Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

A Hole in the Head


In the 1930s Frank Capra owned Hollywood, along with a handful of other directors. No less than three Oscars for best directing, and his movies made tons of money. In WWII he made some of the best war documentaries ever. Then it all sort of stopped. Though he was never called before the treasonous HUAC, his association with blacklisted writers made him a little suspect. In the ‘50s he largely got away from Hollywood, making educational science movies such as Our Mister Sun, which were shown at assemblies when I was in elementary school. Most of the kids were bored and used the time to sleep or socialize, but I was entranced. He was at least partly responsible for getting me interested in science.

They say that audiences moved on and he stayed the same, making wildly optimistic movies that didn’t fit with the current age. This is partially true, but there’s something else, I’m sad to say. He stopped making good movies. It’s a Wonderful Life in 1948 was his last good movie, and sort of refutes the idea that audiences didn’t want to see his brand of “Capracorn” anymore. Not only did it do well, but it’s beloved to this day, in this ultra-cynical age. He made five films after that, and none of them were very good. In an attempt to recapture past glory, he remade one of his early ones, Lady For a Day, as Pocketful of Miracles, and it just lay there like a dead thing. As a good illustration of just how much Capra had lost, compare the two. One is short, economical, and to the point. The other is bloated and slow. Capra only made two films in color: Miracles and this one, and both look over-lighted, static, and poorly designed. And Frankly, Frank, all five of those late films don’t have the snap that one gets from something as basic as good editing. They could have been made by anybody on the MGM lot.

This one may be his worst film. I say that with a broken heart, as a big fan of his early work. It stars Frank Sinatra, as a hustler in Miami Beach. He has a small hotel, one of those art deco things that were faded and cheap back then, and are restored and super-expensive now. Though he’s behind on his mortgage, he’s one of those guys who always has big plans which never come off. One idea is to open a huge hotel with a Disneyland-type (!!!) amusement park attached. Ahead of his time, one might say in retrospect, but he never had the business head that Walt did.

He’s got a son (Mom is dead), that nails-on-a-blackboard little Eddie Hodges, who is way more responsible than he is. Son worries he’s going to be sent off to live with his uncle (Edward G. Robinson) and aunt (Thelma Ritter). I’d be worried, too, though Dad is no prize. Dad’s got a kooky beatnik (in high heels) girlfriend played by Carolyn Jones. I kept trying to place her, and only when I looked her up did I realize she was Morticia in “The Addams Family.” She is constantly playing those damn bongo drums. It seems that lately half the old movies I’ve watched have inflicted those damn bongos on me. The family wants to set him up with Eleanor Parker, a widow more his age, a stabilizing influence.

The trouble is I didn’t like any of these people, though Parker is not actively objectionable. It’s all made worse by Sinatra and Hodges sitting down to sing that stupid “High Hopes” song. You just never know what will be a hit, do you? I remember hearing the damn thing everywhere I went in 1959. To put it as succinctly as possible, I know a movie is in trouble when I find myself trying to identify the make and model of the shiny, gigantic Detroit cars that roll by, and before long I was doing that. It was a struggle to finish this one.