Biography of Frank Capra (1897-1991)

Director of North American cinema, born in Palermo (Italy) on May 18, 1897, and died in Hollywood on September 3, 1991.


With just a few years, his family emigrated to the United States, specifically Los Angeles, city which would have to work to go forward. He worked various trades that not only brought money home, but also enabled him to afford craft studios and, later, the engineer, who performed at the California Institute of Technology.

Its entrance and ascent in the world of cinema occurred very soon. During the 1920s he took his first steps as a writer of "gags" for Mack Sennett and could shortly after directing two films that were well received, was man's Canyon (1926), his first pants (1927). Signed by Columbia, which in those years was a modest study, Capra began an upstroke, always addressing hot topics with skill, allowing you to connect with the situation of a society that was going to go through moments of great difficulty.

At the beginning of the great depression, Capra was considered the representative par excellence of a new morality, a new way of understanding life, which embodied in the film attempts to President Roosevelt by return to United States "Joie de vivre" and faith in the virtues of work, sincerity and innocence. Italian American director always showed a great ability to capture popular behaviors, the casticismos, and that philosophy of man of the people, who for some years was formed in an attempt to be brand of certain American society.

The triumph came with happened one night, a delicious and smart comedy that it would put you in the path of the Oscar, distancing himself from the environments of high society that had previously gone.

Lost horizons develops an abstract fable, that seems to move away from their usual way of making films, but that basically is nothing more than a translation, that Yes, a little more philosophical, his way of understanding life and applied to serve the aforementioned Roosevelt policy. Based on a novel by James Hilton, it was a work that provided an excellent opportunity in the hands of a good writer, to express belief in the possibility of existence of a more happy and just world. The utopian realm of Shangri-La-, located in valleys lost in the Himalayas, in a monastery of foreign lamas, was as the embodiment of an ideal that is known in history as the 'New Deal'. However, film suffered many ups and downs and was more estimable from a theoretical perspective that as fully achieved cinematographic work.

In 1938 however, Capra returned to retrieve the pulse with the adaptation of a play as you want. His vision of film director allowed him to delve into the psychology of the characters and their ideologies. An individual who lives only for hoarding riches is opposed to a picturesque family, which at the bottom is more natural and human than their behavior could make believe. At the end the egoist will end up being captured by family that will finally interpret musical pieces and playing the harmonica.

Knight without sword raises a broader scenario. It is not show to the small, everyday "American hero" in the big city, but to capture the world of politics of national dimensions that is brewing in the own capital of the State, in Washington. There will be a type, head of Boy Scouts and owner of a pet shop, which is elected to the Senate, precisely because of his naivety and natural goodness.

To some extent this treatment was a qualitative leap forward, because although Capra had always said to be interested in the needy, women and, in short, ordinary people, its specific political position was often tinged with a certain ambiguity. Beliefs, there is no denying it, they were pretty simplistic and not very deep, but the image which was to the United States as a country where small groups helped each other was attractive and rewarding.

But all that idealism, that gift to people, went to dar's face to face with a story that walked in other directions, as the second world war was already calling at the gates and that was something that Capra accused. Thus, in 1941 appears Juan nobody. On this occasion the man in the street, the current individual, is manipulated by political and economic interests. To realizing this, the protagonist calls nothing less than suicidal. The result did not convince almost anyone.

After this work Capra went on to make documentaries on propaganda of war (especially the series why we fight?), focusing on the aviation world - but not only - and thus contributing to the global conflict.

An event of this nature does not let you unharmed and return to normal life, made one of his best-known works how beautiful it is to live!, where suicide returns to flutter by the argument. And even divine intervention is needed. It was a demonstration of the inclination of the director by a deep, endearing America, whose supposed values were in a trance of disappearance or change.

Towards the end of the 1940s the company Capra was acquired by Paramount and since then his work was subjected to strong obstacles: went on to develop a work of director of weak romantic comedies. What would lead him to leave work for a period of eight years.

With the settlement of color and cinemascope returned to its activity. Emphasizes the realization of a gangster for a miracle, one of his last works recovered where the pulse of his old productions.

