I'm always beating up on Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, so I figure I should point out that I don't hate Frank Capra...well, I guess I already did, because I did posts on the Why We Fight series, which I said nice things about. At any rate, thought the last Capra I saw was terrific, and it's pretty obscure, so even though it's not a explicitly political movie exactly I figured I'd do a Monday Movies Post about it.
It's The Younger Generation, a story of a Jewish family on the lower East Side of New York, and their American saga. What's great about it is the villain: the son, Morris. He's a born businessman, and from early on in his life he has one goal, which is to make it in respectable society. What makes the movie is that while he rapidly becomes wealthy, it's clear that he's no money-grubbing Jew. His only goal is to fit into society, and that he wants so badly that he's willing to use his wealth (and influence over his doting mother) to prevent his father from having any joy in his life, to disown his sister, to lie to his family to keep his sister and his parents apart, and finally, in the climax of the movie, to brutally humiliate his parents. A truly great villain role.
The movie is from 1929, during the transition from silents to talkies. Most of it is a silent film, and then the sound cuts in for a handful of scenes. So if you decide to watch it, be warned that it's probably not to everyone's taste. Jean Hersholt as the father is, I think, excellent, and I thought the rest were fine. You'll want, I think, to read up on at least Hersholt and of Lina Basquette, who played the daughter -- assuming you don't know their stories.
At any rate, it's a great companion piece to The Jazz Singer...watching The Younger Generation, in my view, brings out the problematic aspects of the Jolson movie far better than just watching The Jazz Singer alone. Because that other movie is so famous, it's easy to assume that there were no other stories that Hollywood told about assimilation, and The Younger Generation is a worthwhile corrective to that. Here, social striving is clearly a bad idea, and we're encouraged to be nostalgic for the immigrant neighborhoods. But there's a professional music maker here, too (the sister's boyfriend), and he's certainly "American" through and through -- so it's not quite so simple as it might seem, from the melodramatic villainy at the heart of the movie.
As a movie, I can give it a recommend, although again it's not for those who are impatient with silents or early talkies. As a historical piece, I think those who are interested in the themes of assimilation and social climbing would find it worthwhile -- toss it into the mix with, oh, The Jazz Singer, The Godfather Parts I and II, Once Upon a Time in America, Gangs of New York, and Mad Men, and you'll have yourself something to talk about.