Frank Capra: Mr. America (2023) Movie Script

Films are always a window
into an era or a time or
a place or a man's mind.
And no one was ever really
a more dominant filmmaker
of his era.
some of the greatest movies
in the history of cinema.
And they're foundational
in the craft of cinema,
the way they're made,
how they're made.
And they're
fucking great entertainment.
Want some fireworks, huh?
PRESENTER: In behalf
of the Academy,
I present you with this award.
Capra's personal story
is a story about one man
who overcame
a lot of opposition
to go from being
an Italian peasant
to a major
American movie director.
These films that I were making
were just my way of saying,
"Thanks, America,"
if you can understand
that kind of a cliche.
Gee whiz, so many things
happening all at once.
The kid from Sicily
had developed a way
of showing America
that all Americans loved.
ERIC SMOODIN: His career has
an extraordinary decline.
BASINGER: It's not that
you don't have darkness.
Real darkness comes forward
in these movies,
but when we look
into Frank's films
he says we can endure,
we can survive, we can suffer
and triumph
and live through it.
It's not a perfect world,
but there's a place
for you in it.
SAM WASSON: That really
makes him America's filmmaker.
And that's why people watch
It's a Wonderful Life
every year at Christmas.
It's not because
they're sentimental.
It's because
it is a life-saving movie.
If you find something real
and true in the moment
in which you're living,
and you do it well
and entertainingly,
it will always remain
contemporary and universal.
I guess this is just another
lost cause, Mr. Paine.
WASSON: These stories
are always applicable
to our lives.
But they're even more so
when we forget how to hope.
The world is going through
terrible, terrible turmoil.
We need to be reminded
that it can still work.
REPORTER: When you tell us
about being
the son of immigrant parents
and we know about your birth
in Palermo, Italy,
your Sicilian background,
your arrival in America.
What propelled you,
what drive was in you?
It's difficult to look back
and wonder
and you can only
just conjecture,
but I did want an education.
I was ashamed of my parents
because they couldn't read
or write.
And I wanted to get out
of that ghetto.
REPORTER: Speaking of the time
when you were 10 years old,
you said, "I hated being poor,
"hated the ghetto
and hated America."
-You were a Sicilian immigrant.
-CAPRA: Yes.
I came here just
when I was six years old,
just old enough to see
and not understand.
He told me the boat journey
was so traumatic and powerful,
it wiped all the memories
of Sicily out of his mind.
He didn't understand,
he told me, as a kid,
why his parents
would tear him away
from their comfortable
surroundings in Sicily.
BASINGER: Coming over
in steerage, there's no air,
there's crowded bodies,
there's people being seasick,
there's a minimum of food.
It's a long trip.
It's, I would think,
an overwhelming
and frightening experience
for a child.
When he sat down to write
the story of his life,
all the things he had done,
all the years he had lived,
the first words
he put to paper were,
"I hated being poor."
CAPRA: I saw the rich people
in America
and I saw the poor people
that we were.
I saw
my father and mother suffering
and working
and I saw everybody else.
And I thought they were much
happier where they came from.
This was my feeling
at the time.
I hated this country.
I hated how my family
was being treated.
BASINGER: It was a hard time.
I don't think his memories
of that time ever left him.
He found America to be
a dog-eat-dog, tough place.
He lived in a lower-
middle-class neighborhood,
but education was his way out.
Most kids didn't even go
to high school in those days,
the kids from his social class.
So he went to
Manual Arts High School,
he cleaned the blackboards,
you know,
and he was like a janitor
at the school,
and the kids kind of
looked down on him for that.
And I interviewed
Esther Gleason Schlinger,
who was the class historian,
and she said she dated
Frank Capra in high school,
but her parents broke it up
because he was an immigrant.
And she said she liked him,
but she said he was a nice boy.
He was just a terrible wop.
I really felt anger
on his behalf.
Wow. "Terrible wop,"
that's how they saw him.
That was his first shock
of trying to assimilate
into the mainstream
in American life.
NEHME: Frank Capra did not
merely perceive himself
as an outsider.
In many ways, he was.
Even at the height
of his fame,
after all of the accolades
and awards that he had earned,
Collier's magazine
could run a profile of him
and casually describe him
with ethnic slurs.
JOSEPH McBRIDE: I said to him,
"When did you stop
"being ashamed
of your parents?"
He said, "I haven't yet."
Capra was from an era
where you were supposed to
melt down your differences
and become an American,
which meant obliterating
your past.
And one of the manifestations
of that
was he kind of looked down
on his own family.
WASSON: The young Capra
made it happen.
He certainly hated
being on the outside,
being on the bottom,
which he was,
and that rage,
for better and for worse,
is what's going to propel him
the rest of his life.
After Frank left college,
like a lot of people
who go to college,
he didn't know exactly
what he was going to do next
and he spent a lot of time
doing odd jobs,
traveling around,
trying different things,
doing different things.
And this gave him experience
of America.
CAPRA: This is where my love
for Americans started.
When I was about 22, 23, 24,
when I didn't have a job,
I couldn't find job of any kind
and when I did a lot of
running around
in Utah and Oregon,
and California.
And met the farmers,
the barbers, the poker players,
and just fell in love
with Americans
because of their wonderful
BASINGER: He bungles his way
toward the film industry
and, you know,
everybody bungled their way.
You can't plan to be
in an industry
that doesn't exist.
NEHME: There's almost
a gold rush atmosphere
to early Hollywood.
It was still quite possible
to start at the bottom
and work your way up.
And I can see why Frank Capra
would come to a place like that
and say, "Ah, this is for me,"
because that's what
he was looking for.
A place where he could break in
and remake himself.
CAPRA: I didn't know
a piece of film
from a piece of toilet paper.
I was fascinated
by this thing called film.
And so I tried
all these things.
And I... All by myself,
I'd stay in that cutting room.
There were newsreel men that
would come in with their stuff,
and I'd develop it for 'em.
People from the university
would come over
and there were films
about their dogs,
their children,
and everything else
that they wanted
to put together.
This is where I learned
about film.
McBRIDE: A lot of directors
have what I call
a creation myth,
which is a fabricated story
about their beginnings.
I spent years researching
his apprenticeship
in the motion pictures.
He claims in his book
that he walked off the street
in San Francisco
into a building
because there was an ad
for a film director
for a short film
and he got a job
as a director by bluffing.
He knew nothing
about film directing.
Just bullshit.
He had worked a whole series
of humble jobs
leading up to becoming
a director.
Capra worked as a janitor
at the Christie Brothers
Film Company.
I said, "What were you doing?"
He said,
"Cleaning up the horse shit."
I mean,
that's the way he started,
cleaning up the horse shit,
the most humble thing
you could do.
Then he was
an assistant director
for companies in Hollywood.
He was an assistant cameraman.
He directed some of
the Screen Snapshot series,
which were documentary films
about Hollywood.
And to me,
it's much more inspirational
that you start at the bottom.
BASINGER: In these early days,
he learned very quickly.
He learned by watching
what others were doing,
and it turned out he had
a real gift for visual gags.
Not word gags, but visual gags.
So he could think in images.
And that was
the beginning, really.
CAPRA: I never had
such fun in my life.
The fun of creating
something, it just grabs you.
Your heart beats fast
when you create something.
And then later on,
when one of my pictures
would happen to be playing
and I'd pass by
and I'd hear them laugh
like hell through the picture.
Oh, boy, I'll tell you,
that's the payoff of payoffs.
MAN: You're looking down
on the intersection
of Hollywood and Vine,
one of the most talked about
four corners on Earth.
If you were to take your stand
here and wait long enough,
you'd eventually see
every outstanding star
in show business.
