Today is the 124 anniversary of the birth of Frank Capra and, in honor of this day, here’s a scene from one of my favorite films of all time, 1946’s It’s A Wonderful Life. In this wonderfully acted and directed scene, George Bailey tells off Mr. Potter, for the first but certainly not the last time:
Tonight, NBC will be airing It’s A Wonderful Life.
Watching It’s A Wonderful Life on Christmas Eve is a tradition for many people. It definitely is for me and my family. I’ve watched It’s A Wonderful Life so many times that I’ve practically got the entire movie memorized. It’s not only my favorite Christmas movie but also one of my favorite movies of all time.
Everyone knows, of course, that It’s A Wonderful Life is a film about a man named George (played by Jimmy Stewart) who gets a chance to see what the world would be like without him. What I think is often overlooked is that it’s also a powerful and poignant love story and that the scenes between George and Mary (Donna Reed) are some of the most intensely romantic ever filmed.
In the scene below, George and Mary get a phone call from Mary’s ex, Sam Wainwright. Sam has a business opportunity but George has more on his mind than staying in Bedford Falls and making money. This scene, which begins with Mary upset and George feeling lost, ends with one of the most powerful kisses of the 1940s.
This is a scene that I love from a movie that I love and I look forward to watching it tonight!
4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!
Yesterday was the birthday of one of the most iconic screen legends of all time, the one and only Katharine Hepburn! In honor of her life, career, and legacy, here are….
4 Shots From 4 Films
The 1933 film, Lady For A Day, tells the story of Apple Annie (May Robson) and Dave the Dude (Warren William), who is perhaps the nicest gangster that you could ever hope to meet.
Of course, when I refer to Dave the Dude as being a gangster, I should make clear that he’s not the type of gangster who guns down his rivals or sells drugs in back alleys. I mean, I guess he might do that but we certainly don’t see much of evidence of it in the film. Instead, Dave is just a dapper gambler who travels with a bodyguard named Happy McGuire (Ned Sparks) and whose girlfriend, Missouri Martin (Glenda Farrell), owns a nightclub where, since this is a pre-code film, the acts are slightly racy but not excessively salacious. The country may be mired in a depression but Dave appears to be doing okay for himself. Yes, Dave may be a criminal but at least he’s honest about it.
Surviving the Depression has proven to be far more difficult for Apple Annie. She’s known as Apple Annie because she makes a meager living by selling fruit on the streets of New York City. Dave is one of her regular customers, as he believes that her apples bring him good luck. Annie has a daughter named Louise (Jean Parker). Louise has never met her mother, having spent the majority of her life in a Spanish convict. Annie regularly steals stationary from a high class hotel so that she can sends letters to Louise. Not wanting her daughter to be ashamed of her, Annie has always presented herself as being a rich woman named Mrs. E. Worthington Manville.
However, it now appears that Annie’s charade is about to be exposed. Louise is coming to New York with her fiance, Carlos (Barry Norton) and her prospective father-in-law, Count Romero (Walter Connolly). Annie knows that when the Louise arrives, she’s going to discover that her mother is not wealthy and that the marriage will probably be called off. So, led by Dave, Annie’s customers conspire to fool Louise into believing that her mother really is a member of high society. And if that means that Dave is going to have to not only kidnap (but, let’s be clear, not harm) three nosy reporters and then make a deal with not just the mayor but also the governor to pull of the deception, that’s exactly what he’s going to do.
Though it may be disguised as a sweet and rather simple comedy, Lady For A Day is actually a rather melancholy little film. Even when Annie and her friends are pretending to be wealthy members of high society, the film is aware that their escape from reality is only temporary. Eventually, they’ll have to return to the reality of being poor in 1930s America. At heart, it’s a sad story but May Robson, Warren William, Glenda Farrell, and Guy Kibbee (who plays the pool hustler who is recruited to pretend to be Annie’s husband) all bring such sincerity to their roles that you can’t help but smile while watching it. Rejected by “polite” society, Annie and her friends have formed a community of outsiders and, throughout the film, the audience is happy that, no matter what, they have each other.
Lady for a Day was the first Frank Capra film to ever be nominated for Best Picture. Capra was also nominated, for the first time, for best director but he had the misfortune to be competing with Frank Lloyd, who directed Cavalcade. At the awards ceremony, when host Will Rogers, announced the winner for best director, he said, “Come on up here, Frank!” An excited Capra ran down to the podium, just to discover that Rogers had actually been talking to Frank Lloyd. Rogers, seeing what had happened, quickly invited the other nominated director, Little Women‘s George Cukor, to come join Lloyd and Capra at the podium. Fortunately, one year later, Capra would win the directing Oscar for It Happened One Night.
Cavalcade would go on to win Best Picture but Capra retained so much affection for Lady For A Day that it was the only one of his films that he would subsequently remake. A Pocketful Of Miracles came out in 1961 and featured Bette Davis in the lead role. It would be Capra’s final theatrical film.
