Many of Capra's films point out the nobility of small town America, but here he seems to be doing just the opposite – bringing to light how one small town has just fired their preacher for the unpardonable sin of aging and hired a younger man to replace him without a backwards glance to the consequences to the displaced older man. The old preacher dies dictating his last sermon. We don't see this but we hear it from his daughter Florence played by Barbara Stanwyck. The farewell sermon she gives the parishioners has them walking out – or should I say running – as she calls them murderers, thieves, adulterers, closet drunks – being the preacher's daughter she knows where the bodies are buried and she tells them. A con man is in the congregation for some reason and he says if she wants to get even – and rich – she should run a faith healing con on this same type of small town hypocrite. The world is full of them according to her mentor. The plan works – Florence is as fier…
Clearheaded, consistently entertaining indictment of shear-the-sheep religion, from an unsuccessful Broadway play that starred Alice Brady, this quick-moving melodrama benefits from a terse Robert Riskin screenplay where every line counts, atmospheric Joseph Walker photography, and some very fine acting. Capra, as usual, makes his points quickly, finds humor where there's humor to be found (note the drunken party greeter repeatedly falling out of his chair), and gives even the minor characters distinctive personalities. Best of all is a blazing Barbara Stanwyck, who has a stunning first scene and doesn't let up from there, and the camera loves her. As the blind vet who adores her, David Manners plays blind very well, is un-self-consciously handsome, and minimizes the annoyingly angelic aspects of his character. It's over in an hour and a half, meaning it makes the same points as "Elmer Gantry" in about half the time, right down to the similar finale.
I can't believe I've never seen this film before. After all does a Christmas pass without "It's a Wonderful Life"? Could anyone over forty possibly not be exposed to Mr Deeds, It Happened One Night. Meet John Doe or Mr Smith Goes to Washington (especially around American elections)? Yet in my 57 years I have never seen this Capra film until TCM aired it today. Hallelujah! This is like discovering Beethoven's 10th. I could not take my eyes off this movie for one second. From the very first scene when Stanwyck enters to deliver her father's final sermon and her first, the story grabs you by the throat and won't let go. This movie has all the essential Capra elements: the innocent among the villains and cynics who've lost their innocence; the crowd being swayed by sham theatrics; the hard-boiled woman revealing the heart of gold; and most of all, the sheer unpredictability of his vision and the compelling logic of his moral universe. And how h…
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