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The Matinee Idol (1928)

Passed | | Comedy, Romance | 14 March 1928 (USA)
A Broadway matinee idol famous for his black-face portrayals anonymously joins an amateur acting troupe and falls in love with the leading lady.


Frank Capra (as Frank R. Capra)


Robert Lord (from the story "Come Back to Aaron"), Ernest Pagano (from the story "Come Back to Aaron") | 2 more credits »

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Complete credited cast:
Bessie Love ... Ginger Bolivar
Johnnie Walker ... Don Wilson - aka Harry Mann
Ernest Hilliard Ernest Hilliard ... Arnold Wingate
Lionel Belmore ... Jasper Bolivar
David Mir David Mir ... Eric Barrymaine


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 Kathy Li

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Comedy | Romance


Passed | See all certifications »






Release Date:

14 March 1928 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Bessie à Broadway See more »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


(copyright length) | (1997 alternate)

Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


There is no cast list; 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 »


Title: Broadway - a street that runs north, south, and wild!
See more »

Alternate Versions

In 1997, Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc., copyrighted a 56-minute restored version of this film with a musical score arranged and conducted by Robert Israel, The addition of modern credits stretched the running time to 57 minutes. See more »


Featured in Frank Capra's American Dream (1997) See more »

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User Reviews

One of the great romantic comedies of the silent era is a well kept secret
24 October 2009 | by AlsExGalSee all my reviews

"The Matinée Idol" is an unremembered gem of a silent film. Columbia was still a poverty row studio in 1928, but this production is every bit as polished as anything that MGM or Paramount would have put out at the time. The story revolves around the star of a Broadway Revue, Don Wilson (Johnnie Walker), who is a black-face comic. The management of the theater thinks that Don has been working too hard, so they advise a rest in the country. The group drives out to a small town where their car breaks down. The whole town - including the mechanic - are all at the "show" - the most recent play by the Bolivar players, the star of which is Ginger Bolivar (Bessie Love). Don is just looking for the mechanic when he stumbles into an audition for a bit part involving a love scene with Ginger. He gets the part because the other applicants are just so bad. The show is just terrible, but the town thinks it is terrific as do the Bolivar players. The show is a Civil War drama - or at least it's supposed to be. Instead it turns out to be more like the play that Buster Keaton invaded in "Spite Marriage", except here everyone is playing Keaton. The fact that the Bolivars are playing it straight with unintentionally hilarious results gives our urban visitors ideas on a way to enliven their New York revue at the expense of the Bolivars' dignity.

Bessie Love gives the same perky performance here that she always does, but at this point in her career she is on the way out since the age of 30 was a magic number for actresses at that time. The coming of sound gives her career about a two year revival as she stars in "The Broadway Melody of 1929" and several other musicals in 1929 and 1930. When the early musicals fall out of favor with the Depression-era public Bessie is back on the poverty row circuit once again, leaving films pretty much altogether from 1931 until World War II.

As for leading man Johnnie Walker, this was pretty much his first and last hurrah in both silent and talking pictures. He had supporting roles before and after this one, but it was his only starring one. This is surprising since he is so engaging here.

This film is one of the best of the silent romantic comedies that I've seen. It certainly has that Frank Capra "feel-good" touch about it, even at this early stage of his directing career.

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