Frank Capra

Frank Capra

Frank Capra was an American film director, producer and writer who became the creative force behind some of the major award-winning films of the 1930s and 1940s, winning three Oscars as Best Director. Born in Sicily, Capra immigrated to the United States with his family at the age of five and began in Hollywood in the silent era. Among his most successful films of the 30’s was his screwball comedy classic It Happened One Night (1934), which became the first film to win all five top Oscars, including Best Picture. It Happened One Night was an instant worldwide hit, certifying Clark Gable once and forever as a definite star and making use of Claudette Colbert’s comedic wit and timing, ultimately having its two polar opposites attract with a chemistry that has never been bettered. Capra made his most distinctive films in the Depression years of the 1930s and the wartime years of the 1940s, when America was shaken by uncertainty and found reassurance in films like You Can’t Take it With You (1938), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1941). James Stewart and Gary Cooper played the quintessential Capraesque heroes, representing the definite idealistic underdog who rose to fight against political corruption and public tyranny. Many of the elements of democracy, patriotism, decency, values and faith have major explicit political undertones throughout much of Capra’s work. At the time critics were harsh on Capra’s overly sentimental, simplistic and preachy style (many called his films capracorn), but throughout the years audiences have gained a soft spot for his sweet and optimistic views on idealism. And yet some of his films from the 30’s and 40’s were not all civic lessons and would not easily fall under Capra’s ‘capracorn’ signature, including The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1932), Lost Horizon (1937) and Arsenic and the Old Lace (1944). During World War II, Capra served in the US Army Signal Corps and produced propaganda films, such as the Why We Fight series. After World War II Capra’s career declined as his later films, most famously his masterpiece It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), was not considered a successful film when it opened in 1946. The film’s rediscovery began in the 1970s, when public TV stations started using it as cheap Christmas-time programming because it was out of copyright and it costed them nothing. Now its considered one of the most popular films in American cinema and is as part of the American holiday season along with A Miracle on 34th St. and A Christmas Story. The term ‘Capracorn’ is used by today’s film critics as a word of both praise and criticism – praise when they agree with a film’s portrait of the common man standing up against the system, criticism if they think a film is too sentimental and corny. Frank Capra, who outlived his films by 30 years, was never able to understand the negative connotations of ‘Capracorn,’ and perhaps that was one source of his strength as a director.

Frank Capra
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Frank Capra

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