The man behind such cinematic landmarks as It Happened
One Night and It's a WonderfulLife is profiled in upcoming
American Movie Classics documentary Frank Capra'sAmerican Dream.
Though best known for the latter Christmas perennial,
narrators explain that much of the time, it wasn't a wonderful life for the director,
but an ambivalent one. Actually, the man so adept at finding the rainbow at the end of
many stormy days in his films was so beset by demons at times that after his crowning
achievement -- winning best picture, actor and director for It Happened One Night
-- Capra suffered a breakdown and was institutionalized for a time.
But the 90-minute history doesn't dwell a lot on
Capra's personal life. Indeed, it doesn't detail his feud with Harry Cohn, head
of Columbia, a studio built on the backs of Capra films. Instead, the producers --
Capra's sons, Frank and Tom -- focus on his work and its place in contemporary
society. They've collected an impressive array of talking heads to wax poetic on
their father's cinematic contributions, including directors Martin Scorsese, Oliver
Stone and Robert Altman and actors Angela Lansbury and Richard Dreyfuss.
They expound on the reasons why some films shone in their
time and others took years to be recognized as classics. One, Lost Horizon, was a
bust because Capra was trying to win an Oscar, while It Happened One Night
triumphed because he returned to a focus on good filmmaking.
Theatricals were not Capra's only medium: He
volunteered to serve his adopted country during World War II, and he produced propaganda
and training films. That earned him an Order of the British Empire, presented personally
by Winston Churchill. Despite that sign of patriotism, his loyalty was investigated in the
1950s by the House Un-American Activities Committee, in part because of such social
criticism as Mr. Smith Goes toWashington.
Once his time passed, Capra became a raconteur of sorts,
spinning great yarns as a guest on talk shows, but none of that footage is included. His
sons keep the lens on his cinematic work.
Frank Capra's American Dream, hosted by director
Ron Howard, debuts on AMC April 21 at 10 p.m. EST, to be followed by You Can't
Take It with You, which garnered Capra his third directing Oscar.