Cast & Crew
Frank R. Capra
Morris Goldfish, the son of a Jewish immigrant family living on Delancey Street in New York's East Side, resides with his father Julius, a pushcart pot salesman; his mother Tilda, who toils in the kitchen all day long and resents her husband's laziness; and his sister Birdie, who is in love with their neighbor Eddie Lesser. Julius' favorite child is Birdie, while Tilda's favorite is Morris, who, she believes, will grow up to be a very successful businessman. Morris fights with his sister and then with Eddie over a piece of bread that his mother promised him for being a good son and making some money selling newspapers. The fighting results in an accident which sets their apartment ablaze, but Morris proudly tells his mother that he was able to salvage some valuables that they can now sell in a fire sale. Many years later, Tilda's prophesy is proven true when Morris makes a fortune as a successful Fifth Avenue antique dealer and is able to move his family into his swank uptown apartment. Tilda is comfortable in her new surroundings, but Julius is lonely and Birdie misses Eddie, now her sweetheart. Both admit that they are "a couple of Goldfish in the wrong fishbowl," and complain that they don't laugh anymore. Julius' pride is hurt when Morris announces that he has changed his name to Fish in order to ease his assimilation into Park Avenue society. When Birdie claims that Morris has moved his family in with him only to protect his image, Morris upbraids her for her insolence and reminds them that they should be grateful that he saved them from squalor. Morris forbids Eddie to visit Birdie, but Eddie manages to see her long enough to plan an elopement with her. Before the rendezvous takes place, however, Eddie unwittingly becomes an accomplice to a jewelry store robbery and is forced into hiding. After a detective shows up at Morris' looking for Eddie, Birdie finds him at their planned meeting place and succeeds in convincing him to surrender himself. Eddie is jailed, but Morris is furious at the publicity his story has attracted and evicts his poor sister. Morris keeps Birdie's banishment a secret from his parents and intercepts all her letters to them, so that they worry for her safety. Two years later, Julius, fed up with being "jailed" by his own son, sets out to find his daughter, and soon learns that she has had a child and has earned enough money to support herself while awaiting Eddie's release from prison. Julius and Tilda return to Morris', where they are humiliated when their son addresses them as his servants in order to avoid social embarrassment. Unable to continue living under such conditions, Julius packs his bags, but does not get far before he becomes ill. Morris softens at the sight of his father on his deathbed and summons Birdie to be with him, and for a brief moment the family is happily reunited. Following Julius' death, Morris offers to comfort his mother with a trip to Europe, but she refuses and tells him that she is leaving to live with Birdie on Delancey Street, where she belongs.
Frank R. Capra
Julia Swayne Gordon
The Younger Generation
The cast had good memories of working with Capra on this film. Ricardo Cortez later described him to authors Victor Scherle and William Turner Levy (The Films of Frank Capra) as "a warm, friendly man and a very fine director. I never heard him raise his voice to anyone. He is an actor's director." Jean Hersholt said during the making of the film: "This man, Frank Capra, will emerge as a giant amongst the pygmy minds of Hollywood."
Lina Basquette was a promising actress whose personal tragedies overwhelmed her professional career, leading to two suicide attempts - including one in 1930, not long after The Younger Generation opened - and an early retirement from the screen. One of her nine husbands was Sam Warner, whom she greatly encouraged to pursue talkies; he did, but he also died unexpectedly from a brain hemorrhage the night before The Jazz Singer (1927) opened.
The Younger Generation alternates between silent and sound sequences. "We couldn't rent a sound stage for a long duration of time," Capra wrote in his memoir, The Name Above the Title, "both because of the great demand and for economic reasons. So for The Younger Generation all the silent scenes were shot at one time [on the Columbia lot] and all the sound scenes at another time [at one of the few sound stages available in Los Angeles]. Later they were intermixed.
