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Before “Capraesque”: Early Frank Capra

Friday, February 12, 2010
7:00 p.m. Rain or Shine
Frank Capra (U.S., 1930)

Restored Vault Print


A film that’s all personality and linguistic pyrotechnics, with only the slimmest of plots, this early talkie is a delightful showpiece for the forgotten Joe Cook, one of Broadway’s most endearing clowns, whose stage hit Rain or Shine is the basis of the film. As circus comic Smiley, Cook is a fount of wisecracks and physical feats, all the razzle-dazzle covering an undercurrent of melancholy. The film has a Beckett-like sense of absurdity and is visually compelling as well: Capra and cameraman Joseph Walker managed expressive and technically impressive camera movements incorporating live sound recording. Joseph McBride noted, “In retrospect, it is impossible not to read the film version of Rain or Shine as an allegory of the Depression, despite its seemingly frivolous subject matter. . . . Cook’s Smiley, the indefatigable optimist, can be seen as a Franklin Roosevelt precursor, galvanizing the demoralized troupe with his energy and courage.”

• Written by Dorothy Howell, Jo Swerling, based on the play by James Gleason and Maurice Marks. Photographed by Joseph Walker. With Joe Cook, Louise Fazenda, Joan Peers, William Collier Jr. (87 mins, B&W, 35mm, From Sony Pictures)