WASSON: The Hollywood
that we think of
in our imaginations
and basically the Hollywood
that existed up until
a few years ago
was this world of studios,
of sound stages
and giant teams of people
to run these movie cities.
Now, not every studio
had the financial muscle
to make movies
on the level of let's say,
an MGM...
or a Fox.
Or a Paramount.
There were also a couple
of minor studios,
and informally,
they were known as Poverty Row.
They weren't poor.
They were just poorer
by comparison.
And at the top of this
second tier is Columbia.
Capra was on his way up
when he arrived
at Columbia in 1927.
So he's a baby director
beginning with a baby studio.
They're equally matched.
NEHME: You put Frank Capra
into an atmosphere like this
and I think he said, "Okay,
I can do something with this."
Because Columbia also,
year by year,
would do at least a couple
of features with a real budget.
ROTHMAN: The history
of Frank Capra and Columbia
is completely intertwined.
It's definitional for both.
There would be
no Columbia today.
I wouldn't be sitting in the job
that I'm in without Frank Capra.
And I think there would be no
Frank Capra
in the way that there was
without Columbia.
WASSON: Columbia didn't have
the resources
that these other studios had.
Because of it, there was
more freedom at Columbia.
And that may be surprising
to a lot of people
who know something
about Harry Cohn.
Harry Cohn ran the studio.
He basically ran it alone,
although he had
a few stalwart executives.
Cohn had his fingers
in everything,
and to that degree,
didn't have full control
of any one picture.
He would delegate,
and rather than delegating
to a producer,
he would delegate
to a director.
Frank needed Cohn
and Cohn needed Frank.
MAN: The unimposing
little fella
nearest to the camera
may not look
like a great director,
but don't let that fool you.
The name's Capra. Frank Capra.
Frank takes his fame
very seriously.
Very seriously.
Creativity doesn't want
to be managed,
and it doesn't want
to be restricted.
It wants to be free
and unbridled.
And that's
the very delicate art
of managing creativity.
Now, it's ironic to use
the word "delicate"
in connection with a SOB
like Cohn,
who was a notorious,
absolute bastard.
But he had vision
and he actually understood
filmmaking and he knew talent,
and his early faith
and investment in Capra
was because Capra was talented
and he recognized it
and he backed him.
WASSON: The big studios
could afford
to have stars under contract.
At Columbia,
they don't really...
They have a couple of stars
under contract.
And they can't compete with MGM
on that level.
So how are they going to
find a star?
Well, they find a star director
in Frank Capra.
So, with the infrastructure
of Columbia,
Capra ascended.
And with the talent
of Capra's stardom,
Columbia ascended.
These are the early days
of his career.
He's doing everything.
And it was because of that
versatility that he pulls off
a series of movies that
we don't really associate
with Capra films.
A movie called Dirigible.
A movie called Flight.
A movie called Submarine.
These were action pictures
that probably would seem
more like, you know,
a Raoul Walsh movie
than a Frank Capra movie.
BASINGER: He didn't just make
one kind of film.
He has war films
or military films.
There's the north station,
over there.
BASINGER: How about
The Bitter Tea of General Yen
or how about The Miracle Woman?
I mean,
he tries different things.
One of the most beautiful
sort of woman's pictures
or as someone might say,
soap operas of its time.
But it's a beautiful film.
It's tender and human,
and really very beautiful.
Hello, Al.
"Sit right down, Mr. Holland.
"I can't tell you how glad I am
to see you."
Where have you been
all this time?
Oh. Here and there,
mostly there.
I've looked for you
in every jail in the state.
I got time off
for good behavior.
So listen, baby,
would it shock you to know
that my heart's been broken?
It's been going
"potato, potato, potato"
for the last couple of years.
-Who's your lady friend?
-Yeah, honey.
Go on. My head's bloody,
but unbowed.
-You're married?
You're a governess?
Yeah. And I think I better be
getting her home.
MAN: Now that evening is here,
suppose we go to
a world premiere
held at
Grauman's Chinese Theatre?
A first showing in Hollywood
is an event
of worldwide interest.
When I say that Cohn and I
had the same job,
I should have been
more specific.
It wasn't just to make
a slate of pictures,
it's to make hits.
Harry Cohn wasn't going to keep
the bankers from his door
if he didn't make hits,
and believe me,
the reason he loved Frank Capra
was because he made hits.
And Frank Capra didn't become
a rich man,
rich and successful man,
without enormous
commercial success.
A film director is lucky
when what occurs to him and her
as being a good film
also happens to occur
to enough of the audience
also as good.
Capra's great talent
was that what occurred to him
as a story he himself
wanted to see,
and the way
in which he told it
happened to be extremely
appealing to others.
He just had the talent.
NARRATOR: Discouragement,
fear, failure.
Only a few years ago,
these dogged the nation.
Depression haunted America.
It was a desperate,
desperate time,
the likes of which
we hadn't seen before
or since in this country.
BASINGER: Capra's movies
came along,
and they connected
very directly
to what people were
thinking and feeling.
And they do not deny
the Depression.
But they provide escape by
giving you laughter, victory,
charm, glamour
and a great story to absorb you
so that you forget
your troubles.
My name is Smith.
That you seem to have been able
to stand for the last month.
I'm white, male and over 21.
I've never been in jail.
That is, not often.
And I prefer Scotch to bourbon.
I hate carrots, I hate peas,
I like black coffee
and I hate garters.
I make $75 a week
and I got $847 in the bank.
And I don't know yet whether
your eyes are blue or violet.
That's because
you're too far away, Stew.
I guess the picture, correct me
if I'm wrong, that really
many critics say started
the Frank Capra style
was Platinum Blonde.
Would you agree?
I think Platinum Blonde and...
And American Madness,
those two, yes.
I begin to go into
the social stuff.
I always said Union National
was a phoney bank.
Union National?
You have money
in that bank, too?
-Yes. Something wrong?
-Mon Dieu! Mon Dieu!
-You're telling me!
all the men in your plant
a couple hours off
to get their money out.
Tell Mrs. Hardy to tell everyone
in the apartment house.
All right, I'll get it.
I'll bust a few noses.
Holy smoke. I'll get right
down there if I have to fly.
Run down there
and get your money at once.
Oh, my goodness.
Oh, my goodness.
Oh, my goodness.
Oh, my goodness.
SMOODIN: The audiences
see his films
as extraordinarily
They see his films as depicting
a Depression-era America
that they either recognize
or aspire to.
That's what they want
America to look like,
people who help each other.
Matt, look! There's Mr. Jones!
-I'm putting my money
in this bank!
I know what I'm doing!
Open up. I want to
put some money in here.
I don't want to take any out!
Certainly, Mr. Jones.
Certainly. Teller...
They're starting
to come in already.
Yeah, yeah, well, listen.
Don't waste any time.
Get all the money you can lay
your hands on and bring it
down here right away.
Step on it. Who's this?
Come on out here,
you pawnbrokers.
-Take a look at this.
-We've been waiting 50 minutes.
You know
what you can do with it.
Come on. Take a look at this.
You'll see a demonstration
of faith that's worth more
than all the collateral
in the world.
Come on, boys. Come on, Clark!
It'll do your heart good.
Look at that. They're shoving
their hard-earned money
across the counter
with a 10-1 chance against them.
SMOODIN: One thing we have to
keep in mind is that
the American studios
were always producing films
for a global audience.
His films that we think of
as so quintessentially American
were huge hits
wherever they played.
And that's interesting,
and they seem to have
the same meaning
for audiences in France,
audiences in the UK
that they had for
audiences here in the US.
