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Sunday, September 8, 2013

THE MATINEE IDOL (1928)

When director Frank Capra landed at Columbia Pictures in ‘28, it was still a ‘Poverty Row’ studio, a situation he’d help change. But not for a while. First up were seven programmers, rushed out before the Talkies took over the following year. This was the third, a romantic comedy about an overworked B’way star (BLACK FACE ALERT!: the forgotten Johnnie Walker as a Black Face comedian) out on a country wknd with his producers. That’s when he spots a troupe of roving players so bad his producers sign them up for his hit revue as a specialty act. To complete the gag, Walker comes along in a walk-on role he fell into, and no one’s the wiser since he’s not recognizable out of Black Face. If only he hadn’t fallen for the troupe’s spunky leading lady (Bessie Love) giving him second-thoughts about getting cheap laughs at her expense. The pic’s a bitty thing, but put together neatly, with Capra already showing his expert control over an audience, sprinkling gags at all the right places. Then, when the sentiment shows up, you hardly know what hit you.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Long thought lost, a near complete print showed up in France hiding under the title BESSIE A BROADWAY (see poster). Even with six or seven missing minutes, it’s cleaned up nicely, showing just how good a little programmer looked at the time. Both Capra and Bessie Love would transition to Talkies in ‘29: Love in the original award-winning, flat-footed BROADWAY MELODY and Capra in the superb Jewish (out of the) tenement drama THE YOUNGER GENERATION, one of the few Part-Talkies that feels comfortable in that compromised format.

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