With James Stewart, Donna Reed and Lionel Barrymore. Directed by Frank Capra.
Perhaps the most beloved classic Christmas movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life” was directed by the genius Frank Capra and it starred James Stewart, Donna Reed and Lionel Barrymore. It tells the story of a young and ambitious man who marries the girl of his dreams and who risks everything to earn a good living. The business world doesn’t really suit the idealistic George Bailey, who almost loses everything because of his risky business. In a moment of despair, he decides to commit suicide on Christmas Eve, and only an angel saves his life, showing him how the world would have looked like if there hadn’t been George Bailey. The film is magical, it’s wonderful, it conveys the message that life is the most precious gift one can have and so it should be treasured, no matter how difficult is to resist to temptations, challenges or disastrous situations. The film was nominated for 5 Oscars, for Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Director, Best Sound, Recording, and Best Film Editing. It also earned a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Director (Frank Capra). Everybody should watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” on Christmas Eve, because it is really a memorable production of the Old Hollywood.
A film that impressed me very much from the beginning, “Lady for a Day” tells the story of a very poor woman who deceives her daughter living in Spain. She pretends to be a wealthy lady of New York’s high society. She usually receives correspondence form her daughter at a luxurious hotel, without ever having stayed there. One day, her daughter decides to pay her a visit with her fiancé and his father, a member of the Spanish aristocracy. The possibility of an awkward, shameful reunion with her daughter after so many years becomes a source of great pain to Apple Annie, and thus she is forced by circumstances to accept the help of an infamous gangster. He pays her to stay at the hotel and he also makes all the necessary arrangements to make her look like an aristocrat. Even if things get more and more complicated when her daughter arrives, the truth never comes to surface and Annie sees her dream come true. She didn’t embarass her daughter and she played her role with dignity and distinction. May Robson, the great actress who was in the leading role, received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress, becoming the earliest-born actress to receive an Oscar nomination. “Lady for a Day” was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Writing, Adaptation. Frank Capra did a wonderful job again, and this film, just like the rest of his productions, manages to impress the viewer with its simple, direct, and significant message: that everybody, no matter the class and the age, has the right to be happy, even if sometimes it is necessary to pretend, to lie, to create an illusion just like in fairy tales with happy endings.
Another wonderful screwball comedy – but somehow sinister, maybe because of the WWII that influenced the Noir style – “Arsenic and Old Lace” was directed by Frank Capra and it stars Cary Grant, Priscilla Lane, Raymond Massey, and Peter Lorre among the big names. If it hadn’t been a comedy, I would have considered it a film noir, because the plot involves several unsolved crimes that were made by Mortimer Brewster’s family, including his old and apparently kind aunts and his Dracula-like brother. There are many unforgettable scenes and the film obviously criticizes the American traditional family – which is depicted here as a group of maniacs -, but also the classical love story, with happy ending. Mortimer doesn’t particularly want to marry Elaine, who is his most ardent lover, and he repeatedly avoids her, even more when he finds out that he is the descendant of a criminal family. The film is much more appreciated today than it was at the time it was released, because it is an unusual comedy that combines romance with crime. It is a black comedy at superlative, and for those who like this kind of productions, “Arsenic and Old Lace” is certainly a gem of a film, that will offer you a very pleasant time.