4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking.
Today is Oscar Sunday! Tonight, a new film will join the exclusive list of the 90 previous best picture winners!
Sometimes, we spend so much time focusing on the winners that shouldn’t have won that we forget that some truly great films have managed to take the top prize. So, with this edition of 4 Shots From 4 Films, I’m highlighting for the four best Best Picture winners!
4 Shots From 4 Films
I love the pure joy of this scene. Not even old Mr. Potter can bring George down.
Of course, for that matter, George can’t bring Mr. Potter down either. It’s a Merry Christmas all around!
(Be sure to check out Case’s alternative reading about life under Mr. Potter, It’s A Wonderful, Pottersville!)
Long before there was Lost, there was Lost Horizon!
Much like the famous television show, the 1937 film Lost Horizon begins with a group of strangers on an airplane. They’re people from all walks of life, all with their separate hopes and dreams. When the plane crashes, they find themselves stranded in an uncharted land and, much like the Lost castaways, they are shocked to discover that they are not alone. Instead, they’ve found a semi-legendary place that is ruled over by a man who has lived for centuries. Much as in Lost, some want to return to civilization while others want to remain in their new home. Both Lost and Lost Horizon even feature a terminally ill woman who starts to recover her health after becoming stranded.
Of course, in Lost, everyone was just flying from Australia to America. In Lost Horizon, everyone is trying to escape the Chinese revolution. Among the passengers on the plane: diplomat Robert Conway (Ronald Colman), his irresponsible brother, George (John Howard), a con artist named Henry (Thomas Mitchell), a paleontologist (Edward Everett Horton), and the very ill Gloria (Isabel Jewell).
While Lost featured a plane crash on a tropical island, Lost Horizon features a plane crash in the Himalayas. In Lost, the sinister Others sent spies to infiltrate the survivors. In Lost Horizon, the mysterious Chang (H.B. Warner) appears and leads the survivors to a place called Shangri-La.
Shangi-La is a lush and idyllic valley that has somehow flourished in one of the most inhospitable places on Earth. The happy inhabitants inform the survivors that they never get sick and they never fight. They’re led by the High Lama (Sam Jaffe), a philosopher who explains that he is several hundred years old. The valley is full of magic and the Lama tells the survivors that Shangri-La is their new home.
Now, I’ve seen enough horror movies that I spent most of Lost Horizon waiting for the Lama to suddenly reveal that he was a vampire or an alien or something. Whenever anyone in a movie seems to be too good to be true, that usually means that he’s going to end up killing someone about an hour into the story. But that didn’t happen in Lost Horizon. Instead, the Lama is just as wise and benevolent as he claims to be and Shangri-La is as much of a paradise as everyone assumes. I guess we’re just naturally more cynical in 2018 than people were in 1937.
Of course, the Lama isn’t immortal. Not even the magic of Shangri-La can prevent the inevitably of death. The Lama is looking for a successor. Could one of the survivors be that successor? Perhaps. For instance, Robert absolutely loves Shangri-La. Of course, his brother George is determined to return to the real world. He has fallen in love with one of the inhabitants of Shagri-La and plans to take her with him, despite the Lama’s warning about trying to leave…
Frank Capra was a huge fan of James Hilton’s book, Lost Horizon, and he spent three years trying to bring it to the big screen. Based on Capra’s previous box office successes, Colombia’s Harry Cohn gave Capra a budget of $1.25 million to bring his vision of Shangri-La to life. That may not sound like much today but, at the time, that made Lost Horizon the most expensive movie ever made. The production was a notoriously difficult one. (The original actor cast as the elderly Lama was so excited to learn he had been selected that he dropped dead of a heart attack.) As a result of both its ornate sets and Capra’s perfectionism, the film soon went overbudget. When Capra finally delivered a first cut, it was over 6 hours long. Capra eventually managed to edit it down to 210 minutes, just to then have Harry Cohn order another hour taken out of the film. When Lost Horizon was finally released, it had a running time of 132 minutes.
Seen today, Lost Horizon is definitely an uneven work. With all the cutting and editing that went on, it’s hard to guess what Capra’s original vision may have been but, in the final version, much more time is devoted to the characters discussing the philosophy of Shangri-La than to the characters themselves. (It’s always good to see Thomas Mitchell but he really doesn’t get much to do.) Since you never really feel like you know what any of these characters were like outside of Shangi-La, it’s hard to see how being in Shagri-La has changed them. You just have to take their word for it. That said, it’s a visually stunning film. Capra may have gone over budget creating the look of Shangri-La but it was money well-spent. If I ever find myself in a magic village, I hope it looks half as nice as the one in Lost Horizon.
Despite all of the drama that went on behind the scenes and a rather anemic box office reception, Lost Horizon was nominated for best picture. However, it lost to The Life of Emile Zola.
