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Friday, December 9, 2011

Old Bread, Old Rolls. Part Five.

Frank Capra directed some really great movies.

"It Happened One Night"
"Mr. Deeds Goes To Town"
Mr. Smith Goes To Washington"
"You Can't Take It With You"
"Lady For a Day"
"Meet John Doe"
"Arsenic and Old Lace" (Cary Grant at his funniest)
and of course, "It's a Wonderful Life".
There was another great one, "American Madness", from 1932, which, upon viewing, seems to be the basis for "It's A Wonderful Life".

Capra was a major voice in the anti-colorization crusade that began when movies started being colorized.
As someone who shot most of his movies in black-and white, I suppose you can understand why.
Capra was always wrapping the American Flag around himself.
With colorization, he was wrapping "artisitic integrity" around himself.

Now, I've seen the colorized versions of "It's A Wonderful Life" and "Arsenic and Old Lace"
Not harmed artistically in the least.
They lost none of their integrity.
I think they were even improved.
There was nothing particularly aesthetic to their black and white nature.
But with Capra, it was a matter of "artistic integrity".
That's not the way he made them.

Funny, how when the two movies Capra made in color, the very good
"A Hole In The Head", and the absolutely stinking, in spite of Peter Falk's great performance, "Pocketful of Miracles", both showed up on televison a few years after they were made, when most viewers still had black and white TV sets, and the movies were cut up, and broken up for commercials, you didn't hear a peep out of Capra and his "artistic integrity".
He just scooped up his "Pocketful of Residuals" and kept his mouth shut.

Capra also made a slew of movies in the really early 30's that I've never seen, and would really like to.

There was an even bigger stinker, right out of the "Old Bread, Old Rolls" playbook, which showed where Capra really stood on "artistic integrity".

In 1934, Capra made a pretty good movie called "Broadway Bill".
It starred Warner Baxter as a down-on-his-luck horse trainer who invested his entire future on the outcome of a horserace, that included his horse, Broadway Bill.
Hence, the title.

In 1950, Capra decided to do a remake of "Broadway Bill".
It was called "Riding High"
He got Bing Crosby to do Warner Baxter's part.
And what Capra did was the cheapest-looking, chinciest, cheesiest example of "Old Bread, Old Rolls" that anyone can imagine.
He literally used at least half the footage from "Broadway Bill", not just racetrack stock footage, but complete scenes, with actors and dialogue, and cut it together with the new stuff he shot with Der Bingle.
The result was a schizoid looking movie, half of which looked like it was shot in the early 30's, with 30's looking automobiles, and telephones that required two hands to use them, intercut with footage that was obviously shot in the 50's.
One-handed telephones.
50's-looking automobiles.
Much clearer looking footage than the graininess of the early 30's footage.
There has always been a distinct difference between movies made in the 30's
and movies made in the 50's.
And it constantly kept bouncing back and forth between the two eras.
It was really jarring, and completely took you out of the story.

Many of the same supporting cast was used: Ward Bond, Margaret Hamilton, Douglas Dumbrille, Charles Lane, Raymond Walburn, Clarence Muse, Paul Harvey, Irving Bacon, and others.
And in the latter footage, they all looked significantly older.
So they kept looking older and younger. And younger and older.
You didn't need a trained eye to notice this.
There was even a scene where Capra, aware of the problem, staged it so that Crosby was talking to all these actors. who were facing him,
wearing hats, with their backs to the camera.
You only saw Crosby's face.
Why this movie was done with this overall approach is a mystery.
Maybe Capra owed the studio a picture, balked at the prospect, and wanted to deliver it as lazily as possible.
Or maybe they gave him a larger budget and he'd gain a "Pocketful of Extra Cash" he wouldn't have to spend making an entirely new movie.
Anyway, it was completely grotesque.
"Artistic Integrity" did not raise it's head in this instance.

Your honor, I submit that this was the most egregious example of "Old Bread, Old Rolls" ever perpetrated.
The equivalent of the Nuremburg Trials would have been appropriate.


My book, "Show Runner" and it's sequel,"Show Runner Two", can be found at the Amazon Kindle Store, You can search by typing in my name, Cindy Williams, Laverne & Shirley, The Odd Couple, or Happy Days.
You might want to check them out.
Just get the free app from Kindle, and they can be downloaded to an IPhone, IPad, or Blackberry.
The paperback, "Mark Rothman's Essays" is still available for people without Kindle.
I have many readings and signings remaining, and the thing about Kindle is you can't sign one.
The website "On Screen & Beyond" has two hours of an interview I did on it's podcast in their archives.
Just Google On Screen & Beyond to find them if you're interested.



  1. No mystery here at all.

    In his autobiography, Frank Capra devoted a whole chapter to Riding High.

    The chapter is titled "Balaban's Law", Balaban being Barney Balaban, who ran Paramount at the time.
    "Balaban's Law" was his edict that no movie whose budget would come to more than $1,500,000 would be approved for production.
    Capra's Liberty Films had a piece of contract left with Paramount, and Capra was eager to burn it off, so he ran a series of ideas for economy productions at Balaban, to little avail.
    He was finally able to sell Riding High on the basis of using the old Broadway Bill footage.
    In his book, Capra puts all of this in the best possible light, stressing how he enjoyed working with Bing Crosby (who loved horses) as opposed to Warner Baxter (who hated horses),and how it was great to round up all those character actors, as well as a few who weren't in the original, like Oliver Hardy.
    And it's not as if he was a a pollyanna about everything - in the chapter about Pocketful of Miracles, Capra denounces his own "lack of integrity" in letting Glenn Ford take over the production.
    It's been a while since I read the book, so I may have murked up some of the details, but I'm pretty sure this is the backstory.

    Anyway, as I said, no mystery.

  2. Well, I guess that explains the "mystery".
    It still doesn't excuse the product he turned out here.
    And he still should have kept his trap shut about colorization.

  3. I have the same feelings about Howard Hawks remake of his very fine "Ball of Fire". He didn't even wait 10 years before he remade it. The ostensible reason is that this new version, "A Song is Born" was a musical and the earlier one wasn't, but the speaking parts was scene-by-scene almost identical to the original, except directed and acted with much less enthusiasm. Even the normally enthusiastic Danny Kaye looks kind of bored. Gary Cooper, not normally know as a comic actor, was actually funnier in the same role.

  4. The speaking parts WERE scene-by-scene...

    Grammer school was a looonnngg time ago.

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Hi. I am, according to my Wikipedia entry,(which I did not create) a noted television writer, playwright, screenwriter, and occasional actor. You can Google me or go to the IMDB to get my credits, and you can come here to get my opinions on things, which I'll try to express eloquently. Hopefully I'll succeed. You can also e-mail me at Perhaps my biggest claim to fame is being responsible, for about six months in 1975, while Head Writer for the "Happy Days" TV series, for Americans saying to each other "Sit on it."