Harry: If I understood your comment correctly about Suspicion, I’ve always felt that way. I don’t know how it’s a ‘happy’ ending ‘cause it’s pretty ambiguous when you think about it.
Like I said, I see where you are coming from. For me the ending to IAWL feels fine. except for the time frame which I’m not sure about, i think it’s been established that George has done so much for the town over the years that any one of them would give up a couple of bucks for him. I actually could see this same thing happening today. It’s not like they hit the lottery, Mary just asks for a couple of bucks from those George has helped. More importantly, George has already had his epiphany, which is the true ending of the story. The rest is more about Mary and the town. If you accept that a man can realize his worth through a vision, dream, whatever, it shouldn’t be so hard to accept that a citizen who is asked for 3 or 4 bucks from Mary Bailey wouldn’t gladly cough it up. The final celebration can also be looked at as a positive example of the crowd mentality. Once the ball gets rolling, people want to be a part of something. Anyway, it works for me. I think that particular film is one of the most underrated of all time, despite it’s popularity.
Harry Long, maybe you have a point about John Doe. It’s been a while, but I don’t remember being very satisfied with the ending. But as for Mr. Smith and It’s a Wonderful Life, the endings don’t feel “tacked-on” or “dropped in from another universe from the rest of the movie.”
In the case of IAWL, the ending is predictable more than anything else. The movie’s clearly modeled on A Christmas Carol, so how could it end any other way? Do you find Scrooge’s conversion in A Christmas Carol “tacked on”? The entire movie is about what he’s meant to the town and the impact he’s had on people’s lives, so the ending seems totally in keeping with the main theme.
The ending is probably more surprising in Mr. Smith, but I don’t see the sudden change of heart by Senator Paine to be “dropped in from another universe.” He’s been set up throughout the movie as the good bad guy (the fat cat media baron Taylor is the bad bad guy). Paine was Smith’s father’s closest friend and Smith is reminding him of the old days when he used to be an ethical person. So the person who’s redeemed at the end is the Darth Vader, not the Emperor. Plus, as I say, it’s not like the system ends up working in the end. It’s not like the public and the rest of the senate are so inspired by Mr. Smith that they rise up and drive all the conspirators out of town and put an end to corruption for good (that would have seemed “dropped in from another universe”). At the end, Mr. Smith has achieved a small personal victory but there hasn’t been any fundamental change.
The thing about his “happy endings,” that Mathias pointed out, is that only individuals achieve a modicum of happiness. Nothing larger changes. Evil is rarely punished. The media baron in Mr. Smith, DB Norton in John Doe, Mr. Potter in IAWL, all are left just as rich and powerful, if not more so, then when the movie started (although Norton’s days may be numbered in Doe depending on how you look at it). And I have no problem with the IAWL ending. I think the movie spends enough time setting up the fact that everybody depends on George that its believable when he falls. And even more believable when they help him at the end. Plus its something I’m willing to forgive a little, I’m not one who subscribes to absolute realism, especially if the movie has a larger point like all of Capra’s films do.
Also, this made me LOL: “That’s partly why, the other reason is that his work is stylistically indiscernible from the other “studio” director’s of the time. I subscribe to the auteur theory of the french new wave and therefore find Capra’s work unimaginative, uninspired, etc, etc…”
Its already been picked apart by others, but many of the French New Wave directors love Capra, his work is clearly different from everybody else making movies at the time, and even though he didn’t write his films, if you don’t see common themes reflective of an auteur then you just simply haven’t seen his movies.
I was just saying my opinion on Capra. I’m not ignorant on cinema, I’m just particular. How dare any of you say that I need to re-learn anything. This is why art films have such a pretentious vibe, any form of dissidence and all of you hop all over it and basically say I need to change my outlook or I’m an idiot. I have a feature length film that I am directing in pre-production (yes, I have investors), what are any of you doing? Wishing you could make a film? What do you know about filmmaking? I thought this was a place for intelligent discussions on film with people who have a discerning palette, I guess not.
“This is why art films have such a pretentious vibe”
Do you mean art film lovers? I’m just trying to make sense out of how you think Capra is a sentimental hack with no style and yet then you refer to his films as “art films.”
Perhaps some of us were a bit harsh but you weren’t exactly polite yourself. If you had said I don’t particularly care for Capra and actually feel his films are a bit overly sentimental you might have still gotten some strong reactions but your indignation would seem more just. To jump in spouting that as respected a filmmaker as Capra is the same as Bay is clearly going to come across as a provocation whether you mean it to be or not. Consider us provoked. We’re all pretty particular and some of us are particular about Capra. There are many filmmakers who are members here and I’m sure your input on a lot of these discussions would be valuable. I’m not a filmmaker but I have strong opinions on films and don’t believe experience making them lends any greater credibility to evaluating them. We can debate that later but, in any case I hope you don’t allow your experience with this one thread to mar your opinion of the site as a whole.
