Director’s Chair Introduction: Frank Capra

by Tony Cogan · December 5, 2017 · Director's Chair · 1 Comment

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Deadline: 6th January 2018

Hello everyone, it’s time to announce the final director for this years run of Director’s Chair and, seeing as it is December, now is the right time to do the director responsible for one of the most beloved Christmas films, It’s A Wonderful Life, Frank Capra.

Throughout his career, but especially early on, Capra was one of the most influential directors of classic Hollywood, particularly during the 1930s, after success he had in the late 1920s when he worked in the silent era and his work at Columbia. His career really hit its stride in the 30s following the release of It Happened One Night, which became the first film to win the 5 main Oscars, Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Screenplay, a feat only 2 other films have managed, those being One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Silence of the Lambs. Following Capra’s success with It Happened One Night, he started to incorporate more messages into his films, these messages being based on the heart of American culture at the time. This reached its peak with Mr Smith Goes To Washington in 1939, one of the great years of classic cinema. At the time, Mr Smith Goes To Washington was touted as anti-American due to it’s themes regarding corruption and there was some concerns that releasing the film would result in politicians looking more unfavourably on Hollywood. Capra ultimately was able to get the film released and, upon doing so, the film ended up gaining a reputation for showing the power of democracy when it was screened in Europe, it being the last American film shown in France prior to Nazi occupation for this reason.

This brings us onto the work Capra did during World War 2, enlisting in the Army following the attack on Pearl Harbour, working directly under General George Marshall to create a series of documentaries showing why it was important that the US get involved in World War 2, with his documentaries involving the use of official military sources, along with animation provided by Walt Disney and his animators and getting Hollywood composers to do the music. The documentaries ended up being a massive success, being translated into multiple languages, Winston Churchill ordering that they be shown in all UK cinemas and Capra receiving the Distinguished Service Medal for his work. For a more thorough look at Capra’s war work, watch the documentary series Five Came Back.

Following the war, Capra had a harder time seeing success. Whilst nowadays it is a quintessential Christmas classic, when it was first released It’s A Wonderful Life was a box office disappointment, the same disappointment being seen with State of the Union, which Capra believed was his greatest success. During this time, due to factors such as Capra’s messages being out of step with American culture, the impact of McCarthyism (whilst Capra was not called to testify he was a prime target of the House Un-American Activities Committee due to his association with blacklisted writers) and the increasing power of stars reducing Capra’s level of control on his films, Capra essentially retired from Hollywood from 1952, only directing 2 theatrically released films during this period, the rest of his work being educational films for the Bell Laboratory Science Series, with his final film being an industrial film released for the 1964 World’s Fair.

Now for this month’s Director’s Chair, you can cover any of Capra’s films, including his early silent films, his war documentaries and his science documentaries, below showing a list of the films you can cover.

  • Fultah Fisher’s Boarding House
  • The Strong Man
  • Long Pants
  • For the Love of Mike
  • That Certain Thing
  • So This Is Love
  • The Matinee Idol
  • The Way of the Strong
  • Say it With Sables
  • Submarine
  • The Power of the Press
  • The Younger Generation
  • The Donovan Affair
  • Flight
  • Ladies of Leisure
  • Rain or Shine
  • Dirigible
  • The Miracle Woman
  • Platinum Blonde
  • Forbidden
  • American Madness
  • The Bitter Tea of General Yen
  • Lady For A Day
  • It Happened One Night
  • Broadway Bill
  • Mr Deeds Goes to Town
  • Lost Horizon
  • You Can’t Take It With You
  • Mr Smith Goes to Washington
  • Meet John Doe
  • Prelude to War
  • The Nazi’s Strike
  • Divide and Conquer
  • The Battle of Britain
  • The Battle of Russia
  • The Battle of China
  • Tunisian Victory
  • Arsenic and Old Lace
  • Your Job in Germany
  • Know Your Enemy: Japan
  • Two Down and One to Go
  • War Comes to America
  • It’s A Wonderful Life
  • State of the Union
  • Riding High
  • Here Comes The Groom
  • Our Mr Sun
  • Hemo the Magnificent
  • A Hole in the Head
  • Pocketful of Miracles

I look forward to any and all pieces you send me for the films of Frank Capra.