And it was now this time
that you began your association
-with Robert Riskin.
-CAPRA: Robert Riskin, yes.
It was a very happy
and very long association.
We both vibrated
to the same tuning fork.
We collaborated on everything
and we both kind of had
that same idea of comedy.
Human comedy, not gag comedy.
And that's a great thing,
when you can get two people
that agree.
NEHME: Capra had an exceptional
eye for good writing,
and he knew the importance
of a good script.
So, in the early '30s,
when he starts landing
some really exceptionally
talented screenwriters,
he was ready to go.
SMOODIN: Later in his life,
Capra would, sort of,
take credit
for pretty much everything
in his films.
But early on,
he was smart enough
to put together the best crew
he possibly could.
The cameraman,
Joseph Walker,
who was on
so many of his films,
and Barbara Stanwyck
and other actors
who really helped to create
the world that he made.
So I think that the Capra film
stands for a wide crew
of people.
It Happened One Night
was released into theaters,
believe it or not, initially,
it didn't do that well.
But then something happened.
People started coming back.
The ones who saw it
liked it enough to go back,
and they told their friends.
Capra liked to say years later
that "people made that movie"
because it was
the ticketholders,
the punters
who just kept coming back.
Any time you're going back to,
you know, the production
of a Hollywood film
during the classic era,
there can be a lot of myths
attached to it.
In this case, it's safe to go
with the stories
because they're
not really myths.
Nobody really wanted
to make this movie.
Certainly, its two stars
had to sort of be dragged
kicking and screaming.
Clark Gable was there because
he was being punished by MGM.
He had been asking
for more money
and MGM kind of told him
to go sit in a corner
and think about what he did.
And Claudette Colbert
only agreed to do it
when she was given
an exorbitant salary
for doing so.
Next time you drop in,
bring your folks.
NEHME: At some point
during the filming
of It Happened One Night,
it started to hit people
that their kind of
loosey-goosey attitude
towards making this movie
was actually producing
something rather special.
NEHME: Claudette Colbert said
in later years
that when she read "The Man
on the Flying Trapeze" scene,
she thought it was
kind of ridiculous.
Couldn't understand
how everybody on the bus
would know the lyrics
to one song.
But then, when she actually got
in there and was filming it,
she happened to catch
the eye of her maid
who was standing somewhere
behind the cameraman,
and her maid was loving it.
And Claudette thought,
"Wow. Okay.
"We really may have
something here."
NEHME: Movies of any type
are often about
an idealized portrayal.
Life as you wish it were,
not necessarily
life as it really is.
So, when they get on the bus
and start singing
"The Man
on the Flying Trapeze,"
that's when you really know
that this is a movie
about people coming together.
There's not a lot
of the Depression
in It Happened One Night,
oddly enough.
A train goes by
as they wait at the crossroads
and on the train
are some hobos.
The Depression is now passing
through the film.
"Hello, audience.
"Yes, we remember
there's a Depression,"
but, you know, you're talking
about something else
in this movie.
A love story.
A love story where a woman
who has money
and a guy who doesn't
learn about each other,
and you learn
that not having money is okay.
In fact, it's noble.
It's better than being rich.
Where'd you learn to dunk?
In finishing school?
Now, don't you start telling me
I shouldn't dunk.
Of course you shouldn't.
You don't know how to do it.
Dunking's an art.
Don't let it soak so long.
A dip and plop, into your mouth.
You leave it in too long,
it'll get soft and fall off.
It's all a matter of timing.
I'll write a book about it.
-Thanks, Professor.
-Just goes to show you.
Plenty millions
and you don't know how to dunk.
These rich people
couldn't dunk donuts.
I mean, there's no future
in life if you can't dunk.
She doesn't even know
what piggybacking is.
Are the showers in there?
Well, they ain't out here.
BASINGER: She has to learn
to be an American,
and not a rich person.
That is really
what this is about.
She has to learn
to be like other Americans.
A person without money.
You want to shower around here,
you'll stand in line.
Money is not important.
It's not the thing.
It's a reassuring message
for American audiences.
Well, today, it's easy.
It's a rom-com, right?
It's just here weren't
a lot of 'em back in the day.
It's a star-driven rom-com.
It's very simple.
It's, you know,
When Harry Met Sally
or any one of the movies
that Tom Hanks made
with Meg Ryan.
At the time,
it was way more than that.
It was genre-breaking.
There really weren't
a lot of 'em.
It was class-based romance.
It was pretty racy.
PAYNE: It's scene
after scene after scene
of perfectly staged
It's a movie where everything
came together.
The screenplay, the casting.
Not this one but that one.
We tried to get this one,
but he was unavailable.
Mr. Meyer forced Gable
on Harry Cohn, whatever it was.
This looks like the best spot.
We're not going to sleep
out here, are we?
I don't know about you,
but I'm going to give
a fairly good imitation of it.
PAYNE: The famous scene
where they go
to sleep under the haystacks.
Beautifully shot.
And the desire between them
is so palpable.
The other thing he controlled
masterfully was rhythm.
And so often,
his movies move fast,
but he also knows
when to slow down.
And in that film,
when they almost kiss
and then Gable stands up
and lights a cigarette instead
and goes to sleep
in the other haystack.
And you cut back to her
and she's looking at him,
"Oh, you dope,
why didn't you kiss me?
"Why didn't you kiss me?"
And it just quietly fades out
on a close-up of her.
It's so beautiful.
Just so beautiful.
It wasn't really anything
anybody thought
was going to be successful,
and there were a lot of problems
going along with it.
And Frank said, "You know,
maybe we should abandon this.
"I mean,
nobody seems to want this.
"Everybody says a bus story
is never going to work."
ROTHMAN: At that time,
Columbia was still
making its way off
of Poverty Row,
and it became a giant hit
for Clark Gable.
It was transcendent
in the history
and the life of the studio,
and it's the first
of only three movies ever
in the history of Hollywood
to have won all five
of the major Academy Awards.
Picture, director,
writer, actor, and actress.
So it pulled Columbia up
into the big leagues.
BASINGER: Frank Capra rang
the gong of Hollywood
in a way it had never been
rung before.
It Happened One Night
won all five top prizes.
This was a singular thing
that this young man
at a low-budget,
Poverty Row studio
hit the top, hit the top.
Those five awards
nearly killed me.
I mean, you know,
you shake the Oscar tree
when you get
the five major awards.
What are you gonna do
for an encore?
This was my problem,
and I got it so early
in my life, you see?
Capra went to pieces kind of
after he became successful
with It Happened One Night.
He said suddenly people know
who you are in Asia,
you know, I mean,
it's a whole different feeling.
I read all kinds of things,
but everything seemed
way trivial
and puerile after that,
and I feigned sickness.
Not to make any more pictures.
I wanted to quit for a while.
I was afraid, actually afraid
to make another film.
He's a director who,
like many others at that time,
was working nonstop.
So It Happened One Night,
of course, sets him up to fail
as much as it sets him up
to succeed.
He almost died of peritonitis
and he was really ill,
seriously ill.
So I feigned sickness,
but in feigning sickness,
I became sick,
and I was really about to die
when a friend of mine
brought in a very faceless
old man who came in
and said to me,
"Mr. Capra, you're a coward."
And I said, "Coward? I'm sick."
And he said,
"No, you're a coward.
"You were given certain gifts
"and you're not using them.
"You have been given a gift
to reach hundreds of millions
"and for two hours,
and in the dark.
"You're a coward.
You're an offense to God.
"You're an offense to humanity."
And he just got up and left.
Things do seem to change.
Capra himself told
a clearly apocryphal story
about while he was convalescing,
being visited by a little man
whose name we don't know.