"Shooting your first sound picture was an etude in chaos. First of all, no one was used to being quiet. Shooting of silent scenes had gone on with hammering and sawing on an adjacent set, the director yelling at actors through a megaphone, cameramen shouting 'Dim the overheads!' ... 'Slower on the dolly!' ... while everyone howled if the scene was funny. Suddenly, with sound, we had to work in the silence of a tomb. When the red lights went on, everyone froze in his position - a cough or a belch would wreck the scene. It was like a quick switch from a bleacher seat at Ebbett's Field to a box seat at a Wimbledon tennis match."
The actors, Capra pointed out, had to memorize dialogue for the first time; as a result, they "shook with stage fright." They also melted under the heat of the extra light that had to be pumped in now that film was being exposed at 24 frames a second rather than the silent standard of 16.
Camera noise had to be muffled, and the only way to do it was to stuff the camera - and operator - into a soundproof booth. "There was more air in the cameraman's lungs than there was in the booth," wrote Capra. The camera operator, Ben Reynolds, weighed 300 pounds. "It took two huskies to shove Big Ben into the airless booth and sit down next to his camera, but it took half a dozen to pull him out. As soon as the camera-start bell rang, and his booth barred shut, Ben went peacefully to sleep. It didn't matter much to the scene because his camera was pre-set and locked into position. But it meant Ben's life to get him out in a hurry at the end of the scene - and snatching 300 pounds of limp, stuck flesh out of that hot box wasn't easy."
Cinematographer Ted Tetzlaff, quoted in Joseph McBride's The Catastrophe of Success, recalled details from the set that sound right out of Singin' in the Rain (1952): "We had to hide mikes in bouquets of flowers and in people's pockets. That's why everybody would walk up to a spot and talk to it, because that's where the mike was. I remember doing a sound sequence in The Younger Generation in which the characters all sat around a dining room table, and we had the mike in a bowl in the center. It was an experience."
According to Tetzlaff, most filmmakers didn't know much about the new technology or how to shoot with it. Capra, he said, was an exception. "He was one of the few directors who knew what the hell they were doing. Most of your directors walked around in a fog - they didn't know where the door was."
Reviews of The Younger Generation were positive, especially for Hersholt's performance, though The New York Times declared that the "dialogue sequences...did not add to the story. In several of the talking scenes there were long, unnecessary pauses between the word passages."
Nonetheless, the film was viewed in Hollywood as a technical success, so much so that other studios believed Capra to be an expert in talkie films because of his science background. (He had studied at Caltech.) Requests poured in to borrow Capra from Columbia. Studio chief Harry Cohn turned them all down, telling the trade papers, "Not available. Capra will make nothing but 'specials' for Columbia from now on." This amused Capra, who noted in his memoir that "to the major studios, Columbia 'specials' were about on a par with the Blue-Plate specials the majors dished up at their extras' lunch counter."
Producer: Jack Cohn
Director: Frank R. Capra
Screenplay: Sonya Levien; Howard J. Green (dialogue); Fannie Hurst (play "It Is to Laugh")
Cinematography: Ted Tetzlaff
Art Direction: Harrison Wiley (uncredited)
Film Editing: Arthur Roberts (uncredited)
Cast: Jean Hersholt (Julius 'Pa' Goldfish), Lina Basquette (Birdie Goldfish), Ricardo Cortez (Morris Goldfish), Rex Lease (Eddie Lesser), Rosa Rosanova (Tilda 'Ma' Goldfish), Syd Crossley (Butler), Martha Franklin (Mrs. Lesser).
by Jeremy Arnold
The Younger Generation
According to modern sources, half of The Younger Generation was filmed at the Columbia studio with the remainder filmed on a sound stage on Santa Monica Boulevard during the winter of 1929. This was the first part-sound film for both Capra and Columbia, and there are four lip-synchronized dialogue passages. Modern sources also include Bernard Siegel (Kruger) and Walter Brennan in the cast. The sound cameraman was Ben Reynolds, according to Capra's autobiography, in which he also said that both he and Columbia preferred to make an all-talking film, but sound stages and equipment were at a premium, so all the dialogue scenes had to be shot together.