Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Capra-corn

     Frank Capra is my favorite director, without a doubt; and, while I could talk about any one of his fantastic comedies, I'm going to talk about his Capra-corn* (specifically: Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Meet John Doe, It's a Wonderful Life) because it's what I love best.  *Critics nickname for Capra's 'sappy' stories.


     In all Capra-corn we've got our heroes and our villains. The David-vs-Goliath in Capra-corn is part of the appeal in it. I happen to love a good hero: a person who's not afraid to stand up to the bad guys, someone with strong ideals. Longfellow Deeds is looking for a lady-in-distress to rescue; Long John Willoughby (John Doe) is there for the little guys; Senator Jefferson Smith comes to Washington with a dream to show America to our young boys; and George Bailey helps his friends stay out of "Pottersville". They all have their ideals, but that's not what makes them heroes. They're heroes because even when all the odds were against them and when their ideals are being ridiculed, they still stood up. Therefore, the villains are just as much a part of Capra-corn as the heroes. Whether it's D.B. Norton from Meet John Doe or Mr. Potter from It's a Wonderful Life or James Taylor from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington - their main goal is to crush everything that stands in their way, but they can't do it because our heroes will not allow themselves to be crushed.

     Another thing I love about Frank Capra is that he knew what being an American meant. Capra-corn is so American. For example, Gary Cooper in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town goes to see Grant's Tomb - Jean Arthur's character asks him what he sees in the monument that makes him love it more than everyone else, he says: "Me? Oh I see a small Ohio farm boy becoming a great soldier. I see thousands of marching men. I see General Lee with a broken heart surrendering. And I can see the beginning of a new nation, like Abraham Lincoln said. And I can see that Ohio boy being inaugurated as President. Things like that can only happen in a country like America." My personal favorite example of this Capra-corn Americanism is the scene in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington when Jefferson Smith is trying to explain to Clarissa (Jean Arthur) what his goal is for the boys' camps, he explains: "You see, boys forget what their country means by just reading 'the land of the free' in history books. When they become men, they forget even more. Liberty's too precious a thing to be buried in books, Miss Saunders. Men should hold it up in front of them every day of their lives and say, 'I'm free.'"

     In addition to advocating Americanism, Frank Capra's Capra-corn always upholds 'Love your neighbor' as one of the most important things.  Every one of the aforementioned heroes champions loving your neighbors. John Doe explains it in terms of a baseball team "We can't win the old ballgame unless we have teamwork. And that's where every John Doe comes in. It's up to him to get together with his teammates. And your teammate, my friend, is the guy next door to you. Your neighbor." Why do we fight for lost causes? Jefferson Smith says, "All you people don't know about lost causes. Mr. Paine does. He said once they were the only causes worth fighting for. And he fought for them once, for the only reason any man ever fights for them. Because of just one plain, simple rule: 'Love thy neighbor.'" It's really such an important principle, this 'love your neighbor' thing, and Capra understood it.


    Frank Capra once said, "I thought drama was when actors cried. But drama is when the audience cries." therefore, Capra-corn does not lack tear-jerking scenes. In Mr. Smith Goes to Washington when Jefferson Smith is betrayed by his hero, he sits at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial and cries; and so do we. When Stanwyck (whose character is distressed to the point of hysterics) in Meet John Doe, climbs to the top of the city hall and begs Gary Cooper's character not to jump, you can't possibly sit there without shedding a tear. Then look at It's a Wonderful Life, fast-forward to the scene where George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) is about to jump off that bridge, or the scene when he sees what would have happened had he never been born and begs to live again. It's heart-wrenching, I tell you; and it is so because Capra knew how to make movies that would capture our emotions and make them mirror-images of the ones portrayed on screen. 

     Finally - although I love everything about Capra-corn - without a doubt, the endings are my favorite parts. In Meet John Doe, the last line comes from the one-time hard-boiled newspaper editor who says to D.B. Norton "There you are, Norton - the people. Try and lick that!" John Doe is saved and the people are victorious. In Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, after 23 1/2 hours of filibustering Jefferson Smith collapses. All seems lost until Senator Paine finally confesses his guilt and saves the day. And in It's a Wonderful Life George Bailey sees that his life really did mean something, he runs home to his family and finds that he's the richest man in the world because he's got more friends than anyone. 

     I've yet to find one example of Capra-corn that left me without a smile on my face, without a feeling of pride in being "a John Doe"; heck, I've yet to find Capra-corn I didn't like! No matter what may have happened during the film - rain, snow, heat, gloom of night, political machines, millionaire publishers - at the end our heroes are still swinging, so, stand up and cheer!

Until Later On~

3 comments:

  1. Great post, Natalie! I love Capra-corn, too. When I watch a movie, I want to FEEL something, not sit there unaffected. Capra's films really come through on that point. And, yes, they make me want to stand up and cheer at the end. ( I wonder if people did that when the films were originally shown in the theaters? I would have cheered.)

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  2. Thank you, Cheryl! I'm really glad you liked it! And, yes, that's why I love them too - they're so moving. Haha! I would have cheered if I had been sitting in showing of IAWL! LOL. I just watched that the other day and I was crying and laughing at the same exact time - I think if someone had walked in on me they would have suggested a mental institution. ;)

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  3. Aaah! I loved it. :) My screensaver came on and I started shaking my mouse like a freak. it makes me want to watch one of his movies. :) Yes, even a sad one. ;)

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