Daily Archives: January 6, 2018

Capra’s Catastrophe

This review of Frank Capra’s Broadway Bill (1934) first appeared in the August 7, 1992 issue of the Chicago Reader. –J.R.

BROADWAY BILL

*** (A must-see)

Directed by Frank Capra

Written by Robert Riskin and Sidney Buchman

With Warner Baxter, Myrna Loy, Helen Vinson, Clarence Muse, Raymond Walburn, Walter Connolly, Margaret Hamilton, and Frankie Darro.

Though it’s surely a coincidence, the theatrical rerelease of Frank Capra’s Broadway Bill and the simultaneous publication of Joseph McBride’s Frank Capra: The Catastrophe of Success are mutually enhancing in a number of ways.

FrankCapraTCOS

Capra’s 1934 Christmas release was made for Columbia, bought by Paramount, and withdrawn from circulation over 40 years ago, when Capra was preparing a remake called Riding High (1950) — a Bing Crosby musical with virtually the same plot and dialogue that was so unmemorable that despite numerous TV screenings the film critic for the Boston Globe claimed last month that it had never been made at all. The much feistier Broadway Bill, by contrast, has never turned up on TV, and apart from a few archival airings has remained unseen for over half a century. A breezy if edgy racing comedy laced with some serious ingredients, it isn’t nearly as good as The Bitter Tea of General Yen or It Happened One Night, both of which preceded it, but on the other hand it isn’t as cloying as the worst parts of its successors Mr.Read more »

Entries in 1001 MOVIES YOU MUST SEE BEFORE YOU DIE (the first dozen)

These are expanded Chicago Reader capsules written for a 2003 collection edited by Steven Jay Schneider. I contributed 72 of these in all; here are the first dozen, in alphabetical order. — J.R.

Actress

Stanley Kwan’s 1991 masterpiece (also known as Ruan Ling-yu and Center Stage) is still possibly the greatest Hong Kong film I’ve seen; perhaps only some of the masterpieces of Wong Kar-wai, such as Days of Being Wild and In the Mood for Love (both of these also significantly period films) are comparable in depth and intensity. The story of silent film actress Ruan Ling-yu (1910-’35), known as the Garbo of Chinese cinema, it combines documentary with period re-creation, biopic glamour with profound curiosity, and ravishing historical clips with color simulations of the same sequences being shot — all to explore a past that seems more complex, sexy, and mysterious than the present. Maggie Cheung won a well-deserved best actress prize at Berlin for her classy performance in the title role, despite the fact that her difference from Ryan Ling-yu as an actress is probably more important than any similarities. In fact, she was basically known as a comic actress in relatively lightweight Hong Kong entertainments prior to this film, and Actress proved to be a turning point in her career towards more dramatic and often meatier parts.… Read more »