Capra was one of the filmmakers who lived changes and technical changes in the film which proved decisive for their development as an industry, means of communication and also art: the transition from mute to the sound, the color. Circumstances which made wobble to many professionals who had acquired even a solid reputation. It was not the case and knew how to exit with good of the difficulties that this hauling, got prestige and fame.

But what matters in this author is its ability to develop an own style, far from stridency and will-o'-the-WISPs. The Capra film flows naturally, we would say that almost in a daily way, ensuring that their characters are beings locatable, understandable. It is not safe to get him always. It had on it - something that has not been, enough outstanding - a surreal touch that served him to justify the actions of many of its protagonists. It is the apparent contradiction that the individual's almost vulgar clothes, shy, when not outlandish attitudes, could prevail in a hard world, where the bad guys had just almost falling knees, captured by the love and goodness of his heroes.

The Capra film entertained and made laugh, but who came out to see his films, or better those to those who were directed, are paddled then on a hard life, poverty and difficulties where the Angels were not to save or advise anyone. Those were times hard, violent, against which the director struggled, plunging into a universe that, clad in everyday life, in the end presented a few beings that were fictitious.

Capra characters have a lot of archetypes. On the one hand they are heroes of survival, with ability to find happiness in the most distressing situations - and also absurd, artificially isolated from the reality-; on the other hand, it is the full character, willing to sacrifice his life as an example for broken promises.

Actually the Capra film presents equal parts world as it is and how you would like the Director to be. No waiver to a Christian interpretation of life in which the miracle is something that exists in the background. Largely Capra refused to accept the reality as it was and believed that traditional values were sufficient to achieve the happiness of the people and the society.


Short films: 1922: The ballad of fultah fisher's boarding house. 1964: Reaching for the stars.

War documentaries: 1942: Prelude to war; The nazis strike (code).1943: Divide and conqueror (code); Tunisian victory (doc.); The battle of Britain (code); Know your ally: Britain (code).1944: The battle of Russia (code); The black soldier (code); The battle of China (code).1945: Know your enemy: Japan (code); Know your enemy: Germany (code); Two down and one to go.

Feature films: 1926: A sportman of occasion; The barrel man. 1927: His first pants; The three Popes. 1928: How cut ham; Minnie Theatre; Abandoned; The way of the strong; Submarine; Say it with sables; The power of a tear. 1929: The next generation; Eagles; The ring that kills. 1930: Light women; It passes the sky. 1931: The Miracle woman; Airship; The golden cage; Forbidden love. 1932: The madness of the dollar; The bitterness of the general Yen. 1933: Lady for a day. 1934: Happened one night; Strictly confidential. 1936: The secret of life. 1937: Lost horizons. 1938: You live as you want. 1939: Knight without sword. 1940: Juan nobody. 1944: Arsenic out of compassion. 1946: how beautiful is to live! 1948: State of the Union. 1950: luck did. 1951: Here comes the groom. 1959: Millionaire's illusions. 1961: A gangster for a miracle.

Other works as a script writer and screenwriter:

Short and medium-length films: 1924: the good Hunter. 1925: The marriage circus; Plain Clothes; Breaking the ice; Super-hooper-dyne lizzies; Good morning, nurse; Cupid completo boots; Where are we going to stop?; Your lucky star. 1926: Saturday afternoon; Fiddlesticjs; His first flame; Man of arms. 1928: The swin princess; Hubby completo week and trip; The burglar.

Feature films: 1952: Caravan of women.


CAPRA, Frank: The name above the title. An autobiography. New York. Da Capo Press. 1997.

CARNEY, Raymond: American vision. The films of Frank Capra. Cambridge. University Press. 1986.

CIEUTAT, Michel: Frank Capra. Paris. Rivages. 1988.

MALAND, Charles J.: Frank Capra. Boston. Twayne Publishers. 1980.

McBRIDE, Joseph: Frank Capra. The catastrophe of success. London-Boston. Faber and Faber. 1992.

VIVIANI, Christian: Frank Capra. Paris. Editions des quatre-vents. 1988.

WILLIS, Donald C.: Frank Capra. Madrid. Editions JC. 1988.

WOLFE, Charles: Frank Capra, a guide to references and resources. Boston. G.K. Hall & Co., 1987.

E García/S. Sánchez