Monday, October 18, 2021

Italian American Heritage Month: Frank Capra

Frank Capra

The stories he told made history. And they invariably uplifted you and made you feel better. They gave you honest characters and offered you hope. And, more often than not, they celebrated America and the traditional American ethics of hard work and neighborliness. We're talking about Frank Capra.

Sicilian-born Frank Capra immigrated to the United States at age five and settled in the Little Italy district of Los Angeles. Early in his career, Capra served as a writer on Hal Roach’s Our Gang series and for slapstick comedy director Max Sennett. In 1928, he was offered a position at Columbia Pictures, where he directed many successful films, including It Happened One Night, Lost Horizon, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Capra's It Happened One Night is one of the only films to ever sweep the Oscars in the four main categories: best actor, actress, director and film. It remains a classic.

Following the United States’ entry into World War II, the United States War Department selected Capra to create a series of documentary films titled Why We Fight. Capra had never produced a documentary, and although the United States was at war with the nation of Capra’s birth, his allegiance was never questioned. Designed to educate the American armed forces about the reasons for the nation’s involvement in the war and the necessity of combating the Axis powers, the films were also shown to the public to generate support for the war effort.

After watching Leni Riefenstahl’s Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will, which presented Hitler as the leader who would return Germany to greatness, Capra decided to “use the enemy's own films to expose their enslaving ends. Let our boys hear the Nazis and the [Japanese] shout their own claims of master-race crud, and our fighting men will know why they are in uniform.”

Why We Fight: Prelude to War won the Academy Award for best documentary film in 1942. Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) is considered among the most inspiring films in American movie history. To this day it's a perennial favorite at Christmas time.

Part of a month long series spotlighting a different accomplished Italian American every day during Italian American Heritage Month.


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