Perhaps appropriately, Judge Kerry Birmingham has always felt he and a Pot o' Gold were Made for Each Other.
Our review of Pot O' Gold, published December 4th, 2000, is also available.
It's the prize romantic laugh of the year…more fun than winning the POT O' GOLD!
They're the movies that lurk in every productive actor's portfolio, swelling between the would-be classics and the blockbusters, lurking amongst the paycheck roles and what-were-they-thinking bombs. They're the staple of the working actor's oeuvre, these movies that are Merely Adequate: not good enough to be ranked among the performer's best, not bad enough to be considered a turkey. It's simply the law of averages: make enough movies, some of them will be good, some of them will be bad, and some of them will be capable, forgettable, just plain okay. Collected here are two such films from beloved film icon James Stewart, an actor who, along with famous roles in It's a Wonderful Life and Harvey, made a dizzying number of westerns and as a leading man made his reputation as a likeable everyman. The two films here-1939's Made for Each Other and 1941's Pot o' Gold—are from Stewart's own vast selection of middling roles in middling pictures which, like the man himself, get by on a general likeability and the goodwill of a generous audience.
Facts of the Case
In Made for Each Other, Stewart stars as John, a fledgling attorney who, on a business trip, impulsively marries a girl he has known for only a day, Jane (Carole Lombard, My Man Godfrey). Returning home with his unexpected new bride, John faces unexpected challenges with his put-upon new bride, not the least of which are an ungrateful boss, a jilted would-be lover, an overbearing mother-in-law, and the skepticism of virtually everyone around them.
Pot o' Gold features Stewart as good-hearted Jimmy, owner of a small-town music shop whose sudden unemployment forces him to accept the offer of his estranged uncle Charles (Charles Winninger, Show Boat)) of a job in the family business. Moving to the big city, Jimmy is overwhelmed by his new position at his curmudgeonly uncle's company and gets swept up with a local family of Irish musicians. Even as Stewart falls for the daughter, Molly (Paulette Goddard, The Great Dictator), he discovers that the family and his uncle are hated enemies, and must try to keep both sides happy without letting on to either that he is fraternizing with the enemy.
No bones about it: these are not among Stewart's best. If the worst you can say about a movie, however, is that it suffers from a general amiability, then that's at least a testament to the competence of the filmmakers and the charisma of the leads. Both films do indeed "suffer" from a kind of casual, ingratiating sincerity that covers up most of the flaws; it's hard to complain about films that get by on the sort of genial charm that only films of this era seem to attain.
Easily the better of the two is Pot o' Gold, a romantic farce in which Stewart, working the earnest everyman trope on which he built the best roles of his career, stumbles, bumbles, and occasionally weasels out of the kinds of situations which, in a different movie, could have been resolved in less than two minutes of talking. Instead, Stewart's Jimmy bounces like a pinball between his recalcitrant uncle and Charles's nemeses, the large family whose music and joviality are as much a nuisance to him as their house, which rests on property Uncle Charles hopes to annex for his expanding factory. Jimmy, rather than come clean about his involvement with either side, gets involved in an increasingly convoluted series of well-meaning deceptions punctuated by the occasional musical number (like Robert Altman's A Prairie Home Companion, which Pot o' Gold's whimsical, musical structure resembles, the songs are plentiful without turning the proceedings into a full-blown musical). It's a delicate balancing act, keeping the screwball tone in synch with the tentative romance (Goddard's Molly McCorkle is luminous, if insubstantial). This is a distinctly "movie" world, where the crushing poverty of the McCorkle family's life is inconsequential to the grumpy oppression of Uncle Charles and everyone could break into song and dance at any given time. The multiple felonies perpetrated by Jimmy are all in the name of love and laughter, however, and there's no doubt from the first reel how Jimmy's wooing of Molly is going to go, acts of assault (with a tomato) and fraud be damned. Pot o' Gold isn't a shining example of the era or of the genre, but it's good fun with an affable, effortless Stewart.
Less impressive is Made for Each Other, at turns prone to sitcom contrivance and cliché melodrama. The set-up is a fine one for a romantic comedy—can new love translate into lifelong love?—but the romantic comedy aspects quickly reveal themselves as office-politics gaffes and newlywed gags that were probably tired even in the '40s. The idea of the boss coming for dinner and-shock!-everything going wrong, jeopardizing John's Big Promotion, is about as inventive as the plotting gets. John and Jane's beleaguered married life, saddled mainly by a strict boss and domineering mother-in-law, deals more with external pressures than with the compatibility issues such a whirlwind romance would cause in the world. Lest the emphasis on love conquering all convince anyone that this exists in the same screwball universe as Pot o' Gold , the movie takes a few dark turns as nebbish John, unable to face being a poor provider for his family, becomes a drunk brooding enough to rival George Bailey's weakest moment. It marks a final transition into bathos from an uneasy mix of marital comedy and drama, culminating in a life-or-death action sequence that feels imported from an adventure serial. It's a peculiar plot for what is set up as a comedy, but is instead a mostly humorless examination on the mechanics of a marriage. We're meant to see Lombard and Stewart, as the supernaturally unlucky couple, as plucky despite their travails, but the uneven mix of high drama and low comedy never quite finds its tone.
While the films themselves get a pass based on charm alone, the production quality of the DVD gets a severe reprimand. Having apparently passed into the public domain, both films can be found in various versions and in various states of disrepair through various companies. This version, released by the unfortunately named Wienerworld, features some of the laziest DVD transfers of any movie regardless of age, with strained, muffled, barely-intelligible soundtracks (be sure to crank the sound) and blurry, scratched, and distorted picture quality throughout both films, complete with frame jumps. There's even an off-color "Film Fest" watermark at the bottom of the frame throughout both features, evidently a relic of whatever source tape was used for Wienerworld's transfers. Combined with the lack of special features, including subtitles, the whole release seems tailored for Wal-Mart bargain bins and undiscerning consumers. Even a pair of Stewart's lesser movies deserves better treatment than this, and all but the least picky of viewers should probably seek out superior releases of both movies.
Both films are worth watching as minor relics from the Golden Age of the movies, but the transfers undeniably detract from the viewing experience. Lombard, Goddard, and of course Stewart manage to elevate pedestrian productions. There's nothing embarrassing to anyone's body of work here, but there's a reason these films have been largely ignored and, based on the video quality, neglected.
The films themselves get a gentle pat on the back and an "'Atta boy!" from the court before being sent cheerily on their way. Wienerworld is hereby ordered to clean up their act, by which I mean "try."
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