23 June 2002 | Ron Oliver
Frank Capra Wins The Horse Race
A failed racehorse fancier, desperate to emerge from the shadow of his dictatorial father-in-law, pins all his hopes on his magnificent new steed, BROADWAY BILL.
This rather obscure Frank Capra film - made after IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT - has a lot going for it, including fine performances, a well-written story, good production values & a hilarious example of an expertly crafted film montage.
Warner Baxter deserves some credit in being willing to play a flawed and somewhat unlikable fellow. Besides being an alcoholic shyster, he's also physically abusive to those he feels are beneath him. And he's a racist. Despite these major disqualifications, Baxter still displays enough enthusiasm to make the viewer actually care what happens to the lout.
Although it's difficult to fathom why her character adores Baxter so much, it's actually quite easy to see why audiences love Myrna Loy. Beautiful, vivacious, classy, this lady exuded charm for decades. As Baxter's infatuated sister-in-law, she is a pleasure to watch, even though we don't really feel Baxter deserves her.
Playing his role with great dignity, Clarence Muse stands out as Broadway Bill's groom. An actor of enormous competence, Muse perhaps brought more of a well-rounded characterization to his performance than was originally expected. That he could play a role subject to racial slights and still make it something memorable, speaks very well of the actor.
The supporting cast contains a fine collection of character actors: blustery Walter Connolly as Loy's tyrannical, yet tenderhearted, father; Raymond Walburn as a pompous confidence trickster; Lynne Overman as his laconic assistant; Douglass Dumbrille as a race-fixing mobster; and vinegar-faced Margaret Hamilton as Connolly's stern boardinghouse landlady.
Movie mavens should have fun picking out the uncredited appearances of several performers: Clara Blandick as Connolly's overworked secretary; former OUR GANGer Mickey Daniels as a messenger for Connolly; Ward Bond & Charles Lane as a couple of racing touts working for Dumbrille; Herman Bing as a most unfortunate waiter in a fancy restaurant; Irving Bacon as the owner of a sandwich stand; Charles Middleton as a veterinarian; elderly Claude Gillingwater as the richest man in the world' whose impetuous purchase of $2 worth of tickets on Broadway Bill precipitates merry mayhem; and pretty Lucille Ball as a telephone operator.
After filming began Capra discovered that Baxter, although he loved horses, was afraid of them. Some imagination on the part of the director was needed to realistically put Baxter & Bill into the same scenes.