Film History Term Paper

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¶ … exception, most of Director Frank Capra's greatest movies take place during the depression, 1929-1941, or shortly after. His films are unique in that they are some of the first to display a faith in American opportunity and values in the context of institutional reform. Author Annalle Newitz aptly articulates Capra's contribution to films with the following quote: The kind of 'socially conscious' movie we associate with Frank Capra's name does not tend to get made in or outside Hollywood at this point in history. Movies that critics and audiences of the 1990s dub 'socially conscious' do not offer portraits of American communities in the process of coming together; more often than not, American communities in contemporary popular movies are falling apart or are bound together by morally repugnant ideals and practices."

This discussion explores five Capra files in chronological order, IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934), MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN (1936), MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (1939), MEET JOHN DOE (1941), AND IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946) as summarized by author Ray Carney in his book American Vision: The Films of Frank Capra to illustrate his film's inclusion of characters that display the courage to act on their own conviction and to sway out of control groups to act in the interest of common good.

In IT HAPPENED ON NIGHT, the films character are fleeing from roles imposed upon them by others, Ellie from her father's authority and Peter from social, political and institutional special-interest group influences that he has been exposed to as a reporter....

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In their quest for freedom, evil materializes as cynicism and mistrust and in the status barriers that divide people. However, the film shows that it takes only an extended one-on-one encounter for good to prevail.
MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN portrays Longfellow Deeds as a personification of small-town virtue. After inheriting $20 million from a distant relative, Deeds moves from Mandrake Falls, Vermont to a mansion in New York where he is victim not only to bureaucratic pressures and social scrutiny, but is actually threatened with being made over into someone else. Under attack by shyster lawyers with motives to steal his fortune, Deeds successfully defends himself in court so that he will be declared sane enough to distribute millions of dollars to destitute farmers. Carney's interpretation of Capra's motivation for this work is that given the fundamental state of affairs, the marginality, and alienation of individual in a society that he is unable imaginatively to leave, he must therefore shape some sort of public expressive performance.

The film MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON contrasts two politicians, Carey and Smith. On one hand, Carey is a bureaucratic functionary without any real conviction for one side of a political issue or the other, while Smith has great morals and fervor for what he supports. The intensity of Smith's conviction becomes even more apparent in his drafting and presentation of a bill…

Sources Used in Documents:

Newitz, Annalee, "It's Fun...But It Takes Courage: Remembering Frank Capra's America," Bad Subjects, Issue #11, January/February 1994, p. 13.

Ray Carney, American Vision: The Films of Frank Capra (Hanover, N.H. University Press of New England, 1996), 88 pp. 12-500.

Frank Capra, accessed at http://members.aol.com/MG4273/capra.htm. On November 23, 2002.


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