A Hole in the Head (1959)

Directed by Frank Capra
Cinematography William H. Daniels

Capra’s ‘A Hole in the Head’; Sinatra Is Starred in Story by Schulman

Published: July 16, 1959

AFTER all the years that Frank Capra neglected to make a feature film (“Here Comes the Groom” was his last, in 1951), it is hard to say which is the more exciting about his new one, “A Hole in the Head,” the picture itself or the drama of Mr. Capra’s amazing return.

The picture will probably get the preference, for it is a perfect entertainment on the screen and has the benefit of Arnold Schulman’s scripting from his own successful Broadway play. But the fact that Mr. Capra is back with us, by virtue of his own benevolent choice, and is back with such command of his old gusto, should be a thrill for those who have respect for him.

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Anyone who remembers his great pictures, such as “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” “You Can’t Take It With You” or “It Happened One Night,” will find a most gratifying kinship in this sparkling “A Hole in the Head,” which chased a big money-making picture (“Some Like It Hot”) out of Loew’s State yesterday. For this is another of those wonderfully colloquial American comedies that has the recklessness, the sentiment, the flavor and the stabbing pathos of what we like to reckon as average American life.

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The setting presented in this one is particularly suitable to Mr. Capra’s bent for social observation. It is Miami Beach. And the principal character in it is a most appropriate and attractive type for his kind of frank examination. He is a dreamer, a promoter, a rolling stone. He is also the widowed father of a loving 11-year-old son and the brother of a baleful Bronx Babbitt who candidly considers him “a bum.”

Given a gent of this description, Mr. Capra might well have done a simple takeout on a lovable fumbler and a cornball sentimentalist. But that isn’t his disposition, and it certainly would not be in the line of Mr. Schulman’s aggressively incisive and brilliantly dialogued script.

Their fellow, performed by Frank Sinatra, is a faker and a fraud in many ways; he’s a chiseler and a cheap conniver. To a Babbitt, he might well seem a bum. But he is, deep down, a decent, wistful fellow, a fugitive from the order to conform and a pathetically lonely individual who kids no one more thoroughly than himself.

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And it is in his elaborate maneuverings to scrape together enough money to hold on to a hotel he runs in Miami, to retain possession of his son and perhaps—this, of course, is his “big deal”—to build a $5,000,000 amusement park that Mr. Schulman, Mr. Capra and Mr. Sinatra reveal him magnificently.

Does that sound a little forbidding? Well, it isn’t, not at all, except in one devastating sequence that Mr. Schulman did not have in his play. That is a bitterly humorous sequence in which the hero attends a plush affair thrown by one of his old cronies at a swank Miami Beach hotel. And it is here, through a pool-side party and a dog-track betting display, that Mr. Capra really cuts us a picture of what a big-time promoter is. He’s an ugly, vulgar individual, as played raucously by Keenan Wynn, and his playmates are not attractive in their multimillion-dollar atmosphere.

But, for the rest, the tone is harmonious with middle-class perplexities and the battles that go with trying to settle a difficult family affair. For the crux of the trouble and the humor is in the struggle of the brother and his wife to force the rolling-stone, to be a conformist and to give them possession of his son.

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As the brother, a narrow-minded dullard, Edward G. Robinson is superb— funny while being most officious and withering while saying the drollest things. Excellent, too, is Thelma Ritter as his compassionate wife, and Eleanor Parker is touchingly responsive as a widow lined up to wed the rolling stone.

As the son, Eddie Hodges is rugged and straightforward, too. Carolyn Jones gives a fine, off-beat performance as a vagrant boarder who keeps uttering siren calls.

But the prize goes to Mr. Sinatra, who makes the hero of this vibrant color film a softhearted, hardboiled, white-souled black sheep whom we will cherish, along with Mr. Deeds and Mr. Smith, as one of the great guys that Mr. Capra has escorted to the American screen.

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