We know nothing about him.
Who told him to get up
and get to work
and stop feeling sorry
for himself
and to start to make films
that meant things.
He had to renew himself.
He had to recharge himself,
and no one really knows
the why of this,
and although he alludes
to these things
and discusses them
in his autobiography,
talked about them in interviews,
you don't really understand
exactly what is
going on here with him.
He is a man who feels things
and fears things.
As I got to know Frank
over the years
and we spent a lot of time
talking on
the telephone together,
we talked about his illnesses
and his crises.
And I would just say
that he knew he was vulnerable.
There's always something in you
or in your life
that can bring you pain.
Some of it is simple health.
Other things are deeper
than that.
And I think that's probably all
I would want to say about that.
Capra realized how many people
he was speaking to,
and how successfully
he was coming across.
So he wanted to make sure
he was saying something
important about the way
that we lived.
And it's that spiritual rebirth
that fuels
the next run
of Capra's great movies.
CAPRA: I was doing it
But consciously,
the first film that I was going
to make
where I attempted
to say something
was Mr. Deeds Goes to Town.
That an individual that reached
deep within his resources
had come up with the wits
and the strength
and the knowledge
to defeat his environment.
Well, that's hope.
-Say something.
-Tell your story. Go ahead.
-Go ahead.
-Tell him.
Mr. Deeds,
the boys here wanted me
to say a little something.
Just wanted me to say that...
Well, they want me to say
that we think you're swell.
And that's no baloney.
-Say something more.
-Give me a chance, fellas.
We're all down and out.
A fella like you comes along,
it kinda gives us a little hope.
CAPRA: From Mr. Deeds on,
my films are pretty much alike.
I mean, the same things
kept cropping up in them.
-That's him.
-MAN: Are you Longfellow Deeds?
-Sheriff's Office.
We got a warrant
to take you into custody.
A what?
A warrant for your arrest.
You have to come along with us.
SMOODIN: These were films like
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town,
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,
Meet John Doe,
and other films
that are clearly
making statements about life
as it's lived in America
at that time.
About politics, about industry,
about the law, about media.
Just because
I wanna give this money
to people who need it,
they think I'm crazy.
That's marvelous.
That makes everything complete.
I guess what we learned here
is a kind of Frank Capra movie,
isn't it?
What we learn is that wealth
is not the American Dream.
It's about contributing
to your community,
to your country.
It's an honorable sense
of being a good man.
Mr. Deeds.
You haven't yet touched upon
the most important point.
It's all a fantastic idea
of yours
to want to give away
your entire fortune.
It is, to say the least,
most uncommon.
It's like the road
out in front of my house,
it's on a steep hill.
Every day
I watch the cars climbing up.
Some go lickety split up
that hill on high,
some have to shift into second
and some sputter and shake
and slip back
to the bottom again.
Same car, same gasoline,
yet some make it and some don't.
And I say the fellas
who can make the hill on high
should stop once in a while
and help those who can't.
That's all I'm trying to do
with this money.
Help the fellas who can't make
the hill on high.
And after careful deliberation,
the committee have voted
that the best direction
for a motion picture
during the year of 1936
is awarded to you, Frank Capra,
for your direction
of the picture
Mr. Deeds Comes to Town.
Retake, boys.
It's "Goes to Town."
Can't have that.
NEHME: Capra had to wait
about a year
to even get to make
Lost Horizon.
I really think he thought
this was going
to be a grand statement,
a real artistic achievement.
McBRIDE: After Mr. Deeds,
Capra was feeling
a greater sense
of responsibility.
He was dealing with big issues,
big subjects.
He was being seen
as a political force
in the United States,
a cultural force.
Welcome to Shangri-La.
You see, we are sheltered
by mountains on every side.
It's a strange phenomena
for which we are very grateful.
NEHME: I simply like the fact
that Lost Horizon
is a utopian movie at all.
It's magic.
NEHME: Those have kind of
fallen by the wayside.
Dystopia is what we get now.
McBRIDE: The problem with that
film is it's a theme picture.
It's not as much
about the characters
as the characters are dwarfed
by the big themes
and the big sets.
It is our hope
that the brotherly love
of Shangri-La
will spread
throughout the world.
Capra went way over budget
and almost bankrupted Columbia.
Harry Cohn had to call
all the employees together
on a soundstage at one point
and say,
"We can't pay your checks
for this week,"
because they were
so short on cash.
-What's happened? Where's Bob?
-He's going, my child.
ROTHMAN: In those days,
there were bank lendings
and it wouldn't have been hard
for a runaway picture
to sink a studio.
So I think
the production problems
on Lost Horizon
took a great toll
on both sides.
And it fractured the trust.
And trust is hard won
and easily lost.
Harry Cohn took the picture
away from Capra
after a while because Capra
couldn't bring it down
to the length that Cohn wanted.
not the success
and winner of Oscars that
they thought it would be.
It was sort of the beginning
of the end
between them, probably.
CAPRA: I don't start a film
unless I have something to say
and know what I'm gonna say.
He went down among the people.
And there he found
a nugget.
WASSON: Capra movies
are about good people
up against overwhelming
opposition. Senator Jefferson Smith.
WASSON: It's generally
one person against the media,
the government,
popular awareness.
These insurmountable projects
that make them, in a way,
almost like fairy tales,
you know.
How is Saint George
going to slay the dragon?
There's no way, you know.
This is a hopeless situation.
I can't help feeling
that there's
been a big mistake somehow.
I don't think I'm gonna be
much help to you
down there
in Washington, Senator.
I used comedy and laughter
as a way of becoming
very friendly with the audience,
or making the audience
very friendly with the film,
and with the characters
in the film.
It's comedy directors
who typically are most adept
at drama and pathos.
That's his brilliance
with casting,
is that he's a comedy director.
That's his brilliance
with pacing, with rhythm,
is that he's a comedy director.
It's in comedy that you learn
the control of those things.
It's really hard
to calibrate things,
to get those laughs
from the audience,
and it takes time
and it takes talent,
experience and screening.
You've got to screen
your pictures a lot.
If you entertain them
with laughter,
then you have them at a point
where they might sit still
for a message.
Hello, Senator.
I was just passing through.
I thought I'd like to meet you.
Sit down.
You met all the boys here,
-I suppose.
-Yes, sir.
They tell me you've been
right on your toes
ever since you got here.
That's fine.
You know, some people told me
that you were dumb.
I think you're smart.
What fascinated you most
about the story of Mr. Smith?
Well, the story of Mr. Smith
is the story
of a young nobody that gets
put into a position of trust
and is an idealist.
And he doesn't like
what he finds.
And he doesn't like this...
This compromise and making do
and this rubbing one's back.
And particularly
doesn't like graft.
And he doesn't like power.
So he began to fight it,
and the machine just
steamrolled right over him
and flattened him right out.
And with the aid of a girl
who took an interest in him,
he got up on his feet
and fought back and won.
He found it deep within, inside,
he had the moral, the mettle,
and enough wit
and everything else
to win out over his
environmental difficulties.
You mean you tell these men
and Senator Paine what to do?
Why, yes.
Joe Paine has been taking
my advice for the past 20 years.
You're a liar.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
was released
at the same time
that Hitler attacked Poland.
WASSON: It was a time
of great crisis,
and Americans really needed
to come together
to not only save the country
in the Depression,
but later join the Allies
to save the world
in World War II.
And those crises came
back to back.
How to join together
to be part of a worthy cause
that's bigger than yourself,
and at the same time,
how to do that
without losing hold of
what's important to you
Americans had to answer
these questions
at the moment
Capra was making a movie.
