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FRANK CAPRA by Joseph McBride

FRANK CAPRA

The Catastrophe of Success

By Joseph McBride

Pub Date: April 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-671-73494-6
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

 Huge, richly researched, absorbing revisionist biography of the filmmaker renowned for standing up for ``the little man''; by the author of studies of Orson Welles, Howard Hawks, John Ford, and others. In 1981, McBride was asked to help prepare an homage to Capra (1897-1991) for the National Film Institute's Life Achievement award. In researching Capra, McBride discovered that the director's well-received autobiography, The Name Above the Title (1971), was a self-aggrandizing fairy tale. Although such 30's and 40's films as It Happened One Night, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and It's A Wonderful Life seemingly displayed Capra as a giant talent supporting the cause of ``the little man,'' Capra was actually an insecure, anti-New Deal reactionary who always voted for the money and, as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for several years running, always stood up for the studios rather than the newly formed talent guilds and unions. In his autobiography, McBride says, Capra reinvented his career and papered over the help he had from his excellent cameraman, Joseph Walker, who gave sculptural depth and richness to all his major films, and from writers Jo Swerling, Sidney Buchman, and Robert Riskin, who wrote all ``the little man's'' speeches, devised Capra's stories, and gave edge and shape to his characters. Capra apparently also misrepresented his ties with Columbia Pictures head Harry Cohn, who had (and exercised) right of final cut on all Capra pictures--although Capra trumpeted himself as a ``one man, one picture'' auteur. McBride thinks that Capra's need to appropriate credit belonging to others stemmed from insecurity about the nature of his own abilities and from a fear of success common to first-generation professionals, who often think themselves imposters. Looking at some of his pictures late in life, Capra mused, ``...they don't seem to be mine. It's difficult for me to understand.'' Superb in every way. (Sixteen pages of b&w photographs--not seen.)