Slideshow Ten Greatest Bank Movies

  • July 14 2011, 11:00pm EDT
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Ten Greatest Bank Movies: American Madness

If you are looking for an escape from the financial crisis and the faltering economy, bank movies generally are not the place. The image of mean old Mr. Potter is typical of the portrayal of lenders in American cinema. That said, Scott McGee, a senior writer and producer at Turner Classic Movies, recently picked his top 10 films involving banks at the request of American Banker, and his choices range from the heavy and negative (the Depression era produced several of those) to the entertaining and humorous (thank you, Will Rogers and W.C. Fields!) His insightful takes follow. Roll 'em!

American Madness (1932)
Director Frank Capra's early Depression-era film is a chilling story about heroic bank president Walter Huston trying to restore social calm amidst financial chaos. This is an early portrayal of the populist spirit that Capra would return to in films such as Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) and It's a Wonderful Life (1946).
Scheduled to air: Sept. 29, 6:30 p.m. eastern, on Turner Classic Movies

Ten Greatest Bank Movies: The Conquerors

The Conquerors (1932)
This Depression-era morale-booster from director William Wellman and producer David O. Selznick is a highly entertaining depiction of the tumultuous changes America's economic landscape went through from the late 19th to the early 20th century. The last thirty minutes of this film offer a fascinating depiction of the 1929 stock market crash.

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Ten Greatest Bank Movies: Prosperity

Prosperity (1932)
This comedy about dueling mothers-in-law caught up in the banking crisis of the Great Depression has Marie Dressler saving her family bank by putting the unemployed to work on a building project, months before the newly-elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt's WPA did exactly the same thing. When the film went into release, MGM capitalized on FDR's election with the tagline "Give America Prosperity, Mr. Roosevelt. Hooray for the new president!"

Ten Greatest Bank Movies: Baby Face

Baby Face (1933)
This scandalous pre-Code delight has Barbara Stanwyck as a woman from the wrong side of the tracks using any means necessary to get to the top of a banking empire. One of her conquests is a lower-level employee played by a young John Wayne.
Scheduled to air: Sept. 28, 10 p.m. eastern,on Turner Classic Movies

Ten Greatest Bank Movies: David Harum

David Harum (1934)
Will Rogers brings homespun wit and wisdom to his role as a small-town banker. He explains in the opening scene how he manages to stay open during rough economic times: “I go a long way on a man's character. And then I go a longer way on his collateral. And if he's got character and collateral both, I let him have about half what he asked for...anybody can get along on half of what they think they can."

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Ten Greatest Bank Movies: The Bank Dick

The Bank Dick (1940)
In what is arguably his funniest feature film, layabout W.C. Fields accidentally foils a bank robbery and is hired as a security expert at the bank. His major accomplishments as the bank detective are confiscating a child's toy gun and convincing his future son-in-law to embezzle $500 for a get-rich-quick scheme. The great character actor Franklin Pangborn is the fussy bank examiner, J. Pinkerton Snoopington.

Ten Greatest Bank Movies: The Grapes of Wrath

The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
This adaptation of the John Steinbeck novel tells the plight of a displaced Midwestern family, whose homes have been bulldozed and their family land repossessed. Producer Darryl F. Zanuck, director John Ford and star Henry Fonda are the forces behind this stirring tale of the American dream coldly renegotiated by the faceless, all-powerful banks. Character actor John Qualen has an especially powerful scene with a representative of the banks.

Ten Greatest Bank Movies: It's a Wonderful Life