Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Frank Capra, "Mr. Deeds," and the American Dream

Paper Abstract:

Frank Capra is the embodiment of the American Dream. He moved to America from Sicily as a young boy, and his early life was plagued by constant financial difficulties. It is no coincidence, then, that Capra’s films are as American as, well, apple pie. He worked his way up from nothing to attain success. He was grateful for the opportunities that America provided him, and he never took his fame and fortune for granted. In fact, his poor upbringing caused him to suffer from insecurities throughout his life. It was his firsthand experience with these issues that made him the spokesperson of Americana. He had empathy and compassion for his characters, and that is why his films are some of cinema’s most beloved classics. His pursuit and fulfillment of the American Dream also made him especially suitable for the romantic comedy genre, which he essentially invented. Mr. Deeds Goes To Town is the perfect reflection of Capra’s life and his trademark social consciousness and commentary.

Paper Excerpts:

While Capra had made romantic comedies before Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, it marked a break from his previous work in its explicit social commentary. “Beginning with Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, my films had to say something” (Capra 185). A staunch Republican, Capra “felt compelled to be more American than the Americans…Though he did not particularly enjoy his money or the possessions it could buy him, he cherished it as his protection against his humiliating immigrant past” (McBride 238). He astutely realized that Depression-era audiences sought reassurance and comfort. “It was despite his political views, not because of them, that Capra was capable of responding emotionally to the plight of the poor and unemployed in Mr. Deeds…” (McBride 339). Clearly, Capra understood the story because of his background, and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town fiercely celebrates the human spirit’s ability to overcome adversity.

All in all, Frank Capra has been praised and criticized for his sentimentality. He responded to the world as he saw it: “That was my needed job: Lift the human spirit” (Capra 203). He developed compassion and conviction as a result of his background, contrary to what his detractors say: “Capra truly wants to be generous – but, finally, he is too unadventurous, too fearful and self-protecting, to be good at it” (Harvey 159). He deserves more credit. Mr. Deeds Goes to Town works on a deeper level because of his personal connection with the story and his striking similarity to Longfellow Deeds. In his autobiography, he somberly reflects, “There is no greater punishment for a creative spirit than to wake up each morning knowing he is unneeded, unwanted, and unnecessary” (Capra 494). Truly, Frank Capra will never be any of those things.

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