They were urgent questions.
They were not
theoretical questions.
I mean, even whether
they were consciously addressed
or unconsciously addressed
by Americans,
they were living with them
day to day.
How big is this thing?
Where's it going to be?
How many boys
will it accommodate?
You've got to have
all that in it, you know.
Yeah, and something else,
Ms. Saunders.
The spirit of it, the idea...
How do you say it?
-That's what's got to be in it.
The Capitol Dome.
On paper?
I want to make that come to life
for every boy in this land.
Yes, and I'll light it up
like that, too.
You see, boys forget
what their country means
by just reading "the land
of the free" in history books.
When they get to be men,
they forget even more.
Liberty is too precious a thing
to be buried in books,
Miss Saunders.
Unlike other filmmakers
at the time,
people saw in his films
a model of what they hoped
their lives would be.
They saw his films
as aspirational in some ways.
They saw his films as comments
on what it's like to live
in modern America.
Men should hold it up
in front of them
every single day of their lives
and say, "I'm free."
SMOODIN: They see the problems
that they're experiencing.
The government wasn't
responding to their needs.
The law certainly
didn't do that.
Capitalism seemed
to have run amok.
It wasn't helping anyone.
Capra was always, always
in touch with the audience,
not just in terms of what
they wanted in entertainment
but who they were emotionally
as Americans.
MAN: Were you
some kind of a populist,
or was there something
in the fact
that you had been
a poor kid yourself
and somewhere in the American,
you'd found your way upward?
The kind of pictures I made
from It Happened One Night on
were my way of saying,
"Thanks, America,
"for giving me the opportunity,"
because only... only in America,
it can happen that a son
of illiterate parent peasants
could get this kind
of an education that I'd had.
And then be allowed to use
whatever talents he had.
You can't quit now.
Not you. They aren't all Taylors
and Paines in Washington.
That kind just throw
big shadows, that's all.
You didn't just
have faith in Paine
or any other living man.
You had faith in something
bigger than that.
You had plain, decent,
everyday common rightness,
and this country could use
some of that.
WASSON: He had
a love for people.
You see it in the faces
of Capra's people.
You know,
if you look at a Capra movie,
it is cast down
to the smallest part.
The faces speak so clearly
of character.
CAPRA: It was
very important to me
who played the smaller parts.
I treated all the small parts
as star parts.
I use people. I love people.
Capra's films have
an expansiveness to them.
They seem to speak
to the desires of many people
in the audience, but they also
have incredible limits, too.
And we can see that
in the overarching
whiteness of his films
and his unwillingness to talk
about anything
other than whiteness
for the most part.
The expansiveness,
the broadness of Capra's films,
we always have to keep in mind
that there are
those limits, too,
that certainly
weren't unique to him,
but that perhaps he could have
done a much better job at.
MAN: This John Doe meeting's
gonna be
one of the biggest things
that ever happened.
And why they're coming
from all over.
Trains, boxcars, wagons.
NEHME: Frank Capra movies
will frequently show
people being kind and wonderful
and even noble
on an individual basis.
But large groups of people
are frequently sinister
by contrast.
MAN: One of your critics
has argued
that implicit
in all of your films
is a distrust of the majority.
CAPRA: I'm not against a crowd
of individuals.
I'm against the mass.
I'm against
the mass conforming.
I'm not against a crowd
of individuals.
And I think that the majority
does tend to be the herd.
They can be conformed
and channelized
and allow themselves
to be channelized.
And it's only those guys
that stick their heads up, say,
"Wait a minute.
I don't want to go this way.
"I want to go this way."
And that I'm interested in,
and I think the world
is interested in
and I think that the humanity
is interested in.
I think this reflects
Frank Capra's
peculiar, if not
political outlook,
than his kind of
intellectual outlook.
He, you know, loved humanity
on a one-by-one basis.
Not so much in vast numbers.
ROTHMAN: Heroes in the film
are very individualistic
and very self-sufficient,
and that was his experience
in life.
He was an immigrant,
he was an outsider
and I think he's therefore
very inherently sympathetic
with the individual
versus the system.
The political dimensions
of the films
are kind of all over the place.
Robert Riskin,
who wrote so many
of those first great films
was very much an FDR Democrat
at this time.
Capra was a Republican.
But he was a Republican
at a time when there was a
progressive wing of that party
that was marked by
a sort of critique
of the excess of capitalism.
So that made it possible
for him to make films
with New Deal Democrats.
And together they could
kind of produce an America
that seemed both apolitical
and political at the same time.
Both left and right, I suppose,
can all see some value in
standing up for the individual,
being oppressed by society
and fighting corruption.
-Order, gentlemen.
-SMITH: Mr. President!
I stand guilty as framed,
because Section 40 is graft.
And I was ready to say so.
I was ready to tell you
that a certain man
in my state, a Mr. James Taylor,
wanted to put through this dam
for his own profit.
A man who controls
a political machine
and controls everything else
worth controlling in my state.
Yes, a man even powerful enough
to control Congressmen.
And I saw three of them
in his room
the day I went up to see him.
-MAN: Will the Senator yield?
-No, sir, I will not yield!
My films were more to uplift
the people
from their everyday miseries,
than to sort of change things.
I was aiming at the...
At the general folds
of humanity,
and sort of trying to glorify
the compassionate,
the forgiving,
the merciful, and so forth.
BASINGER: You know,
the interesting thing
about a man like Frank Capra,
with his success,
everybody's always
going to define him.
He hated that.
McBRIDE: Well,
I was a Capra fan,
a great admirer of his films.
So, I called up Capra
and I said,
"I'd like to interview you."
Went down to Palm Springs.
He lived in La Quinta nearby.
And I went to his home.
He had a kind of
a sprawling white ranch house
with a gigantic American flag.
And we were talking
and he was giving me
his whole Frank Capra rap about
the little guy
against the system.
He was telling me how he hated
bankers and rich people.
And then,
a man came to the table.
He had this envelope
full of pictures of Capra
playing golf with
President Gerald Ford.
And he spread them
on the table,
and Capra said, "Oh, God.
Look at Gerry Ford.
"He's such a great guy."
There was a picture
in particular that struck me,
that Capra was putting,
and Gerald Ford
was holding the pin for him,
and I thought this was amazing.
What a symbolic picture,
the immigrant
with the president
holding the pin for you.
That's kind of
the ultimate American dream.
The guy said,
"Frank, I'll make copies
of the pictures for you,"
and Capra said,
"Thank you very much."
And then, he turned to me
and he said, "Where was I?
"Oh, yeah, I was telling you how
I hate bankers and rich people."
And he launched back
into his rap without a pause,
and I thought, "Hmm, this guy
is not what he seems to be."
NEHME: People, for a long time,
assumed that the movies
that they had seen,
which were ultimately
loving about America,
embraced a certain type
of liberal politics.
And then, people started
to look more closely at him,
and they discovered that
there was another side
to Frank Capra.
There was a side that, you know,
thought people
should be out there,
pulling themselves up
by their bootstraps like he did.
So, he was a complex person,
and I think, at some point,
people started
seeing that as a flaw,
that this kind of
rock-ribbed conservative
was existing alongside
the movies that they had loved.
why don't you write
a play about ism-mania.
-Yeah, sure.
You know, communism,
fascism, voodooism.
Everybody's got
an ism these says.
[LAUGHS] I thought it was
an itch or something.
Well, it's just as catching.
When things go
a little bad nowadays,
you go out
and get yourself an ism,
and you're in business.
I've got it.
It might help Cynthia
to have an ism in the monastery.
[LAUGHS] And why is that?
