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William Collier Jr.
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
There is no cast list in the film; Bessie Love and Johnnie Walker are on the title page and are listed first. All the credited cast are then introduced by intertitle frames which also provide their character names, just before they are shown onscreen. See more »
Broadway - a street that runs north, south, and wild!
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With Al Jolson at the height of his popularity and Warner Brothers's the Jazz Singer having been the highest grossing film of 1927, it was inevitable that the other studios would churn out a few vehicles for their own Jolson-esquire characters. But while the Jazz Singer was a sensation for its being the first part-talkie, the Matinée Idol lacks the singing voice of its star (the now obscure Johnnie Walker), and has to make do with just his visual antics.
The Matinée Idol was an early directorial assignment for the renowned Frank Capra. Capra's first couple of full-length features for Harry Langdon reveal a very showy, excessive style, which made Langdon's already mediocre slapstick almost unwatchable. A couple of pictures later and Capra has learnt to ease off a bit, with some fairly regular and decent camera-work. However he still shows no aptitude for shooting physical comedy. The longest comic routine - the stage performance - seems to have a few good gags, but it's all cut up into lots of different camera angles, and there is no chance for the comedy to flow naturally from the performances. Theoretically, a good portion of the jokes are in the intertitles, but there are far too many of these and none of them is especially funny.
Of course, Capra would eventually mature into a fine dramatic and romantic director, and you can see him beginning to develop in this respect. He cuts down the line, closing in on Walker and Bessie love in the scene where she first lays eyes on him in his Don Wilson get up, neatly establishing the wordless connection between them. Then there is some beautiful and tender framing of the couple in their scene together at the masquerade, which is all very reminiscent of the love scenes in Capra's early 30s output.
Johnnie Walker, Columbia's answer to Al Jolson, is not an exceptional talent. His comic timing is good but there is nothing to make him stand out. Bessie Love on the other hand is a pretty good actress, with a very expressive face. Kudos to her for getting involved with the physical comedy and losing her dignity with the boys. There's also a good role for Lionel Belmore, that rotund and jolly character actor who seems to turn up in absolutely everything in the late 20s and early 30s.
The Matinée Idol is one of those pictures that has gained more than its fair share of attention thanks to its director later having made a handful of masterpieces. In and of itself it is a very uninteresting piece, and like most of Capra's work before he met screenwriter Robert Riskin, a disappointment.
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