Calling Capra overly sentimental indicates to me an inability to delve beyond the surface of a work. Without that skill, how can someone critique film?
Point taken. I was a little harsh on Capra from the beginning, I tend to do that towards directors I dislike. I was wrong to compare Capra to Bay, a more appropriate comparison would be to Ron Howard. Both of their catalogs, to me, are very similar. Cookie cutter visual style, over sentimental (a fairly over used argument), they both tend to fumble the third act, and both shy away from a more gritty view on reality. Capra was prone to “Hollywood” endings. I cannot stand any of those aspects of his filmmaking, directors like Capra, McCarey, Howard and yes even Bay and Verbinsky make me ashamed to be American. I know some directors of the French New Wave liked Capra, that doesn’t mean I have to.
To answer the other half of your retort, I did mean “art film lovers”. However, why do art film lovers like Capra so much? I don’t get it, and because of that I would rather not see him in the Criterion collection. Criterion implies a certain amount of rarity and prestige (Bay films excluded) that I don’t think Capra is deserving of, but that’s my opinion. I don’t find him very technical, but I’m digressing again. My original argument in comparing Bay to Capra was more in that vein, I’m completely aware that their work is very different, and I can even admit that Capra is leaps and bounds better than most contemporary filmmakers.
I’m glad to see the comparison to Bay revoked, but the comparison to Howard is pretty inappropriate. For one thing, Capra more or less invented screwball comedy. Howard’s contribution to film can’t even begin to compare.
As for : “over sentimental” “fumble[s] the third act” and shies “away from a more gritty view on reality.” A strong case has been made by a number of different posters over the course of this thread that each of these complaints is largely groundless.
How do you feel about Cassavetes? I will admit tat I probably saw Capra in much the way you do years ago and then reading Ray Carney’s brilliant comparison of these two seemingly different filmmakers made me see things differently. I obviously see Capra and MCCarey very differently than you but I appreciate your opinion and even though I think Howard is nothing like them at least you rescinded the Bay comment.
Mike Spence: ‘How do you feel about Cassavetes? I will admit tat I probably saw Capra in much the way you do years ago and then reading Ray Carney’s brilliant comparison of these two seemingly different filmmakers made me see things differently.’
Is there anywhere I can read this piece online by any chance?
John or Nick Cassavetes? I haven’t seen any of John’s work and have unfortunately been subjected to too much of Nick’s work by previous girlfriends. I will look into the Ray Carney stuff, is it in a specific book or anything? If so many people like Capra, maybe I’m over looking something. In terms of filmmaking, I’m still relatively young, I admit I still have a lot to learn, however I stand by the Howard comparison for my reasons mentioned above, but I’m also willing to change it if I feel wrong about it at some point in the future.
If all of you guys like Capra, that’s cool with me, I just dislike his work (for the most part, I think Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is great). As to Mathias, I don’t care if he invented the “screw-ball” comedy genre, no offense, but that and “Buddy” films are my two least favorite genres.
Carney’s website has a bunch of excerpts from his books on Capra but I believe the comparison was from one of his Cassavetes books. I will keep looking but I’m not sure exactly where to find it offhand.
For Carney on Capra
>>I mean, you clearly can’t see the darkness in Capra’s films, which he overcomes, and despise his genuine faith in and love for man. What kind of a person are you?<<
Are you talkin’ to me?
I’ll respond anyway & respond to a few others here at the same time.
It seems less in Capra’s films that his protagonists overcome the darkness than suddenly – presto! -it is taken away from them. Smith & Doe, for instance are completely destroyed but suddenly – out of the blue – the onus is removed & the movie can promptly go to Fade Out The End… It’s entirely too manufactured for my taste. Too pat. If the film that preceded those endings were a lot more shallow, the endings would work fine. But they’re not & that’s why the endings strike me as Deus ex Machina without the Deus.
I’ll go further.
The endings to SMITH & LIFE, especially, are an insult to the films they’re tacked on to.
Thanks for the link, Mike. :)
You read Carney too Mike? I actually studied under him at Boston University. Really nice guy who changed the way I thought about movies. Although I loved Capra before reading him, he certainly added to it and caused me to look at things in a new way.