For the best-directed picture
of the year,
You Can't Take It with You,
in behalf of the Academy of
Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
we present to you,
Frank Capra, this award.
As you know, this is
the third time you have won
this highest of our awards,
and in all sincerity
from my heart,
I thank you.
Well, thank you very much,
Mr. Niblo.
I'm very happy
to have this again.
Thank you.
SMOODIN: He, quite conceivably,
by 1935 or so,
was the most famous filmmaker
in the world,
or certainly,
one of two or three.
Frank Capra really turned
this aspect of self-promotion
into something of an art,
and he used that as a tool
to create, um, horrid word,
a "brand," if you will.
SMOODIN: In the late 1930s,
he's on the cover
of Time magazine,
and I think
he's the first director
on the cover of Time.
And the tagline
for that cover is,
"His stories can't top
his story."
And inside, they told the story
of a little boy
who comes from Palermo,
who has a terrible life,
makes it big.
So, I think his life, as it was
understood in the press,
by the people
who went to see his films,
was really an important part
of why his films
were so appealing
to so many at that time.
They saw in him a person
who they could relate to,
understand, and who
they felt understood things
the way that they did.
MAN: Hollywood reaches far,
carrying its cargo of dreams
to almost every city
and village in America.
HOST: It seemed to me,
there was some kind...
Film offered some kind
of a social cement,
if you will, for people.
Yes, I think films offered hope.
And they go out of theaters
feeling much better
than they went in.
They were lifted.
WASSON: Movie-going
in the Depression
and through World War II
was different
than the way it is now.
Then, everyone saw virtually
the same movies,
and that creates the sense
of movies being a myth,
that we can all
have the same frame
of reference in our minds,
we've all been through
the same thing together,
not just as citizens
of a country, but as filmgoers.
That alone gives filmmakers
in Capra's generation
more power than you can imagine
a filmmaker having today.
I mean,
you have to think of Capra,
in a way, as another FDR
in that sense.
That is going to create
a lot of suspicion
as soon as people begin
to interrogate
what it's like
for someone in the media
to have that much power.
And Capra knew
he had that power,
and so, too,
did the American government
when they brought Capra in
to make what would become
the Why We Fight series.
MAN: Causes and events leading
up to our entry into the war.
Well, what are the causes?
Why are we, Americans
on the march?
Is it because of...
Pearl Harbor?
Is that why we are fighting?
Or is it because of...
Who was the genius
behind all this?
Who made the films that moved
presidents, prime ministers
and millions of citizens
and soldiers around the world?
Well, to answer the Nazis,
the American government
turned to Hollywood, California,
and to a cocky
little immigrant from Sicily
named Frank Capra.
The United States of America,
when the war broke out,
found itself the only country
that didn't have
a big propaganda machine.
So, we had to get organized
and get propaganda.
As soon as the war starts,
Capra wants to join up.
He wants to get involved.
He wants to make films.
MAN: American soldiers
mobilized for war,
and with them,
Major Frank Capra.
Forty-five years old,
salary, $250 a month.
Capra reports directly
to Chief of Staff,
General George C. Marshall.
HOST: When you first called on
General Marshall
at the Pentagon,
what did he tell you
he wanted you to do?
CAPRA: He called me in,
and then,
he said, "We have
an enormous problem."
He said, "We know that
if you shoot an American,
"he'll shoot back."
But can he take this
being away from home?
Can he take this discipline?
And his answer?
"In my opinion,
"he can if we tell him
what he's fighting about."
So, General Marshall
was asking you in effect
to give the boys
a reason to fight.
Give the boys
a reason to fight and don't lie.
But your films
were comedies in Hollywood.
He wanted somebody
to reach the people.
Was able to reach the people,
and I had been able
to reach the people in my films,
and make them laugh and cry,
make them like things.
Here, I got the greatest heroes,
the greatest villains
on the world stage.
Real. Not actors. Real.
NARRATOR: In Italy, they had
a shorter word. "Fascism."
In Japan,
they had lots of names for it.
A new era of enlightenment.
SMOODIN: Capra says he's
starting the war in Hollywood.
The Why We Fight films
are just extraordinary.
They're films that involve
collage, animation,
multiple voices telling
the stories, found footage.
They almost seem like
avant-garde films to us now.
NARRATOR: They say trouble
always comes in threes.
Take a good close look
at this trio.
Remember these faces.
Remember them well.
If you ever meet them,
don't hesitate.
SMOODIN: The films
are simplistic in some ways.
The way they develop
ideas of good and bad.
But they're also sophisticated,
not just aesthetically,
but in how
they have to talk about
the realities of the world.
NARRATOR: Here was the Italy
that Mussolini took over
in 1922.
And almost his first act
was to tell the Italians
they were
the rightful owners of Corsica,
Nice, Savoie,
Albania, Tunisia,
Ethiopia, and a land corridor
linking it with Libya.
He's making myths about the war
in these war films.
There's no question about that.
And he creates a history
that goes back to Buddha,
Muhammad, which is
extraordinary to think about,
Christ, Jefferson.
All believe that
in the sight of God,
all men were created equal.
And from that, there developed
a spirit among men and nations
which is best expressed in our
own Declaration of Freedom.
SMOODIN: So, he creates
a kind of global myth
that is, we ourselves
come from a world history
that leads to
a particular form of democracy
that now is at risk.
But it's certainly true
that his films before that
had engaged
in a kind of mythic practice.
NARRATOR: That government
of the people,
by the people, for the people
shall not perish
from the Earth.
CAPRA: Not until we showed him
some of the stuff
that we got at Dachau that
George Stevens photographed,
did it actually impinge itself
on the mind,
the horror of this whole thing.
It left me just speechless,
colorless, bloodless.
I couldn't possibly believe
that there was
that kind of a savagery
in the world, you see?
Between men.
Men, the highest
of all the animals.
Man... It's man who created God
and man who created
all kinds of things.
To end up here
in a pile of bones, burned.
So, that was a terrible shock.
BASINGER: The question
of the goodness of people,
the question of,
"What is humanity?
"What can we hold on to and
believe in?" was a challenge
after he did the job he did
in World War II.
He handled a great many
atrocity photos.
The atrocity photos were
part of what he was doing,
and he saw them,
he had to look at them,
handle them every day,
and it upset him,
it changed him, and it damaged
his faith in human beings.
I think, in fact,
he was one of those veterans,
even though
he didn't see battle,
who came back and perhaps
had a great deal
of trouble adjusting.
I was away
almost six years from camera.
We came back to Hollywood
and we didn't know anybody.
People introduced me
to somebody and they'd say,
"Frank who?"
Capra comes back after the war,
ready to make films.
He certainly wants to work.
He understands that
the future of film production
might not be at the studios
but might be more independent.
WASSON: These were
the three absolute titans,
titans of mid-century cinema,
George Stevens,
William Wyler and Frank Capra,
to form "Liberty Films."
That name
is not chosen by accident.
That's what
they thought they had,
was their liberty, and they had
chafed under the studio system.
It's a very big deal, and there
are tons of articles about it
in Time magazine, and Newsweek,
and all the newspapers.
But, of course, Capra was
the only one who was able
to make films for Liberty,
the production company.
Wyler and Stevens were both
committed to other studios,
and couldn't make any films
for the company they had formed.
This is a brilliant move.
This is a really smart
business move.
Three of the biggest
and best directors
of America get together.
They're going to make
some movies they want to make
the way they want to make them,
and distribute them
through Paramount.
What could go wrong?
What could go wrong?
Well, everything, obviously.
MAN: Why is
It's a Wonderful Life
your favorite film?
I keep reading that.
Why do you like that the best?
