Frank Capra’s “American Madness” Is A Gem

American Madness
American Madness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tom Dickson (Walter Huston) is a bank president who nobly considers depositors his friends and is unconcerned about profit.  Though serious about banking, he is the most humane of businessmen—and the hero of Frank Capra’s Depression-inspired film, American Madness (1932).

The madness of the title is a foolish run on Dickson’s bank by depositors terrified by a big loss of money owing to an embezzler named Cluett (Gavin Gordon).  Dilemmas befall the bank president:  he begins to fear losing both the bank and, as it happens, his marriage.

Hollow optimism about human nature—Capra’s familiar trait—finally springs up in the film, and there is an inconsistent tone (which is why Madness is a semi-comedy).  Yet Robert Riskin’s script is a pretty effective character study, not incisive but humanly appealing.  Too, it’s beguilingly smart, filmed by a dedicated and likable craftsman who worked well with his actors.