Tom, your thoughts are well-put. I disagree with you, but that’s cool. We can agree to disagree. I think we simply have different reasons for watching movies. Apologies if our reactions came off as hostile. I just really hate Michael Bay (and Ron Howard, but I digress) and really love Capra. Also, you may have misunderstood. I wasn’t asking for Capra to get Criterions (although I would be for that), I was simply asking to have a director page and his films added to the site, because they are missing as of now. I would recommend reading Carney if you get a chance although at first you will probably disagree with a lot of what he has to say, as I did. But you’ve done more than most on this site in entering into an honest discussion rather than just embroiling everybody in a flame war that never ends, so I can respect that.
Thank you for the link, having now read it, I think I will revisit select Capra films. Any suggestions?
Thank you. I really wasn’t trying to mess up your forum with my disagreements. People take it very personally when you insult an artist they like, however, that was not my intent. I suppose I misinterpreted your original post (I’m so green to this website and I didn’t know there are director’s pages, that makes me love this place even more).
Thank you, and I honestly look forward to disagreeing with you and most everyone else even more, how else will I grow if all I talk to are people who agree with me?
I recommend you try to see some of the less omnipresent Capra films—State of the Union, The Bitter Tea of General Yen—and see It Happened One Night if you haven’t already.
>>I think I will revisit select Capra films. Any suggestions?<<
IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, LADY FOR A DAY and LOST HORIZON.
STATE OF THE UNION is worth checking out, too.
>>The Bitter Tea of General Yen<<
Ooh, yes. I was forgetting about that one.
I’m kind of wondering when The Auteurs will add a page for French female auteur Anne Fontaine. I submitted a request a really long time ago, and nada. I’m surprised Frank Capra hasn’t been added yet either. :( Hopefully, that will change soon.
By the way, Stella Dallas was a great film from 1937 (not Capra). However, in 1932 he directed a Stella Dallasesque film called Forbidden with Barbara Stanwyck and everything!! It was so much better, but this film is pretty much sadly forgotten. Very terrible thing, because Capra did know how to direct. Although, I have heard he didn’t always give due credit to his writers. Still, give Capra some credit and add him to the database. He’s much better than Michael Bay (isn’t most everyone though?).
This guy is a major figure in movie history. He deserves his own page.It Happened One Night (1934) (very much his own project, finding the source material, bringing it to the studio and collaborting on the screenplay) is probably the most influential romantic comedy of the sound era and set the template for the genre.
(It also crippled the men’s undershirt market)
my other Capra faves:Broadway Bill (1934) w/ Warner Baxter and Myrna LoyThe Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933) w/ Barbara StanwyckPlatinum Blonde (1931) w/ Jean HarlowThe Miracle Woman (1931) w/ Barbara Stanwyck
mmm who doesn’t love some good Capra-corn every now and then?
I’m sorry I’m jumping in late on this Thread but I wanted to say a few words about Capra’s endings — without taking sides on whether he deserves to be an auteur.com auteur.
For one, most of the endings cited above rfom Capra movies simply involve a classic deus ex machina. Most literary works and motion pictures use them. How else are you going to resolve all the issues, crises. reversals, and climaxes that dramas (and comedies) are heir to?
Well, I suppose you could end them in medias res (to use another Greek term) or freeze frame them in the midst of an action (The 400 Blows). Some films use the deus ex machina more subtly than others but even films that appear to be nontraditional, such as Adaptation, have an alligator ex machina that saves the day just as our hero is about to be shot dead.
When I interviewed Antonioni years ago, he criticized Hitchcock: “Hitchcock’s films are completely false, especially the endings. Life is inconclusive.” And maybe it is, but films usually aren’t. Antonioni also told me that Anton Chekhov once said, “Give me new endings and I will reinvent literature!” Antonioni certainly did his part to reinvent cinema with “new” endings, but most of the auteurs of the classical Hollywood cinema, as well as their European counterparts stuck with the tried and true. Let’s try to understand Capra in his historical context, and I don’t just mean the fact that he worked for Harry Cohn at Columbia, who judged movies on the basis of whether his ass wigfled in his seat as he watched the preview.
Finally, one of my mentors at UCLA was Howard Suber, who recently published a book called The Power of Film. In it, he studies 64 classic U.S. movies, including many contemporary ones and points out one feature that they all have in common: NONE of them has a “happy” ending, even the comedies. According to Suber, they all have “just” endings.
Very well put Dr.