Another screwball comedy directed by the talented Frank Capra, “You Can’t Take It with You” tells the love story of a handsome young man, a descendant of a rich and snobbish family, and a pretty girl from an eccentric, if not crazy family (which reminded me of the Adams family). In the leading roles are James Stewart, Jean Arthur – who appeared together in another very successful Capra production, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” -, and the great Lionel Barrymore. The repeated casting of the same actors in his films is the proof that Frank Capra disliked very much the idea of screen tests for different actors, and with the exception of Clark Gable in “It Happened One Night”, with whom Capra didn’t get along well, the rest of his leading stars were his favourites and close friends, and two of them were Jimmy Stewart and Jean Arthur, as they starred in many other wonderful films of his. What you will certainly like about “You Can’t Take It with You” is the tasteful humour and the complex plot, which involves clashes between families from different social environments, especially when it comes to class and lifestyle. But love is stronger than anything, and this romantic screwball comedy is the epitome of the story with a “happy ending”, typical to the films that were made in the 1930s. This superb production of the old Hollywood earned two Oscars, for Best Picture and Best Director, and it was nominated for other 5 Oscars, for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Best Writing, Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Sound, Recording, and Best Film Editing. Other Oscar rivals of the glorious year of 1938 were “Jezebel” (with Bette Davis), “The Adventures of Robin Hood” (with Olivia de Havilland and Errol Flynn), “Pygmalion” (with Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller), and “Boys Town” (with Spencer Tracy). In fact, 1938 somehow announced the great amount of good material in the motion picture industry, as the following year became the most significant moment in the history of Hollywood.
One of America’s all-time favourite films, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” tells the story of a young politician who becomes a senator in the corrupt US Senate. The film, directed by Frank Capra, is quite often seen on television on Christmastime, even if it is a critical view against the American politics and its politicians. The naive future senator is played by James Stewart (in one of his greatest screen performances), and the cast also includes the lovely Jean Arthur, in the role of a journalist who helps Jefferson Smith to win the battle against the political “dinosaurs”, and Claude Rains, in an equally memorable role of the old senator Joseph Paine. There is a remarkable and outstanding sequence in which Smith, holding in his hands the Constitution of the United States, pleads for his innocence in a fake case of corruption for which he is considered guilty in order to lose his place in the Senate. James Stewart is trully unforgettable, and so is Frank Capra’s direction. “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” was one of the top films of 1939, which was recently considered Hollywood’s greatest year. It got an Oscar for Best Writing, Original Story, and other 8 nominations, for Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Actor in a Supporting Role (twice), Best Director, Best Writing, Screenplay, Best Art Direction, Best Sound, Recording, Best Film Editing, and Best Music, Scoring. Even if it couldn’t compete at the Academy Awards with his colossal rival, “Gone With The Wind”, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” is one of the best films in the history of Hollywood, and is still watched on television and remembered with great joy by the American people and also by the moviegoers around the world.
A delightful comedy, made in the unique and charming style of Frank Capra, “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town” is one of the most successful screwball comedies of all time, along with “It Happened One Night”, “You Can’t Take It With You”, and “My Man Godfrey”. You will see the handsome Gary Cooper in the role of the eccentric, funny, but also generous Longfellow Deeds, a tube player and a poet, who suddenly becomes a very wealthy man after he inherits a fortune from his deceased uncle. “The Cinderella Man”, as he is named by the local press, gets in all kinds of trouble when he moves to the big city. There he meets the love of his life, Babe Bennett, who turns out to be a reporter – the one who actually wrote some articles about his personal life and the one who called him “The Cinderella Man”. The story is not entirely funny. It also combines drama and romance with great skill, as Capra excels at this kind of plots. One of the writers was Robert Riskin, who made the screenplay for other Capra comedies, including “Meet John Doe”, bearing a resemblance to “Mr. Deeds”, again with Gary Cooper and co-starring Barbara Stanwyck. You will also like Jean Arthur’s performance as Babe Bennett. In fact, Arthur was one of the most prolific Hollywood stars of the 1930s, who unfortunately is very little known today. She also appeared in “You Can’t Take It With You” and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”, both productions of Frank Capra and with James Stewart in the leading role. All in all, you will certainly love “Mr. Deeds”, because it is a wonderful comedy. Frank Capra won the Oscar for Best Director, and the film got other four Oscar nominations, for Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Writing, Screenplay, and Best Sound, Recording. There is something magical about all these movies made between 1934 and 1939, the period after the Great Depression and before WWII. They have a very pleasant atmosphere, they are very enjoyable, very entertaining, very elegant (lovely clothes and settings), and the actors, most of the times, have great chemistry, especially in the movies of Frank Capra, who was an expert at making good choices when it came to the cast – and crew. He usually offered the leading roles to certain actors whom he liked in particular, such as Barbara Stanwyck, Jean Arthur, Cary Grant, and James Stewart. I can only say, in the end, that I invite you to watch “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town”, and any other Frank Capra films. As a matter of fact, starting from this week I will recommend many productions of Capra, aside from one of my favourites, “The Bitter Tea of General Yen”, on which I wrote an article several weeks ago.