(With the Oscars scheduled to be awarded on March 4th, I have decided to review at least one Oscar-nominated film a day. These films could be nominees or they could be winners. They could be from this year’s Oscars or they could be a previous year’s nominee! We’ll see how things play out. Today, I take a look at the 1938 best picture winner, You Can’t Take It With You!)
“You can’t take it with you.”
If there’s any one belief that defines the worldview of Martin Vanderhof (Lionel Barrymore), it’s this. It doesn’t matter how much money you make in your life. It doesn’t matter how successful you are at business or anything else. The fact of the matter is that, when your time is up, you won’t be able to take any of that stuff with you. Instead, Grandpa Vanderhof (as he’s called by his large family) believes that the most important thing to do during your lifetime is to make friends and pursue what you’re truly interested in.
Vanderhof has another belief, one that particularly appealed to be me. He has never paid income tax. He doesn’t see the point of giving money to the government when he doesn’t feel that they’ll make good use of it. When an outraged IRS agent (Charles Lane) stops by Vanderhof’s sprawling house and demands that Vanderhof pay his taxes, Vanderhof refuses. When the IRS man argues that the income tax is necessary to pay for the Presidency, the Congress, and the Supreme Court, Vanderhof offers to give him five dollars. “Hell yeah!” I shouted at the TV. With an attitude like that, Vanderhof should have moved down here to Texas. We would have elected him governor.
Grandpa Vanderhof is the head of a large and cheerfully eccentric family, all of whom live together under the same roof. Penny (Spring Byington) writes novels because, years ago, a typewriter was accidentally delivered to the house. Her husband, Paul (Samuel S. Hinds), has a basement full of fireworks. Essie (Ann Miller) loves to dance and spends almost the entire movie twirling from room to room. Her husband, Ed (Dub Taylor), is a xylophone player.
Of course, it’s not just family living in the Vanderhof House. There’s also Potap Kolenkhov (Mischa Auer), a Russian who is “teaching” Essie how to dance. There’s Rheba the maid (Lillian Yarbo) and Donald (Eddie Anderson) the handyman. Actually, the house appears to be open to just about anyone who wants to stay.
And then there’s Penny’s daughter, Alice (Jean Arthur). Alice is the most “normal” member of the family. She has just become engaged to Tony Kirby (James Stewart) and she is still trying to figure out how to introduce Tony’s stuffy parents (Edward Arnold and Mary Forbes) to her eccentric family. What she and Tony don’t know is that Mr. Kirby is currently trying to buy up all the houses that are near a competitor’s factory. Only one homeowner has refused to sell. The name of that homeowner? Martin “Grandpa” Vanderhof.
It all leads, of course, to one chaotic dinner party, one lively night in jail, and a huge fireworks display. It also leads to true love, which is nice. Jimmy Stewart and Jean Arthur are even more adorable here than they were in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.
Based on a Pulitzer-winning play by George S. Kaufman, You Can’t Take It With You was the second comedy to win the Oscar for Best Picture. The first comedy to win was 1934’s It Happened One Night. It’s probably not coincidence that both of these films were directed by Frank Capra.
Seen today, You Can’t Take It With You seems a bit slight for an Oscar winner. Grandpa Vanerhof is a lovable eccentric. Tony’s father is a stuffy businessman. Hmmm … I wonder whose philosophy is going to be victorious at the end of the movie? Still, predictability aside, it’s a delightfully enjoyable film. While it never quite escape its stage origins, it features wonderful performances from all the usual members of the Capra stock company. James Stewart and Jean Arthur are a charming couple while Lionel Barrymore gives a performance that is so warmly likable that it’s hard to imagine that, just 9 years later, he would be so perfectly cast as the heartless Mr. Potter in It’s A Wonderful Life. Of course, my favorite member of the member was Essie, mostly because I also like to dance from room to room. While it’s hard to justify awarding it Best Picture over The Adventures of Robin Hood and Grand Illusion, You Can’t Take It With You is still a wonderfully fun movie.
It’ll make you smile and laugh. Who can’t appreciate that?
If you love classic movies, you’re going to love this trailer for the new Netflix documentary, Five Came Back!
Based on Mark Harris’s brilliant non-fiction book, Five Came Back takes a look at the work that five great directors — Frank Capra, William Wyler, John Huston, George Stevens, and John Ford — did during World War II. It’s a fascinating story and it was a fascinating book. I just hope this documentary does it justice.
We’ll find out on March 31st!
(Incidentally, Five Came Back is narrated by Meryl Streep so expect to see her nominated for Best Actress next year…)
It may seem strange, on Valentine’s Day, to share a scene that I love from a Christmas movie. Well, we’re all about being strange here at the Shattered Lens!
Add to that, George and Mary share one of the greatest romances ever put on the big screen. It may be a Christmas movie but it’s also a love story.
So, for your viewing pleasure, here’s how it all started…