Well, because I think
it expresses
what I've been trying to say
in the other films
better than the other films.
I don't know
how many of you here
have seen
It's a Wonderful Life.
How many of you
have seen it?
Thank you very much.
But it is one
of those films that...
I break down
every time I see it,
and I made the goddamn thing.
It's just
one of those things
that gets you inside,
and shows you what you can be,
what we can do,
and how precious life is,
and how wonderful life is.
Yeah! Hello, Bedford Falls!
Merry Christmas!
-Merry Christmas!
-Merry Christmas!
Merry Christmas, George!
Merry Christmas, movie house!
Merry Christmas, Emporium!
Merry Christmas, you
wonderful old Building & Loan!
Hey! Merry Christmas,
Mr. Potter!
Happy New Year to you, in jail!
Go on home.
They're waiting for you.
When people
talk about Capra's films,
they always remember
the optimistic side,
the happy endings,
the guy getting the girl,
that kind of thing.
But they forget, or tend not
to think about, the darker side.
The comedy is born
from pain and anguish.
That's where it comes from.
And I think that's one of
the strongest qualities
of It's a Wonderful Life.
SMOODIN: A lot of his films,
below the surface
of the films,
have anger, resentment
and violence,
and we see this, too, in
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,
when he beats up the reporters
who have written these
terrible things about him.
There's always
an undertone of violence.
There's always an undertone
that things
might get out of control.
There's an undertone
that things
can be scary really fast.
Get over there.
See how you're gonna
like it this time.
See what good your money will do
when you're six feet under.
Never thought of that, did you?
No. All you ever thought of
was pinching pennies,
you money-grabbing hick!
Virtually every character
is driven to madness
or every main character
is driven to madness,
or to the brink of suicide.
And there's real rage there
in those moments.
McBRIDE: I love
the roller-coaster feeling
of his films, emotionally.
The highs and the lows.
One critic said
it's like the feeling of life
being lived.
Every day, there's a mixture
of comedy and drama,
and highs and lows.
-Let go!
-What's the matter with you?
I'm not fit to be a Senator!
I'm not fit to live!
Expel me!
With a film like
It's a Wonderful Life,
you wonder how much
of Capra's own experience
is in the bitterness
we see in George,
the depression
we see in George,
the general tiredness
that we see in George.
There's the pharmacist
who beats up the young boy.
There are the people
who try to destroy the bank.
There are all kinds of scary
things going on in that film
that kind of strike us as...
That's not what we think of
as going on in a Capra film.
There is a lot
of suicide in Capra,
or near-suicide, attempted
suicide, planned suicide,
more than
you might think at first.
So, that particular theme
in It's a Wonderful Life
is perhaps not surprising.
But Capra said later that
what appealed to him
about this theme
was that
it was saying to people,
"No, you are not a failure."
MAN: Help!
Help! Help!
So, here is Capra,
the grand success,
kind of reaching back
toward Americans
who maybe hadn't done so hot
in the past 15 or 20 years,
and telling them,
"You're still in this country.
"I'm going to show you
"the things that are still
wonderful about this country
"and about your life here."
I sincerely believe that is what
Capra was after with this film.
SMOODIN: We tend to
mythologize the film
as something of a bomb.
It certainly wasn't.
It's a Wonderful Life
does well.
The problem is it cost
so much to make.
It's something of a disaster
for the company.
Now, clearly, what's
really worse for the company
is that two-thirds
of the people who formed it
can't make films for it
because they're contractually
committed to other studios.
So, Liberty Films
crashes and burns.
And the men who formed it,
Capra, Wyler and Stevens,
sell it
and all the men go
their separate ways,
and Capra signs on
with Paramount,
which really is a death knell.
ROTHMAN: Be careful
what you wish for.
It's been tried many times.
United Artists,
Directors Company,
Liberty Films.
It almost never works.
That's telling you something.
Great directors have
a tremendous amount of freedom,
all the freedom they want
in the world, right?
What they want is to have
financial support,
and marketing support,
and structural support.
Nobody in my job
who's any good at my job
is gonna tell a great director
where to place the camera.
So, they may have
to lift budgets
and deal
with economic realities.
But that's the reality
that keeps things going.
I think, in terms of
the emotional investment
that Frank Capra
had made in this film,
really nothing but a big hit
would have
satisfied him anyway.
It was his comeback.
So, this movie, I think,
was in no small measure
about saying to Hollywood,
"Hey, I've still got it.
I've still got that touch
"that brings in audiences
and moves people."
And when
It's a Wonderful Life did that,
but not to
a great world-shaking extent,
I think that was
very hard on Frank Capra.
I have to confess that
the pattern
of Frank Capra's career
after It's a Wonderful Life
is a little mysterious to me.
This was an older Frank Capra.
And somehow,
he couldn't really
get back up off the mat.
Well, isn't that nice?
I must say, it's right
neighborly of you people
who have seen the preview
of Here Comes the Groom
to write a wireless
and apprise us
of your reactions to this film.
If I may be immodest
for a moment,
I must tell you in all candor
that the reactions
have been pretty good,
which is easy to understand
because Paramount went out
and got the down-to-earth,
homey type of story
that they've been
searching so long for me.
They got a bang-up cast
and they got a great director,
Frank Capra,
at the helm,
to direct the picture.
When Capra makes films
for Paramount,
he makes them with big stars.
He makes a couple of films
with Bing Crosby.
And there is a campaign
to push those films.
They're a big deal and there's
a lot of PR about the films.
SMOODIN: But no one thinks
of them once they come out
as anything but minor films.
These films, Riding High,
Here Comes the Groom,
are Bing Crosby films
that Capra happened to make.
As America recovered
from the war,
the Capra-esque story
of the individual
lost its urgency
in the sort of
postwar complacency.
The feeling that America
could take a breath
didn't really serve Capra
as an artist.
He needed a fight.
There were still fights
to be fought.
He just didn't find one
in the '50s.
During the McCarthy years,
you know, the years of
the Hollywood blacklist,
paranoia was rampant,
and the whole question arose
of what it meant
to be a patriot.
It's a 10-year period or more
when your politics can
prevent you from having a job.
The films that were
hailed in the '30s
were seen in
a different light after the war.
And so, films like
Mr. Deeds and Mr. Smith
were potentially risky things
to look back on.
BASINGER: Frank Capra
was never blacklisted.
What happened
to Frank Capra was,
during the Korean War,
he wanted to serve,
but of course he was too old
to serve in any capacity.
But there was
a committee made,
Vista, I believe it was called.
It was
a military service committee,
and he was denied clearance
by that committee.
It was
the biggest shock of his life
that he was basically accused of
being disloyal to his country.
Some of the charges
were ridiculous.
But the one charge that really
was a problem for him was,
they said, "You worked with
a lot of left-wing writers,"
and that was true.
He did, of course, immediately
mount his response to them,
and sent it to them.
SMOODIN: He goes through each
of the men accused
of being a leftist,
of being a communist,
and he says,
"I didn't know this,"
or, "If I had known, I wouldn't
have worked with them."
He wants to distance himself
from them
as a means
of protecting himself.
McBRIDE: Different people
reacted in different ways,
and he named names of people
and recklessly
threw them around,
and this all added
to the stigma
that was attached
to those people.
I think this is
a very difficult issue,
and this is a time
when it's hard to know
who the good guys are at all
because there are
these inflections.
We can name the bad guys.
We know the bad guys,
the guys who name names,
the Elia Kazans and others
who were happy to name names.
Clifford Odets
and others like him.
What Capra did is probably
certainly on that spectrum.
He was very hurt by this,
and very upset.
He didn't
talk about it, generally.
