The road-show troupe of a top Broadway show go cross-country while taking the audience along on the on-stage scenes as well as what happens and is happening back stage of the production. ... See full summary »
The famous matinee idol and blackface comedian, Don Wilson, heads out of town to escape adulation. There, calling himself Harry Mann, he accidentally joins a traveling acting troupe, and falls in love with Ginger Bolivar, who runs the troupe and stars in their Civil War melodrama. Don's producer sees the play, and thinks it's a comic masterpiece, and just what Don's Broadway show needs. But when Ginger finds out she's been played for a fool, will she forgive Don? Written by
If this were not an early silent effort by master director Frank Capra, "The Matinée Idol" would likely have remained a lost film. However, this mildly amusing film has been found and restored, and it is well worth seeing to note how deft a director Capra was in his silent works. Led by an attractive pair of leads, Bessie Love and Johnny Walker, the familiar device of a bad stage play getting even worse during an inept performance is used to good effect here (actually used twice) and offers a few chuckles even to those who have seen this done to death in later films from "Auntie Mame" to "Noises Off." Unfortunately, as with many Capra films, there is a bitter aftertaste that lingers in the viewer's mind when the film is over. Using an honest effort by naive "country folks" as the object of amusement for "sophisticated" Broadway audiences is a cruel idea and forms the crux of the plot. Also, Capra has cast the lead actor as a black-face entertainer, which will make some viewers uncomfortable or even appalled, and Capra uses a gay "sissie" stereotype who is the object of other characters' derision, which is even more offensive to contemporary viewers. Although another use of black-face in a Capra film does not come to mind, he was not above using the "sissie" stereotype again, and it reappeared as the Edward Everett Horton character in "Lost Horizon." However, if one can overlook the dated plot and negative stereotyping, "The Matinée Idol" provides an hour of amusement and a peek at the formative years of a great film director.
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