American Madness appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Despite its status as one of Capra’s lesser flicks, Madness merits a strong transfer.
Sharpness looked quite good. Only a smidgen of softness ever interfered, as the majority of the film was nicely concise and detailed. This was a surprisingly accurate visual package. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering materialized, and edge enhancement also seemed absent.
Although I figured source flaws would be a major distraction, they played a minor role. Grain could be slightly heavy, and I noticed occasional specks, marks and a little debris. However, these were pretty insubstantial, especially given the fact this movie was made 75 years ago. Blacks seemed dark and dense, while shadows were clean and smooth. Only some modest print defects kept this from an “A” grade, as it looked much better than most movies from 1932.
Though the monaural audio of American Madness wasn’t quite as strong, it seemed fine for its vintage. Speech occasionally sounded a little muddy and tough to understand, but the lines usually appeared good. Lines lacked edginess and generally sounded concise. Effects played a minor role but seemed clear and acceptably accurate.
Music was an even less consequential factor, as the film lacked much score. What we heard appeared acceptable, though. I noticed some background noise but this didn’t distract. The audio was more than adequate given the flick’s vintage.
A small set of extras comes with Madness. We get an audio commentary from director's son Frank Capra Jr. and author Cathrine Kellison. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific chat. They discuss cast and crew, the era in which the film was made and how it reflects that period, Capra’s directorial style and various techniques, aspects of his career and life, and other elements of the production. Capra also reads some relevant details from his dad’s autobiography.
Young Frank carries the weight here, as Kellison does little more than act as his appreciative audience. She throws in the occasional cast and crew note but doesn’t seem especially well informed. For instance, she appears to view the absence of score as a story-telling choice to add realism to the film; I’m no expert in early Thirties films, but even I know that many movies in 1932 eschewed the active use of music.
Despite Kellison’s lack of usefulness, this turns into a reasonably informative piece. The Capra/Kellison chat for You Can’t Take It With You was a thorough waste of time, but here little Frank throws in more than enough decent details to keep us interested. Inevitably, you’ll hear some stories told elsewhere, and there are few revelations on display. Still, it’s a lively enough chat and one that fills the film’s 76 minutes well.
We also find a featurette called Frank Capra Jr. Remembers… American Madness. In this 25-minute and eight-second piece, Capra dominates, but we get a few notes from Columbia University Associate Professor of Film Richard Pena and Wesleyan University Curator of the Frank Capra Archives Jeanine Basinger. We hear about the movie’s background and development, thoughts about the end result and its reception, themes and how they appear in later films, and some production subjects like sets, pacing and editing.
I very much like Capra’s extended story about the bankers who acted as inspiration for the film, and a few other nice elements appear. Some of the material repeats from the commentary, but there’s enough fresh information here to make “Remembers” a worthwhile program.
As part of “The Premiere Frank Capra Collection”, we get an extensive booklet. This piece covers You Can’t Take It With You along with four other Capra flicks and different aspects of his career and life in the 1930s. It comes with a mix of photos and other archival materials along with good information. It acts as a quality component.
Fans of Frank Capra’s oeuvre will get a kick out of American Madness, as it gives us a look at his earlier days. As a film, however, it’s only sporadically satisfying. It has good parts and keeps us involved but it sputters too often. The DVD presents surprisingly strong picture as well as pretty good audio and a couple of decent extras. Although Madness isn’t a great flick, this is a solid DVD.
Note that this release of American Madness currently appears only as part of “The Premiere Frank Capra Collection”. This set also includes It Happened One Night, You Can’t Take It With You, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and a documentary called Frank Capra’s American Dream.