were also cast in the film, but their participation in the final film has not been confirmed. Joe Yule was announced as a cast member, but was not seen in the viewed print. In July 1946, Riskin was negotiating for Irving Berlin to write the film's theme song. Ross Bellah and Joseph Toldy were announced in August 1946 as the picture's set designers, but their contribution to the final film has not been confirmed. RKO borrowed montage editor William Hornbeck from Liberty Films. After locations were scouted in Nevada and in Northern California, Chico, in North Central California, was finally selected as the film's all-American town. The civic center scene was shot at the RKO Ranch in Encino, CA. During the filming of the final scenes, general manager William S. Holman acted as supervising producer. A rough cut of the picture ran three hours and was presented to its first preview audience at that length. In mid-June 1947, Riskin put the film back into production because a sneak preview audience complained that the story was disconnected. Retakes and added scenes took two weeks to complete. Four publishing houses reportedly vied for the right to publish the book version of the film, but no information regarding a novelization has been found. In June 1953, a judge awarded Bank of America National Trust and Savings a deficiency judgment of $598,582 against Robert Riskin Productions on money owed following foreclosure on the film. The picture was foreclosed on because of revenue deficits.
       Modern sources add the following information about the production: Stewart's role was written expressly for him by Riskin, and the hardware store depicted in the film was modeled after one that Stewart's father owned. In a modern interview, Capra claimed that he worked on the script with Riskin and that Riskin began as director but was replaced by Wellman. Wellman, however, was the only director on the project. Modern sources add Peter Stackpole and Roy Craft to the cast as "reporters," and William Haade and Frank Marlowe as "movers." One modern source lists Paul Maxey, Emmett Vogan and Snub Pollard as cast members, but those actors were not seen in the viewed print. James Stewart and Jane Wyman reprised their roles in a Lux Radio Theatre broadcast on December 15, 1947.