Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Frank Capra "That Certain Thing" (1928)

"That Certain Thing" (1928) is a silent romantic comedy starring Viola Dana, Ralph Graves, and Burr McIntosh. Directed by Frank Capra, this film is about a gold digger who is in search of a rich husband. Molly Kelly, played by Viola Dana, is a young woman from the tenements who works in a cigar stand to help support her widowed mother and two younger brothers. Even though she has the opportunity to marry a streetcar conductor, Molly wants to marry a millionaire. Molly's mother, Maggie Kelly, played by Aggie Herring, and the neighbors make fun of her fantasy. One day Molly literally bumps into Andy B. Charles, Jr., played by Ralph Graves, the son of the popular ABC restaurant chain. Totally smitten with Molly, Andy asks her out on a date that same night. Within a few hours, Molly and Andy get married. The following day, associates of Charles, Sr. arrive in the couple's honeymoon suite and confiscate all the wedding gifts Andy bought Molly on his father's credit account. Charles, Sr., played by Burr McIntosh, suspects that Molly married Andy for his money and promptly disinherits his son. At this point, Andy rolls up his sleeves and goes to work on a building site digging ditches to support himself and his wife. Molly, who is truly in love with Andy, packs her husband a box lunch daily and takes it to his worksite. When a minor problem on the job makes Andy lose his appetite, he offers his lunch to one of his co-workers, who is so impressed with Molly's box lunch that he swears he would be willing to pay good money for it. Pretty soon Molly starts making box lunches which Andy eagerly sells to his co-workers. When word gets out that Molly's box lunches are better than the ones from the Charles restaurant chain, Andy's millionaire father has to deal with some serious competition. What will happen when Charles, Sr. finds out his own son and daughter-in-law can drive him out of business?

Frank Capra's first Columbia feature, "That Certain Thing" is delightful and is worth watching just to see how clever a director he was in his silents. Even at this early stage of his career, this film has that Capra "feel good" touch. It showcases three of the four elements that later became customary in all Capra's films: comedy, romance, pathos, and drama. The pathos is missing, but this kind of film did not really need it. Columbia was a Poverty Row studio in 1928. Typical of Columbia films from this period, "That Certain Thing" suffers from the small budget, especially noticeable in the scenes shot in the office of millionaire Charles, Sr., which is rather cramped. However, the film has excellent lead performances from Ralph Graves and Viola Dana. Claiming that he was losing his hair and his sex appeal, Ralph Graves decided to become a director for Harry Cohn at Columbia in the late 1920's, although, in fact, he did continue acting until as late as 1949. At Columbia, Graves became associated with Frank Capra, whom the actor had become familiar with at the Mack Sennett studios. Aside from "That Certain Thing" (1928), Capra did star Graves in "Submarine" (1928), "Flight" (1929), "Ladies of Leisure" (1930), and "Dirigible" (1931). Viola Dana, who started her feature film work at seventeen with the Edison Company, worked in many silents for Edison, comedies with Mack Sennett, and starred in some fifty feature films for Metro where she was the highest paid female star. Viola Dana, who had a wicked sense of humor, always claimed that Frank Capra had chosen her for "That Certain Thing" (1928), because, when she walked, she had the "cutest little wiggle." Fast paced and filled with Capraesque humor, "That Certain Thing" is a forgotten gem of the silent screen that is worth discovering.


  1. Silent, That Certain Thing", sounds like a fun movie. Love the pictures you found to add to your Awesome post!!. Thank you, for our Silent movie fix.

  2. Dawn, I loved this film, even though the picture quality wasn't the best. I love the witty intertitles and the ending was wonderful. It has the Capra "good feel" touch.


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