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American Madness

(1932 b 76')

En: 7 Ed: 8

Frank Capra directed this depression story of a run on the bank following a robbery.

After opening the vault Matt Brown (Pat O'Brien) is unable to borrow $10 from a fellow employee because of the depression. Bank manager Dickson (Walter Huston) comes in and talks personally with several people, showing kindness but refusing to make some loans. The board of directors is meeting and wants Dickson out for loaning too much money. Dickson is liberal and has not lost money. He wants to circulate money to help the economy and explains the vicious cycle that results if money is not loaned. He banks not on stocks but on the character of people like businessman Jones. Dickson refuses to merge with a New York trust. In cashier Cluett's office when he cannot pay a large gambling debt, some gangsters put pressure on him to help with a robbery that night. Dickson's wife Phyllis (Kay Johnson) comes in and complains about competing with a bank; she flirts with Cluett, who wants to see her that night. Matt catches Cluett kissing Mrs. Dickson. Dickson makes Matt assistant cashier. Dickson argues with his wife about that evening after he plans a trip to Philadelphia; he promises her the next night but then tells his secretary to try to arrange a meeting for that time too. As Matt closes up, Cluett goes in the vault and changes the clock from 9 back to 12.

After midnight Cluett invites Mrs. Dickson up to his apartment, where Matt is waiting to criticize him. Cluett hits Matt and pulls a gun on him. At the bank the watchman finds the vault open and is shot by the robbers at 12:09. The next day the police interrogate Matt, who says he was home. A phone operator tells another the bank was robbed of $100,000. Soon the rumor spreads, and the amount increases. People warn their friends to take their money out, causing a run on the bank. Matt refuses to tell Dickson where he was. Dickson tries to make money available and gives a speech. He asks the directors to transfer their fortunes from other banks, but they ask him to resign. Dickson tells the tellers to stall. Matt is about to be arrested when the police learn that a gangster had been in Cluett's office. Cluett tells them he was with a married lady; but by talking on the phone the inspector cleverly arouses Cluett's guilt. He runs out and gets a gun, but he is caught. Cluett tells Dickson he was with his wife, who does not deny it. Crestfallen, Dickson agrees to sell his stock. As the bank's money runs out, Dickson's wife explains she did nothing wrong. Then Mr. Jones comes in to deposit money. Matt has been calling Dickson's friends, and they come in to make deposits. This persuades the directors to transfer their money by police escort, and the satisfied crowd decides to leave. The next day Dickson orders Matt to get married and plans a honeymoon with his own wife.

This film was made a few months before President Franklin Roosevelt declared, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." He was referring to faith in the banking system. The populist liberal philosophy is vindicated in this story while exposing the fragility of the capitalist system. Dickson's faith in people is affirmed, and he learns he must give his wife more attention.

Copyright © 1999 by Sanderson Beck

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