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Frank Capra DIRECTOR


On May 18, 1897, in Bisacquino, Sicily, Francesco Rosario Capra was born. When he was five, his family hopped on a ship to go to New York. Once there, they moved to Los Angeles, California. Upon graduation in 1918 from the California Institute of Technology, he became an engineering instructor in the United States Army. A variety of jobs ensued after he was released from war due to Spanish influenza. While wondering around in San Francisco, he answered an advertisement placed in the paper asking for a director to shoot versions of different plays. The first of these was Rudyard Kipling’s “Fultah Fisher’s Boarding House” (1922). To learn more about his new chosen profession, Capra apprenticed at a film lab, eventually becoming a prop man, film editor, and gag writer for Mack Sennett.

He next directed two successful films starring the comic Harry Langdon, called “Strong Man” (1926) and “Long Pants” (1927). Langdon’s popularity diminished, but Capra continued to persevere. However, he had his only flop next, titled “For the Love of Mike” (1927). In late 1927, he was hired by Columbia Pictures to work as a director. The first picture he created was “That Certain Thing” (1928), followed by “Submarine” (1928). In 1929 he released his first talkie, “The Younger Generation”. In 1930, he first worked with writer Jo Swelling, who would work with him multiple times more, on “Ladies of Leisure”. He additionally worked with screenwriter Robert Riskin on a great number of pictures, like “Platinum Blonde” (1931) and “American Madness” (1932), which first showed Capra’s signature style. He also worked with Riskin on “It Happened one Night” (1934), a film that won the Best Picture and Best Director Oscars. His next Academy Award winning movie was written by Riskin, too. It was “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town” (1936), and about a man who must choose between humanity and greed, and ends up choosing the former. Next was the serious “Lost Horizon” (1937), a picture some critics claim is bent slightly towards fascism. “You Can’t Take It With You” earned Capra his third Oscar, and was based off of a play, where an eccentric women rescues the soul of a millionaire’s son. The director’s belief that integrity trumps political and media cynicism was made apparent in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (1939), starring James Stewart, Jean Arthur and Claude Rains which as well encloses the famous and powerful line: “the only causes worth fighting for are lost causes”. He further examined American politics in the independent feature, “Meet John Doe” (1941), starring Gary Cooper.

During the years 1942 and 1945, Capra was a major in the army Signal Corps, and directed a series of documentaries, not limited to “The Battle of Britain” (1943), “Why We Fight: The Battle of China” (1944), “Why We Fight: The Nazis Strike” (1945), and “Why We Fight: War Comes to America” (1945). The only non-documentary film that was released during that time span was the movie version of the Broadway play “Arsenic and Old Lace” (1944), although it had actually been filmed three years prior.

His first post war picture was “It's a Wonderful Life” (1946) starring James Stewart again and Donna Reed, the tale of a man who is rescued from suicide during the Christmas season by being shown how his life has positively impacted those around him. While it was nominated for multiple Oscars, it didn’t fare well in the box office. However, after re-airing on television in the 1970's, the American Film Institute named it the eleventh greatest films of all time in 1999. This was also Capra’s last film of this stature, although his final five movies were decent efforts. The comedy “State of the Union” (1948), with Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn was not a failure, nor were the Bing Crosby pictures “Riding High” (1950) and “Here Comes the Groom” (1951). His last two movies, “A Hole in the Head” (1959) with singer Frank Sinatra and “Pocketful of Miracles” (1961) with Bette Davis, were not as successful as many of his former films, but weren’t complete flops either. The director’s last piece of work was a documentary short called “Rendezvous in Space” (1964).

In 1982, he received a Life Achievement Award from the American Film Institute. Later, he was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his involvement in the motion picture industry. On September 3, 1991, he passed away in his sleep from a heart attack in La Quinta, California. However, he is still known as the first president of the Director’s Guild, which shows his directing talent. Even in the Depression era during the dark 1930's, Capra became one of America’s most distinguished filmmakers. It may have been his ability to create satirical and sentimental comedies, or his gift to empower his audiences with idealistic and faith based pictures, we may never know. But one thing is certain, audiences acknowledged and understood his artistic talent, and he lives on as one of the best American directors. Young directors wishing to encompass the same skill he had can follow the great advice he once gave and lived by: “Don’t follow trends. Start them!


