Come on, Slave

The last line of Frank Capra’s AMERICAN MADNESS, spoken by Pat O’Brien to Constance Cummings, kind of threw me for a loop. Benevolent banker (it’s a capitalist fairy tale) Walter Huston has just given POB a raise so he can marry CC, but declares that it’s he, WH, who is going on honeymoon (since he’s been neglecting his wife all through the movie.

Pat’s curt “Come on, slave,” directed at Constance at first struck me as a shocking patriarchal slap in the face — she’s to be his wife, so her freedom as a human person is coming to an end already. I think there are ways this line could serve as a joke, and O’Brien’s character has been shown to be addicted to jokes — but he doesn’t play it that way. Daniel Reifferscheid, watching along with us as part of our virtual watch party, suggested that the line refers to CC as a fellow wage slave, since they’re to be denied a honeymoon by their mean boss which makes sense in context and makes the line far less obnoxious since he’s including himself as a fellow serf. His delivery is still kind of weird though since the conventions of the Hollywood ending would normally suggest he ought to be… happy, maybe? — about marrying his sweetheart.

It’s rare that I come across something in a Hollywood movie, even a pre-code, that reads so oddly and ambiguously and doesn’t quite scan whichever way you approach it. Almost a shame, since AMERICAN MADNESS is so sure-footed otherwise, with a really well-worked out plot in which everything that can happen in a bank happens in a bank, in a very rapid and dynamic manner, over the course of three days and two nights.

AMERICAN MADNESS stars Mr. Scratch; Detective Mulligan; Madam Satan; Ruth Condomine; Lord Byron; Mayor Wilfred H. Tillinghast; River Boat Captain Scroggins; Ellsworth Henry Gatewood; Grandpa Joad; Kaa the snake; Hon. Austin Stoneman; Freedonia’s Secretary of War #1; Sermon; and Telephone Operator (uncredited).

One Response to “Come on, Slave”

  1. bensondonald Says:

    If memory serves, POB seems to venerate Huston as a father figure, so it’s a personal crisis for him when he suspects Huston’s wife is unfaithful. So he might be a bit bitter when the prodigal wife gets off free (so to speak) and he misses a honeymoon for his loyalty.

    Important to remember the film was made before the Roosevelt administration founded the FDIC, insuring depositors against bank failures. This might be double-featured with “The Big Short”, showing how the whole system was crashed thanks (in part) to years of deregulation.

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