Shown at the AFI Silver Theatre as part of a retrospective celebrating the works of Fay Wray and Robert Riskin, the film featured commentary by their daughter, Victoria Riskin (who recently published Fay Wray and Robert Riskin: A Hollywood Memoir). Mr. Riskin wrote the screenplay - one of eight collaborations with Frank Capra (TCM article).
Frank Capra was not the first choice to direct the film - initially Allan Dwan was set to direct, but producer Harry Cohn was dissatisfied with his efforts, fired him and assigned Roy William Neill. Within a day, Neill was gone and Frank Capra, who was just back from a vacation, was pushed into the film. Scenes of the bank run are reminiscent of It's a Wonderful Life (1946) and the character of Thomas Dickson resembles George Bailey, even to his speeches as je attempts to calm the bank panic. It's an interesting opportunity to see the work that would later influence what many consider Capra's masterwork.
Walter Huston is impressive as Dickson, a man of principle facing a crisis of faith. Dickson has spent his life relying on his ability to read people. Now, in an instant he discovers that a climate of fear brings out the worst in his fellow man. The character of Dickson was based on the chairman of the Bank of America, A. P. Giannini (AFI catalog ). Mr. Huston is always an impressive actor - see his work in Rain (1932), Dodsworth (1936), and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) for very different performances.
Pat O'Brien plays Matt Brown, an ex-con hired - and promoted - by Dickson. He's in love with Dickson's secretary, Helen (Constance Cummings), and inadvertently witnessed what he thought was a romantic assignation between Dickson's wife, Phyllis (Kay Johnson) and fellow employee Cyril Cluett (Gavin Gordon). Mr. O'Brien has his best scenes when he is (unsurprisingly) accused of collusion in the bank robbery. His anxiety over preserving his boss' marriage (Matt accompanied Ms. Dickson home when he found her at Cluett's apartment) rather than provide himself with an alibi is well played - and an interesting contrast to Gavin Gordon.
This is the first film role for Sterling Holloway (Oscar), who would go on to perform numerous character parts, television roles, and voice parts, include Mr. Stork in Dumbo (1941), the narrator of "Peter and the Wolf" in Make Mine Music (1946), and Winnie the Pooh.
It's an interesting movie, and if you are a fan of Frank Capra, or would like to see the genesis of It's a Wonderful Life, definitely worth a viewing. I'll close with an early scene, which introduces many of our characters.