“American Madness,” a great Frank Capra movie made at Colombia Pictures Corporation in 1932, features Walter Huston as Dickson, a bank manager who values character over money. Dickson’s Union National Bank continually gives loans to regular people and local businesses, despite the protests by the bank’s board of directors. Once again, a Frank Capra production champions the “little people” over greedy corporate interests. The film makes me proud of the American film industry in the 1930’s, which often took on controversial or downright subversive issues during one of the most turbulent times of our history.
When gangsters rob the bank of $100,000, a rumor that the bank will fail sparks a run of depositors demanding their money. As the tills empty, Dickson calls other banks to help shore up the deposits. But his efforts fail to conjure up a solution as the depositors threaten to mob the bank. A crooked bank manager, who conspired in the robbery, also conceals a side story concerning an adulterous scandal involving Dickson’s wife. Only the efforts of a trustworthy clerk, played by Pat O’Brien, helps evert the bank’s financial failure.
Capra’s movies hum along at a good pace, and this one, much like “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” from 1939, seamlessly balances several characters in support of a very good story. I love Walter Huston’s confident acting style, and find it a little shocking that he displays such weakness in the third act. But that’s common in Capra’s films. The lead character Dickson, full of integrity, passes through uncertainty when he learns of a betrayal, but regains his moral authority at the end. Decency and courage win the day.