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American Madness

Screening on Film
Directed by Frank Capra.
With Walter Huston, Pat O’Brien, Kay Johnson.
US, 1932, 35mm, black & white, 75 min.
Print source: HFA

Was there some film ‘hay’ to be made out of the Depression? Of course—the ‘sob’ angle: wealth versus ‘ideals’; Big Money against little people. Opportunistic as Hearst reporters, Riskin and I concocted a wild story about a bank president (Walter Huston) who is filled with youthful optimism and a cheerful trust in men. He is bitterly opposed by both his own directors and other banks for his ‘unsound’ and ‘dangerous’ practices of making loans on faith. Riskin wrote the screenplay, marking the beginning of a Capra-Riskin collaboration that was to last for years. [....]

In truth, it was one of the first Hollywood films to grapple directly and openly with the Depression’s fears and panic. [...] American Madness was a shocker to the public. It created controversy among critics and bitter contention in financial circles. Some called it ‘New Dealish’ [...] ‘impractical star-gazing’ [...] ‘fuzzy thinking.’ Others said the thinking was no fuzzier than the ‘thinking’ of financiers which created the boom and the crash.— FC

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