There’s one name in Hollywood that’s immediately tied to the wholesome, meaningful films of the early years of cinema. That name is Frank Capra. Perhaps his most recognizable film is It’s a Wonderful Life, which actually came near the end of his career. What’s interesting is that he didn’t even win a Best Director Oscar for that film (albeit he was nominated for it), even though it’s considered a classic today. Fortunately, he had already won three of those Oscars by the time it came out in 1946. Of course, sometimes perspectives change and artistic tones drift from one realm to another. While Capra started out with some very positive and somewhat naive films, soon his moral heroes were pitted against the evils and vices that this flawed world has to offer. Still, these two tones are distinctly in Capra’s style of film-making, which was very raw and used minimal (if any) special tricks. This week’s two films highlight the two tones of Capra’s career.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 129 minutes / 2.15 hours
James Stewart was often a collaborator on Frank Capra’s films. In fact, his first and third Oscar nominations for Best Actor came from Capra films. While the third nomination was for It’s a Wonderful Life (mentioned above), his first nomination came from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. And yet, one year earlier, Stewart was in the Best Picture, You Can’t Take it With You, which garnered Frank Capra his third and final Best Director Oscar (the second of which was for Mr. Deeds Goes to Town). Needless to say, the wholesome image that James Stewart brought to the screen fit perfectly with Capra’s style, even if it had evolved into the “naive purist vs. the world” mentality. Still, this film stands as a testament for the true patriots of the United States of America.
Even though this film was made almost 75 years ago, we still see the “political machine” holding our country hostage. Congress can get nothing done and corruption runs rampant through our capital. And yet, when Jefferson Smith (James Stewart) is appointed to fill in the vacant seat of a Senator, he jumps at the opportunity to do some good for his country. However, it isn’t long before he comes against opposition and becomes discouraged. And yet, his faith in democracy and the due process of the Senate helps him to push a bill that would help out some of the wilderness areas in his home state. Of course, this prompts many of the corrupt to try and find as many skeletons as they can in Smith’s closet, even if they have to make them up. Smith’s only resort at this point is a filibuster that will last long enough to allow everyone to see his pure heart.
It Happened One Night
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 105 minutes / 1.75 hours
The Academy Awards had only been around for six years before it saw the emergence of a “Big Five” winner. In the history of the ceremony, this distinction has only been given to two other films: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Silence of the Lambs. As a reminder, the “Big Five” are Best Picture, Best Director (Capra), Best Actor (Clark Gable), Best Actress (Claudette Colbert), and Best Screenplay (Robert Riskin). It is also impressive to note that these five awards were also its only nominees. Of course, this film was made before Frank Capra changed his style to reflect the challenges against the immoral world we continue to live in. Light and full of comedy, It Happened One Night defined the sub-genre of the “Road Trip” film and certainly helped Clark Gable get into the public eye (and eventually into Gone with the Wind).
One is a newspaper reporter down on his luck by the name of Peter (Clark Gable). The other is a rich girl by the name of Ellie (Claudette Colbert) who is trying to escape her father’s influence on her life. When Peter realizes who Ellie really is, he figures he has a big story on his hands. Ellie is riding the bus back to New York to meet up with her husband, whom she has just married against her father’s wishes. As a result, a reward is now out to the tune of $10,000 on any information as to Ellie’s whereabouts. Of course, the rich girl needs as much help as she can get, so she has no choice but to submit to the blackmail of Peter, who has threatened to cash in on the reward if she doesn’t let him have first dibs on her story. And yet, as they travel, the story becomes much more interesting.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 Capra classics
Bacon #: 2 (A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies / Martin Scorsese -> Oliver Stone: Inside Out / Kevin Bacon)