“I’m not interested in profit. I’m interested in the bank — in the depositers; they’re my friends. They’re looking to me for protection, and I’m not walking out on them!”
Warm-hearted banker Thomas Dickson (Walter Huston) is pressured by his Board of Directors to stop giving loans so freely, but he refuses on principle. When one of his debt-ridden employees (Gavin Gordon) facilitates a heist led by a group of gangsters, however, panicked depositors mob the bank to cash their savings, and Dickson must find a way to save his bank before it’s too late.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Depression Era
- Frank Capra Films
- Naive Public
- Pat O’Brien Films
- Walter Huston Films
It’s easy to see shades of Capra’s later films in this fable-like story about a magnanimous banker (wonderfully played by Huston) who refuses to let anything stand in the way of his devotion to “the people”; indeed, fans of It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) will immediately recognize the familiar plot device of panicked townspeople descending upon a bank and demanding their money back. These crowd scenes are handled impressively, as are the more quiet moments between Huston and his wife (Kay Johnson); less enjoyable, however, is the script’s heavy handed morality, which insults our intelligence. Fortunately, the film is redeemed by excellent performances from nearly all the actors (Gordon is an exception), stunning art deco set designs inside the bank, and a fascinating look at Depression-era mentality about money.
Note:Although it comes across as a naively optimistic alternative to traditional banking methods, Huston’s philosophy about loans actually makes some sense, and can be seen in Bangladesh’s famous microcredit program run by Grameen Bank.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Walter Huston as the people-trusting banker
- Kay Johnson as Huston’s frustrated wife
- Pat O’Brien as Huston’s loyal right-hand-man
- Constance Cummings as O’Brien’s fiancee
- Gorgeous art deco set designs
- Effective use of rapid-fire editing, fast-paced action, and overlapping dialogue
Yes. As the first film to demonstrate Capra’s unique style and thematic interests, most film fanatics will want to see this movie at least once. Peary lists it in the back of his book as a Personal Recommendation.