Capra: One (Many) for the Common Man, A Retrospective

Always a fan of Mr. Capra’s work, I took great pleasure in participating in the event hosted by The Lamb. While many may easily dismiss his work as corny or saccharine, I feel, many have missed the point of his work. I find that in fact, it is a balance that falls somewhere in the middle – not overly cynical or schmaltzy. For goodness sake, he seemed acutely aware of the pitfalls and despair that are a part and parcel of the human condition (his films dealt with suicide on more than one occasion – read Meet John Doe and It’s a Wonderful Life), but ultimately, he saw the human spirit as an overwhelming force of good and one that would overcome any obstacle. Remember, in his heyday, the country was in the depths of a Great Depression and struck the right, hopeful tone that I can only imagine the everyday day would appreciate and celebrate. He also had the capacity to be completely madcap and screwball (read: Arsenic and Old Lace and, to a lesser extent, You Can’t Take it With You). The following films are four of my favorite Capra films. Note – I LOVE It’s a Wonderful Life with all my heart, but intentionally left it off this list because I wanted to shine a light on some other noteworthy Capra films.


You Can’t Take it With You (1938)

lionel barrymore, james stewart, jean arthur & edward arnold - you can't take it with you 1938

A perfect combination of that sentimental feeling and zany comedy I just mentioned above. Jean Arthur is a member of an eccentric/free-spirited/bohemian family led by Lionel Barrymore. She falls in love with the “boss’ son,” in the form of one Jimmy (not James) Stewart. ILC’s take: ♥♥♥♥♥ (outta 5)


Meet John Doe (1941)

For me this film strikes a decidedly dark tone but again from the darkness there is a beacon of light, which has been fashioned by Capra as his vision of the unrivaled American spirit. Barbara Stanwyck stars as a reporter on her way out who finds a lifeline through a story of her own creation – because of the state of the world, a dispirited “everyman” (Gary Cooper) has decided to publicly end his life.


The overtly jingoistic message may not resonate with contemporary audiences, but stellar performances by a world-weary Cooper and a determined Stanwyck make this one worth the watch. (Available in the public domain) ILC’s take: ♥♥♥♥


Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

with Boris Karloff and Cary Grant,  Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

A pure gem and an all-time personal favorite. The perfect Halloween film with so much going on that you may wonder who’s coming and who’s going – but in the end, it is well worth the ride. Cary Grant shows a true mastery of the physical comedy genre with a great supporting cast, including wonderful turns by Raymond Massey and Peter Lorre. ILC’s take: ♥♥♥♥♥


Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

Hollywood's Greatest Year: The Best Picture Nominees of 1939

Capra’s entry into the “Golden Year of Hollywood,” 1939. An idealistic young politician (Jimmy Stewart) arrives in town and soon realizes that the inner workings of the political system are not as principled and virtuous as he thought. I know, SHOCKER. This makes my list principally became I love political theater ILC’s take: ♥♥♥♥


So, that’s my take; let me know what you think in the comments below.


  1. Oh I so want to see Mr. Smith Goes to Washington! Ah well, hopefully I get to see more classics next year. Merry Christmas Iba! 😀
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  2. Great, informative piece. I am not one for classic films too much, so I didn’t realize that Mr. Smith Goes to Washington was Capra’s work as well. Thanks for the education.
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