It's a Wonderful Life: Frank Capra I

Program Information

Series: A Moment in Time
Duration: 00:03:53
Year Produced: 2009
Description:

One of the most beloved film classics of all time was a box office failure when it was released in 1946. "It’s a Wonderful Life" was a quintessential Frank Capra.

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Transcript

Lead: One of the most beloved film classics of all time was a box office failure when it was released in 1946. "It’s a Wonderful Life" was a quintessential Frank Capra.

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: Frank Capra’s masterpiece, "It’s a Wonderful Life," is ranked high on the American Film Institute’s 100 Greatest Films of All Times. The film, however, did not have an auspicious start. It opened at the Globe Theatre in New York on December 20, 1946. Reviews were mixed and the film did not break even; the post-war audiences had grown tired of Capra's 1930's winning recipe.

Nevertheless, it was nominated for five Academy Awards.

In his early career, Capra worked as a scriptwriter for other directors before he was given his own projects in the late 1920s. He entered his golden period during the 1930s with Columbia Pictures and there directed a string of box office hits including "It Happened One Night" (1934), "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" (1936), "You Can’t Take it With You" (1938) and, of course, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (1939). The formula was the same each time. A little man stands up to corruption and greed and beats the bad guys with gentle humor, optimism and hope. Audiences beaten down by the Great Depression loved Capra’s idealism and those wonderful happy endings.

During World War II, he enlisted in the army and produced military documentaries following the theme “Why We Fight,” for which he received the Distinguished Service Medal.

After the war, Capra started his own production company, and turned an unknown 1929 short story entitled “The Greatest Gift” into a screenplay and renamed it "It’s a Wonderful Life." He hired Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed for the leading roles and released it in 1946. It was a moderately critical success but a box office flop.

Next time: A Second Life for a "Wonderful Life."

Research by Ann Johnson, at the University of Richmond, this is Dan Roberts.