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Thursday, August 30, 2012


As Frank Capra noted in his auto-bio, his career divides neatly into before MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN/’36, and after. And while the post-DEEDS films are now more famous, sad the film maven who ignores the ones made ‘before.’ IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT/’34, of course; but also those early Barbara Stanwyck pics; the nearly lost horse-racing drama BROADWAY BILL/’34*; AMERICAN MADNESS/’32, a topical bank-run tale that helped changed the pace of American cinema; and this blissful dramedy from the GUYS AND DOLLS world of Damon Runyon. It’s an amazingly confident piece of work (especially coming from poverty row Columbia Studios), about Apple Annie, a street-wise charity case who’s the good luck charm of Broadway racketeer Dave The Dude. But Annie’s in a jam. Her sweet, young daughter thinks Annie's a rich dowager, and now the kid’s bringing her fiancé & prospective father-in-law to town to meet her. The complications make for one of the most perfectly structured comedies in American cinema, thanks largely to Capra’s regular scripter Robert Riskin. And that’s Capra’s regular cinematographer, the great Joseph Walker, making it all shimmer with the widest of grey scales in the stunning restoration on a new Inception DVD. When Capra’s really cooking, he gives good weight in every category, comedy, sentiment & suspense all working together. Plus, a cast of flavorful wiseguys rising to the occasion with pool hustler Guy Kibbee & a hilariously dour Ned Sparks as stand outs. May Robson makes Annie less of a dear and much rawer than you expect, while Warren William’s smoothly attractive Dave the Dude is Sky Masterson & Nathan Detroit rolled into one.**

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Capra’s final pic was a largely miscast, unhappy remake of this classic. Earlier, Capra had slightly better luck redoing BROADWAY BILL as the semi-musical RIDING HIGH/’50 for Bing Crosby & Jane Wyman. (That’s when B’WAY BILL got so hard to find.) Capra musicalized the wrong film, LADY would have been the natural choice. What an Apple Annie Angela Lansbury might have made a decade back. With a Jerry Herman score?

READ ALL ABOUT IT: Joseph McBride’s FRANK CAPRA: The Catastrophe of Success goes very hard on Capra (and the Capra myth). But when read alongside Capra’s own THE NAME ABOVE THE TITLE (which McBride is ‘shocked, shocked’ to find self-serving), you get a pretty good feel for the man, his work & his times.

DOUBLE-BILL: ** Warren Williams came darn close to breaking out as a major star in '34, co-starring with Claudette Colbert in both CLEOPATRA and IMITATION OF LIFE. But it never took hold for him.

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