American Madness (Frank Capra / U.S., 1932):

Frost describes the American bank on a rainy day, Frank Capra here imagines a mighty fine indoors cyclone. The vault is a massive mechanism roused daily in the meticulous preamble, its circular opening framed behind vertical metal bars, a leisurely set-up for the fury ahead. "These are precarious times," declares the board of directors, still the populist president (Walter Huston) insists on putting faith and character before profit when it comes to loans. His neglected wife (Kay Johnson) considers an indiscretion, the debt-choked teller (Gavin Gordon) needs an alibi for the night, the robbery that follows is pinned on the head clerk (Pat O’Brien). "You can’t take blood from a stone!" "We can take blood from anything." The crime takes its toll, a loose word from the switchboard operator kicks off lines and lines of panicky customers withdrawing their savings. With polished marble floors covering its metallic innards, the bank is a lustrous setting splendidly keyed to the dynamic mise en scène, Capra makes himself at home like Murnau at a bustling hotel lobby. The economy during the Depression is a very emotive organism, rumors balloon with a roar and institutions wobble in accelerating montages. In the middle of the frenzy is Huston, the shrewd optimist finally deflated by the prospect of marital infidelity yet revived by a climactic surge of loyal deposits "worth more than all the collateral in the world." The banker, the gangster and the crowd, a forceful tale for the New Deal just around the corner, capitalism's kinetic pulse as well as its shadowy desperation. Hitchcock has a concurrent dilemma in The Skin Game and Wyler takes note for The Best Years of Our Lives, Capra makes his own adjustments in It’s a Wonderful Life. Cinematography by Joseph Walker. With Constance Cummings, Arthur Hoyt, Robert Emmett O’Connor, Charley Grapewin, and Sterling Holloway. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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