“The Bitter Tea of General Yen” must be, in my opinion, one of the greatest films of the early 30s. I was very much impressed by the performance of Nils Asther, a Danish actor who is very little known today and who had a remarkable career in the silent era. He appeared in several movies with such fine actresses like Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Fay Wray, and Loretta Young. In “The Bitter Tea of General Yen”, his co-star was another great actress, Barbara Stanwyck, though I have to admit that Nils Asther is the one who simply steals the scene. I can’t think of anyone else better than him in the role of General Yen. This outstanding film reminds me of one of my favourites, “The Journey”, with Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr. The story is quite similar. An officer or general, in this case, who falls desperately in love with a woman that he could never have completely, and in the end he loses everything because of this relationship. Both movies were made after homonymous novels. “The Bitter Tea of General Yen” is a book published by Grace Zaring Stone. She also wrote another great novel turned into a film, “Escape”, with Norma Shearer, Robert Taylor, and Conrad Veidt. The persona of the General in both movies is fascinating, but, of course, Nils Asther’s Chinese General is different from Conrad Veidt’s Nazi General. Still, they have the same powerful presence, which electrifies the audiences, and the same strong will in their performances. The same happens with Yul Brynner’s Major Surov in “The Journey”. If “The Bitter Tea of General Yen” had been remade, Yul Brynner would have been the perfect choice for the leading role. As for Barbara Stanwyck, she is good, but not memorable in the role of a Christian missionary who finds herself trapped in Shanghai during the Chinese Civil War from the late 20s. A better choice would have been, to me, Loretta Young, Fay Wray or Joan Crawford. I was surprised to read that “The Bitter Tea of General Yen” was a failure at the box-office, especially because of the relationship between a Chinaman and an American woman. This idea was rejected at its time by the audiences and by the film critics, but nowadays, this film is considered a superior production of the old Hollywood, and I perfectly agree with this. I liked very much this motion picture of the Columbia Studios, directed by the famous Frank Capra (best known for his screwball comedies), and I also liked the idea of turning the love scenes between the General and the American missionary into a dream. The ending is sad, just like in “The Journey”, but very significant. I recommend you to watch “The Bitter Tea of General Yen”. You will certainly like it very much.
Astăzi se împlinesc 111 ani de la nașterea marelui actor Clark Gable, unul din favoriții mei. Din acest motiv, am ales ca recomandarea săptămânii să fie unul dintre cele mai bune filme ale sale și cel pentru care a luat singurul său premiu Oscar, „S-a întâmplat într-o noapte” (It Happened One Night). Această peliculă regizată de Frank Capra este singura din istoria cinematografiei americane ce a câștigat câte un Oscar la fiecare categorie principală (cel mai bun film, cel mai bun scenariu, cel mai bun actor în rol principal, cea mai bună actriță în rol principal și cel mai bun regizor). „S-a întâmplat într-o noapte” este un reper pentru Hollywoodul de aur, iar popularitatea acestui film este la fel de mare și astăzi, la mai bine de 75 de ani de la premieră! Eroii, interpretați de șarmantul Clark Gable și de distinsa actriță de origine franceză Claudette Colbert, trăiesc o poveste de dragoste în stil modern, cu multe încurcături și răsturnări de situație. Claudette joacă rolul unei tinere provenind dintr-o familie înstărită, iar Clark este un reporter în căutare de subiecte senzaționale. Numai că în raport cu sentimentele, știrile trec pe locul doi, după cum se va vedea și pe parcursul filmului. Vă invit, așadar, să vizionați „S-a întâmplat într-o noapte” și să vă bucurați de umorul de calitate și de dinamisul în spirit hollywoodian, așa cum numai un actor de calibrul lui Clark Gable le poate mânui cu talentul unui maestru.