1964     Rendezvous in Space 

1961     Pocketful of Miracles

1959     A Hole in the Head

1958     The Unchained Goddess 

1957     The Strange Case of the Cosmic Rays 

1957     Hemo the Magnificent

1956     Our Mr. Sun 

1951     Here Comes the Groom

1950     Riding High

1948     State of the Union

1946     It's a Wonderful Life

1945     Why We Fight: War Comes to America

1945     Two Down and One to Go 

1945     Why We Fight: Divide and Conquer 

1945     Here Is Germany 

1945     Know Your Enemy: Japan 

1945     Why We Fight: The Nazis Strike 

1945     Your Job in Germany 

1944     Arsenic and Old Lace

1944     Tunisian Victory 

1944     Why We Fight: The Battle of China 

1943     Why We Fight: The Battle of Russia

1943     Prelude to War 

1943     Why We Fight: The Battle of Britain 

1941     Meet John Doe

1939     Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

1938     You Can't Take It with You

1937     Lost Horizon

1936     Mr. Deeds Goes to Town

1934     Broadway Bill

1934     It Happened One Night

1933     Lady for a Day

1933     The Bitter Tea of General Yen

1932     American Madness 

1932     Forbidden

1931     Platinum Blonde 

1931     The Miracle Woman 

1931     Dirigible 

1930     Rain or Shine 

1930     Ladies of Leisure 

1929     Flight 

1929     The Donovan Affair

1929     The Younger Generation 

1928     The Burglar 

1928     The Power of the Press

1928     Submarine 

1928     Say It with Sables

1928     The Way of the Strong

1928     The Matinee Idol

1928     So This Is Love?

1928     That Certain Thing

1927     For the Love of Mike

1927     Long Pants

1926     The Strong Man

1922     The Ballad of Fisher's Boarding House 

Matinee Classics - Meet John Doe starring Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward Arnold, Walter Brennan, Spring Byington, James Gleason, Gene Lockhart, Rod LaRocque, Irving Bacon, Regis Toomey, J. Farrell MacDonald, Warren Hymer, Harry Holman, Andrew Tombes and Pierra Watkin
Matinee Classics - Frank Capra
Matinee Classics - A Hole in the Head starring Frank Sinatra, Edward G. Robinson, Eleanor Parker, Carolyn Jones, Thelma Ritter, Keenan Wynn, Joi Lansing, Joyce Nizzari, Dub Taylor, James Komack and Eddie Hodges
Matinee Classics - It's a Wonderful Life starring James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell, Ward Bond, Henry Travers, Beulah Bondi, Frank Faylen, Frank Albertson and Gloria Grahame
Matinee Classics - You Can't Take It With You starring James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Lionel Barrymore, Edward Arnold, Mischa Auer, Ann Miller, Spring Byington, Samuel S. Hinds, Donald Meek, H.B. Warner, Halliwell Hobbes, Dub Taylor, Mary Forbes, Lillian Yarbo, Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson, Charles Lane, Harry Davenport and Ward Bond
Matinee Classics - Mr. Smith Goes to Washington starring Jean Arthur, James Stewart, Claude Rains, Edward Arnold, Guy Kibbee, Thomas Mitchell, Eugene Pallette, Beulah Bondi, H.B. Warner, Harry Carey, Astrid Allwyn, Ruth Donnelly, Grant Mitchell, Porter Hall and Pierre Watkin
Matinee Classics - Mr. Smith Goes to Washington starring Jean Arthur, James Stewart, Claude Rains, Edward Arnold, Guy Kibbee, Thomas Mitchell, Eugene Pallette, Beulah Bondi, H.B. Warner, Harry Carey, Astrid Allwyn, Ruth Donnelly, Grant Mitchell, Porter Hall and Pierre Watkin
Matinee Classics - Prelude to War Documentary
Matinee Classics - Private SNAFU Cartoons

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