Walter Huston plays the "George Bailey" in this brief, 81-minute Capra pic. No, Thomas Dickson didn't sacrifice his hearing by saving a kid from an icy pond, but he's the banking equivalent of a good Samaritan, a jolly and generous branch manager too good to be true. So good, that he will lend out a loan without much collateral on the other end. (In this way, actually, Huston more closely resembles Jim Carrey's "Carl" from last year's Yes Man.) But don't you just know that Dickson's thrifty lending is gonna pay itself back when the proper time comes?
American Madness' quickly delivered, universal message works because it's on a infinite spin cycle of sorts. Capra's film is almost symmetrical, the ending reprising the beginning as events come to a comfortable close. But there is some darkness here. There is crime, and there is death, and there is a slightly uncharacteristic black humor to Capra's handling of it all.
In fact, the one scene that stood me up and stood out amongst the predictable idealistic pleasures was the darkest place I've even seen Capra go to (though I'm certainly not a well-versed Capra devotee). The sequence involves Huston, guilt, a gun, and a silhouette by the office drapes. I won't say more as for wanting to keep it special for anyone else who will see it, but the scene deserved a sad round of applause mid-film, for sure. Perhaps this moment was the result of American Madness being a pre-code film. Regardless, it felt otherworldly compared to my frame of reference for movies of this time, a sweet surprise that I probably wouldn't have experienced if not for the Paramount.