Friday, January 1, 2010

Frank Capra "The Matinee Idol" (1928)

"The Matinee Idol" (1928) is a silent romantic comedy that stars Bessie Love and Johnnie Walker. Directed by Frank Capra, this film is a forgotten gem of the silent era. The story begins with Broadway star Don Wilson, played by Johnnie Walker, heading out to the country with three of his theatre pals for some rest and relaxation. Here he stumbles across an amateur acting troupe run by Ginger Bolivar, played by Bessie Love, and her father, Jasper Bolivar. Smitten by Ginger, Don assumes the phony name of Harry Mann and auditions for a bit part involving a love scene with her. He gets the part because the other applicants are just awful. The Civil War melodrama is just terrible, but the townspeople think it is terrific as do the Bolivar actors. Amused by the sincerity of the amateur actors, Don secretly arranges for the troupe to be hired to perform in his own Broadway revue. On the night of their debut, the troupe's Civil War melodrama is received with derisive laughter by the sophisticated New York audience and praised as the comedy hit of the year. Ginger, humiliated, walks off the stage. When she finds out Don's true identity, Ginger walks out on him as well. Will she forgive Don?

"The Matinee Idol" was considered a lost film until its rediscovery at the Cinematheque Francaise in the early 1990's. A new print was reconstructed through digital restoration and released in 1997. This film is delightful and is worth watching just to see how clever a director Capra was in his silents. It showcases the four elements that later became customary in all Capra's films: comedy, pathos, romance, and drama. Even at this early stage of his directing career, this film has that Capra "feel good" touch. Unfortunately, some aspects of the film date it greatly. One is the use of black face, a widely accepted form of entertainment back in the 1920's, which modern audiences may view with offense. Today's viewers may also be appalled at how the gay character was ruthlessly mocked in the film for his mannerisms. However, modern viewers should not lose perspective that this film was made over eighty years ago. If today's viewers can overlook the dated plot and negative stereotyping, they can take a glimpse at Capra in the early stages of his directing career. Even though Columbia was still a Poverty Row studio in 1928, "The Matinee Idol" is as polished as anything MGM would have put out at the time. The masquerade party scenes, for example, feature some striking outfits. Johnnie Walker, who is all but forgotten today, is quite charming and his comedic timing is good. Bessie Love, who starred in more than thirty silent features in the 1920's, gives a sympathetic performance in this film. Not only did Love have an expressive face that evoked great pathos, but she also engaged in physical comedy. In "The Matinee Idol," Capra was skillfully able to blend broad comedy with a touching romance.

1 comment:

  1. Silent, this movie sounds very good. I will look for more info.:)


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.