Blog Directory CineVerse: Capra = classic

Capra = classic

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

by Erik J. Martin

You can’t take it with you, but legendary Hollywood director Frank Capra certainly proved that you can leave it behind—to be cherished forever by new generation after generation of film lovers.

Infusing his films with populist themes, humanitarian motifs, and socially redeeming lessons about the value of family, love of country and the triumph of the little man over the big man, Capra made lasting movies for the masses.

Capra’s family emigrated from Sicily, Italy, to Los Angeles when he was six. As an immigrant child, Capra was impressed by common, everyday people whose lives he so grew to appreciate that his ambition was to someday project them onto the screen.

After a stint as an army engineering instructor, the 24-year old began doing odd jobs in Hollywood as a director of short films, a property man, a film cutter, and a writer of film titles and gags. He got his chance to direct his first feature film in 1926 with "Strong Man." It wasn’t long before Capra’s name became synonymous with comedies, and with box office successes.

Capra’s greatest talent rested in his power to represent the ordinary man's strength to face apparently insurmountable evil, thereby benefitting his fellow man. Capra realized this power early in his career, when he decided to create films that would exhilarate the depressed spirits of the American public, inspired personally by his dramatic recovery from a serious illness.

A hot commodity among movie moguls, Capra was blessed to work with Hollywood’s best talents: actors like James Stewart, Gary Cooper, Clark Gable and Katherine Hepburn; writers like James Hilton and Robert Riskin; and collaborators such as Mack Sennett, Harry Langdon and William Wyler.

His crowning achievement is considered to be “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946), starring Stewart in the ultimate Christmas classic that has become the all-time favorite film of many viewers, including Stewart and Capra themselves.

From the beginning, Capra conceived IAWL as his masterwork. "I thought it was the greatest film I ever made. Better yet, I thought it was the greatest film anybody ever made," Capra stated in his autobiography. "It wasn't made for the oh-so bored critics or the oh-so jaded literati. It was my kind of film for my kind of people.”

The director was also well-known for his groundbreaking documentaries, including “Why We Fight,” which features daring live action WWII battles filmed during his stint with the U.S. Army, and his last effort, a self-titled autobiographical book.

Capra passed away in 1991, but not before earning three Academy Awards for best director and a lifetime achievement Oscar, and assembling one of the richest bodies of work ever by a filmmaker--more than 21 feature films in all.

Next week: Crucial Capra: The must-see films

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