Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Frank Capra Marathon #3: 'Rain or Shine' (1930)

RAIN OR SHINE (1930) Columbia Pictures, 90mins.

Reworking a 1928 Broadway hit for the screen, Frank Capra and writer Jo Swerling (who worked with the director of Ladies of Leisure) removed the musical numbers but kept in the major players from the stage play, specifically the loud, speed-talking wizard of a showman, Joe Cook, in his screen debut.

Beginning with an opening credits sequence set to an orchestral version of the oft-used song, made famous by Gene Kelly, Rain or Shine ('30) is simply a vaudevillian, clown-tempered comedy about a struggling circus that contains a few showcase sequences for the obviously talented Joe Cook, but little else. It attempts to heighten and expand upon a love triangle between the aforementioned Cook, the young circus owner (Joan Peers) and her boyfriend and stage-man (William Collier Jr.), but the formula doesn't pay off nearly as well here as it did in Capra's aviation epic, Flight ('29).

Shot on a miserably small set (the circus grounds), Capra does show off a mean camera at times, with one tracking shot following Joe Cook's character as he moves from the town to the entrance of the circus tents, a visual trick that Capra employed in his earlier sound films, but not nearly as well as he does here. In a near 10-minute sequence taking place during the actual circus show, Joe Cook puts on an impressive display of juggling and balance that's matched beat-for-beat by Capra's own showboating behind the camera.

The climax is a striking fire sequence that was quite literally burned down by Capra in one take with twelve cameras in order to ensure its thoroughness. But like the film, once it's doused, it's a charred, crisp pile of rubble (or rather rubbish).

Rain or Shine ends up being a miscalculated financial failure for Frank Capra and producer Harry Cohn at Columbia - a slight stand-up routine with so much manic physical comedy it nearly bops us upside the head. Capra appeared to have made the best of such a fruitless production with his economic shooting and orchestrations, but this one is a bit of a misstep after the sweeping Flight ('29) and the star-making Ladies of Leisure ('30).

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