That Certain Thing (1928) A Silent Film Review

A variation on the popular twenties gold-digger theme in the key of Capra. The delightful Viola Dana dreams of landing a rich husband. Ralph Graves seems to be the man of her dreams but when he is disinherited, it is Viola’s entrepreneurial spirit that saves the day.

Home Media Availability: Released on DVD and via streaming.

Early Capra-corn Delight

Molly (Viola Dana) works at an upscale hotel and dreams of marrying a millionaire. Andy (Ralph Graves) is the spoiled son of a successful restaurateur who enjoys partying on his father’s dime. When a quirky date turns into a whirlwind wedding, Molly wins her millionaire but her dreams of the good life are dashed when Andy’s father disowns him.

Molly and her new husband must live with her mother in the shabby end of town. Forced to earn his living for the first time in his life, Andy soon learns that manual labor is not for him. Inspiration comes in the form of the box lunch that Molly makes for him. Andy starts selling lunches to his co-workers. Soon he and Molly have a successful box lunch delivery service, complete with a factory and delivery vans. Andy’s ideas and Molly’s hard work (and thick slices of ham!) are a winning combination.

Even Andy’s father takes notice when his chain of diners begin to lose business in the face of the new competition. A.B. Charles (Burr McIntosh) decides to investigate his new rival. Andy sees a chance to reconcile and have his father accept Molly. Now if he can just convince him to invest some money in their little business…

Molly has finally landed a rich fish.
Molly has finally landed a rich fish.

Frank Capra is best remembered today for his unique talent for tickling the funny-bone and playing the heartstrings. He had worked for Mack Sennett and Harry Langdon, crafting the latter’s screen persona and creating some of the more memorable comedies of the later silent period. Capra’s style of funny, poignant films with a social conscience was almost completely formed by this point in his career.

The scenario (co-written by Capra) uses a plot as old as the hills. What lifts the film above average is Capra’s accomplished and sincere direction. Viola Dana is always charming but Capra makes her irresistible. Rather unjustly forgotten today, Viola Dana is sweet and funny as the blue collar gal who isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty. The is a little bit flapper, a little bit working girl, a little bit gold-digger and 100% charming.

Much to her surprise, Molly is a businesswoman.
Much to her surprise, Molly is a businesswoman.

Ralph Graves, a veteran of both Sennett and Griffith, gives one of his better performances as a spoiled man who finally learns how to make his own way in the world.

That Certain Thing is a solid romantic comedy with enough charm to make its hackneyed plot seem fresh. You can already see some of the touches of humor and empathy that would grace Capra’s later hits.

Movies Silently’s Score: ★★★

Where can I see it?

That Certain Thing is available on DVD and via streaming.


Like what you’re reading? Please consider sponsoring me on Patreon. All patrons will get early previews of upcoming features, exclusive polls and other goodies.

Disclosure: Some links included in this post may be affiliate links to products sold by Amazon and as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.