The country he had
devoted so much to,
he'd served loyally
in World War II
and sacrificed a lot for,
and here he was,
accused of being disloyal.
It was
the worst shock of his life,
and it's like being
kicked in the teeth
by somebody you love.
So, he wound up being
very disappointed
by the United States,
I guess, to put it mildly.
BASINGER: His career
dwindled and died.
SMOODIN: He becomes something
of a gentleman farmer
at this time, raising
his avocados in California.
He becomes
a collector of rare books.
He owns the rights
to films that he then sells.
He owned Roman Holiday,
which becomes
a huge hit for William Wyler.
He does that kind of thing.
WASSON: You know,
if we want to understand
why Capra hoarded
so much praise
and attention late in his life,
it's because there really
was a long limbo period
of maybe even two decades
where this person barely existed
at the level that he had before.
He certainly did not exist
at the level that he had before.
He was almost himself forgotten,
and he's part
to blame for that, too,
because he didn't find out
why he was relevant anymore.
He didn't discover that.
MAN: One of your last movies,
Pocketful of Miracles,
had tremendous trade reviews,
and yet, was
a box office failure.
How hard did this hit you?
Uh, surprisingly badly.
It was almost like
another Lost Horizon,
only I found no way
to cure it. Uh...
I can't...
That one eludes me completely.
His career has
an extraordinary decline.
Later in his life, certainly,
he has reason to be bitter.
And his career
didn't go the way
he had hoped it would
after the war.
But I think what really
struck me and took me aback was,
at the beginning
of McBride's book,
he quotes Capra
as railing against the Jews
who had ruined his career.
McBRIDE: You'd ask him about
any ethnic group,
he would malign
in stereotypical terms,
even his own people,
the Italian-Americans.
And he unfortunately
made antisemitic remarks
and anti-Black remarks,
anti-Mexican-American remarks,
anti-Native-American remarks,
you name it.
And to see Capra, an immigrant,
talk about that is just
really kind of heartbreaking.
I'm Jewish. You know,
I've heard this before.
You hear it all the time,
and it's very hard to see
Capra doing the same thing.
WASSON: In the late '60s,
not only is Capra
looked on as quaint,
but he's also looked on
as a status quo.
He represents
the sort of Hollywood,
classical, glamorous
studio filmmaking,
that this new generation
of filmmakers,
Dennis Hopper,
Friedkin, Altman,
the '70s era of filmmakers,
regarded with
a little bit of cynicism.
It's funny.
It becomes a Capra movie again.
You know, he's at
this low point, "I'm forgotten."
"No one remembers my movies."
"They're looked on as corny."
So, what does Capra do?
He writes a book.
And the autobiography
is a phenomenal success.
And he was back.
MAN: Frank Capra hasn't made
a feature film since 1961.
But when he appears before
a group of students,
many of whom weren't born
when his greatest films
were being made,
he is greeted with applause.
McBRIDE: He went on
125 college campuses,
and he went around the world
for the US government again.
Ironically, they asked him
to promote Americanism
around the world,
and for the State Department.
He was very happy to do that.
As I found out, the book
is like a novel about Hollywood.
It's a rather beguiling novel,
somewhat disturbing,
but often very charming.
But it's almost
completely fictitious.
SMOODIN: The memoir
that Capra writes
is really wonderful.
But when you read the book now,
it's upsetting in some ways
because the way he takes credit
for everything he ever did,
every script he ever wrote,
every film he ever made,
it all comes from him.
It all springs from his brow.
Now, I think we'd take this
with a grain of salt.
We know that that's not
how films are made.
He was a storyteller
and a mythmaker.
And you know, [CHUCKLES]
if you're a mythmaker,
what better subject to make
a myth about than yourself?
SMOODIN: It's kind of
an American story, that is,
the immigrant
who starts with nothing,
comes from nowhere,
and makes it big.
But for him, it really does
resurrect his career.
It gives him a second act.
He had been, not forgotten,
but dismissed,
and the book,
which is a bestseller,
really does make him
a figure in public life.
America's a melting pot.
Well, he's part of the melt,
and he comes in and he learns
what it is to be an American,
or at least what we think it is.
And then, he contributes
to that definition.
He narratizes it,
makes it a great story
for us to go and enjoy,
convinces us it's true.
Also, that's propaganda,
I guess.
But he has a huge legacy
about what it is
to be an American,
which is to come
from another place
and contribute
to the definition of it.
Based on what you
thought it was going to be,
or everybody
believed it was going to be,
mixed in with what it really is,
all put in there
with a little bit of ugly,
a little bit of sad,
a little bit of tragic,
a little bit of corrupt,
a little bit of whatever,
but ultimately
coming out and saying,
"It's a victory,
we're going to keep going."
The American value is,
"You can do it."
That's the American value.
If you want something,
you can go for it,
and it's not going to be easy.
That is what America should be.
SMOODIN: I guess he is
an embodiment
of the American Dream,
if we believe that exists
in the first place.
Certainly, he would have it
that was the case,
that anyone could come here
and make it big.
I think that's the mark of
his conservatism in some ways.
He does believe
you should do it on your own.
So, in that sense,
the American Dream
is perverse, reactionary,
and impossible for most people
to ever attain,
and probably was
not even true in Capra's case.
Even though
his drive was unusual,
he had to have
an awful lot of help,
a lot of luck, and worked
with all the right people.
So, it embodies
the American Dream.
McBRIDE: The person who made
Frank Capra who he was...
We wouldn't be sitting here
talking about Frank Capra
if it weren't for
a woman named Jean McDaniel,
who was an
Irish-American schoolteacher.
She was Frank Capra's champion.
The parents wanted
to take Frank
out of school in fifth grade
and make him
go to work in a brickyard
like his brother, Tony.
And she said she raised
the money from the PTA
to pay his parents what Frank
would've earned in the brickyard
if he would stay in school.
So, if it hadn't been
for Jean McDaniel,
we never would have
heard of Frank Capra.
so much complexity here
in a man's life.
There's so much complexity
in the films he makes.
So, it is very hard
to make a simple idea
about Frank.
Some people only want
to think of them as politics.
Some only want to think of them
as optimistic, sentimental pap.
Or they want to think of it
as an American immigrant story,
or definition
of American history.
And all of these things
are in there.
NEHME: I think
Frank Capra was always
much more than his reputation,
say, in the 1930s.
He's more than the maker
of It's a Wonderful Life.
And he's also more
than some of the beatings
that his reputation has taken.
What's going to remain essential
forever is the movies.
WASSON: It does not surprise me
that there is a resurgence
of interest in Capra right now
because this country
is going through
terrible, terrible turmoil.
And like any great myth,
Capra's movies, on the
spiritual-communal level,
give us a framework
to maintain that kind of faith
in a way that isn't ludicrous,
and, in fact, is life-saving.
They're reminders
that humanity can be good.
We all have to hope.
PAYNE: These movies
are so delightful,
you just have to watch them.
Why do we watch movies?
Because they're delightful.
And his movies are delightful.
I mean, forget the messages
and all that kind of stuff.
They're so fun to watch,
you just have to
watch these movies.
I don't want to live in a world
where there's no hope,
where there's no sense
that there could be a victory,
and if that's a silly idea
and I'm crazy,
that's okay with me. I'm not...
The main thing is laughing.
If you want
to ask me that question
all over again
about Frank's legacy,
I'll just say,
"Give me a laugh."
And he gave me a laugh.
If we don't do
anything else but laugh, good.
That's all I'm here for, really,
to try and just tell you that...
There's good in the world,
and that it's wonderful.
Hey, I know
the second verse there.
Do you mind
if I take the third one?