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
THE MATINEE IDOL is a superb comedy, and much much more. In a way that suggests his later masterpieces, Frank Capra masterfully mixes comedy and drama in a unique way. And the result is the creation of genuinely real characters in a very real world - a world that can be loving and cruel.
A bunch of Broadway theatre producers stumble on a country theatrical troupe, who are really quite bad. So they decide to put the troupe into a Broadway show - so that they can be laughed at by the sophisticated New York audience. The results are funny for us too, but Capra manages to make us feel for the players as they work their hearts out to stop the audience laughing at their drama. Stunning stuff.
And the magnificent performance of Bessie Love is key to the success of this comic-tragic feel. Johnnie Walker is also excellent as the Broadway star who falls in love with her. And Capra displays, in this early film, the attention to detail and an understanding of humanity that would characterise all his later work. Just watch the country audience - the characters he captures so beautifully without being condescending. They might be funny people, but they are also real. Of course we can see this in the work he did with Harry Langdon too.
Capra was certainly a master - and this wonderful silent film is a testimony to his genius. Make sure you see it.
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