Harry said, “It seems less in Capra’s films that his protagonists overcome the darkness than suddenly – presto! -it is taken away from them. Smith & Doe, for instance are completely destroyed but suddenly – out of the blue – the onus is removed & the movie can promptly go to Fade Out The End… It’s entirely too manufactured for my taste. Too pat. If the film that preceded those endings were a lot more shallow, the endings would work fine. But they’re not & that’s why the endings strike me as Deus ex Machina without the Deus.
I’ll go further.
The endings to SMITH & LIFE, especially, are an insult to the films they’re tacked on to.”
Mathias and Mike Spence actually respond fairly well to the comment above, but since Harry wrote this after their comments, I assume Harry’s not convinced. So I want to add my two cents, specifically to Smith and Life. (I can barely remember Doe.)
Mathias said, “He’s (Sen Paine) been set up throughout the movie as the good bad guy (the fat cat media baron Taylor is the bad bad guy). Paine was Smith’s father’s closest friend and Smith is reminding him of the old days when he used to be an ethical person.” Not only was Paine ethical, but he and Jefferson Smith’s father were individuals who fought for “lost causes—-because they were the only ones worth fighting for.” That’s basically what Jefferson Smith is doing in the Senate when he takes on the Taylor Machine. Moreover, Paine might see Smith as not only a younger version of himself, but a kind of nephew, since he’s the son of his close friend. There’s a scene tries to persuade Taylor to lay off Smith, but Taylor quickly quashes that idea and threatens Paine. It shows that Paine is genuinely fond and concerned with Smith and even when Paine relents to Taylor, he asks Taylor to go easy on Smith.
When the Taylor Machine begins crushing Smith—Paine has to watch this happening. The final scene with all the baskets of letters asking Smith to end the filibuster—letters manufactured by the Taylor Machine—is devastingly painful to watch for Paine and for the viewers. When Smith rhetorically asks, “You think I’m licked.” My immediate response was “Uh, yeah. I think you are.” So I was surprised and moved when he responds forcefully, “Well, I’m not licked…” Given Paine previous history as the former Silver Fox, crusader of Lost Causes and his ties with Smith, it is emotionally believable that he cracks. Without this backstory, Paine’s surrender wouldn’t be believable, but under the circumstances, it feels authentic—-certainly not just “tacked on” or “pat.”
What’s also makes the end believable is Stewart’s totally sincere and genuine performance as an idealist. The film doesn’t work without this (maybe one of the reasons Meet John Doe didn’t work for me, as I didn’t care for Cooper’s performance.) This can’t be overstated. You really believe that Smith has strong convictions in these ideals. So when he filibusters the Senate and withstands the Taylor onslaught, you believe this because you believe Smith is really that convicted. I think this quality of sincerity and earnestness in these films is what makes Capra special. Can you think of another filmmaker that make films with these themes as effectively as Capra?
As for the ending of life, Mike touched upon how George did so much for the town. Really though, that description doesn’t do George’s sacrifice for the town justice. On numerous occasions, George has to defer and ultimately sacrifice his dreams for the town’s well-being. (There’s a really touching detail that we see in George’s house, namely the model of a bridge that George destroys in frustration. The model indicates that George still dreams of building things.) Probably the most dramatic is when there’s a bank run and Mr. Potter is buying up all the loans. George and Mary are on their way to their Honeymoon, but he insists on going to the building-and-loan despite Mary’s protests. There he convinces the people to take a little less than what they have in the bulding-and-loan, and eventually George and Mary have to use their own money when the B&L run out of money. If any of us had been a member of the town, I’m sure we’d give money to George when he needed it. I disagree slightly with Mike when he says that George didn’t “win the lottery.” Sam (hee-haw) Wainwright actually sends a check for several thousand dollars. So when Harry makes a toast, “To my big brother George—the richest man in Bedford Falls,” that could factually correct. I’m not sure that Sam giving that much is so convincing, but the film does sufficiently establish the entire town coming out and supporting George in the way that it did.
One last thing. People describe these films as corny and sentimental, and I think that diminishes a realism in these films. One of the Capra’s strengths, imo, is his understanding of how real people behave. The timeless quality of these films stems largely from this ability. Yes, there are a few dated qualities (e.g. the sense of humor of the characters), but there also a very contemporary feel to these films. Edward Arnold as Taylor is a character that I think modern audiences would find very familiar and formidable. (Imo, he’s a terrific and underrated screen villain.) In addition, the depiction of Washington politics doesn’t feel dated at all.
This sense of realistic characterizations of the world and people in them give his films weight. Add Capra’s sincere convictions in the ideals he held and you have a powerful combination that I don’t think you find in many (any?) other American films.