Frank Capra

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Capra, Frank

(kăp`rə), 1897–1991, American film director, b. Bisaquino, Sicily. One of the preeminent Hollywood directors of the 1930s and 40s, he produced idealistic populist movies that, sometimes amusingly and sometimes sentimentally but nearly always optimistically, celebrate the virtues of the common American. His family emigrated to the United States in 1903 and settled in Los Angeles. Starting in the movies in the early 1920s, he became a feature film director with Harry Langdon comedies, achieved commercial success with Platinum Blonde (1931), and won his first Academy Award with the "screwball" romantic comedy It Happened One Night (1934).

Capra's naively decent American heroes triumph over the forces of greed, cynicism, corruption, or self-doubt in such films as Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936; Academy Award), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Meet John Doe (1941), and the richly textured classic It's a Wonderful Life (1946). Among his movie-making innovations were accelerated pacing, conversational and sometimes overlapping dialogue, and previews that gauged audience reaction. Capra's many other films include Lost Horizon (1937), You Can't Take It With You (1938; Academy Award), Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), State of the Union (1948), A Hole in the Head (1959), and his last, Pocketful of Miracles (1961).


See his autobiography (1971); biography by J. McBride (1992, repr. 2000); C. Wolfe, Frank Capra: A Guide to References and Resources (1987).

Frank Capra
Francesco Rosario Capra
BirthplaceBisacquino, Sicily, Italy
Director, producer, writer

Capra, Frank


Born May 18, 1897, in Palermo. American motion-picture director.

Capra graduated from the California Institute of Technology. He began to work in motion pictures in 1921 and turned to directing in 1926–27. He was a leading figure in American cinematography of the 1930’s, directing such films as Lady for a Day (1933), It Happened One Night (1934), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), You Can’t Take It With You (1938), and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). These films dealt with the urgent social problems of American life—the critical plight of farmers and the venality and corruption of the ruling circles—without actually revealing their root causes.

Capra’s films were very popular because of their realistic background, the high literary quality of the screenplays (R. Riskin was the screenwriter for most of the films), and the charm and shrewd characterizations of the protagonists.


Kolodiazhnaia, V., and I. Trutko. Istoriia zarubezhnogo kino, vol. 2.Moscow, 1970. Pages 94–125.

Capra, Frank

(1897–1991) film director; born in Palermo, Sicily. His family moved to California when he was six, and he began to earn money by selling newspapers, playing the banjo, and working other odd jobs. After receiving a degree in chemical engineering at the California Institute of Technology in 1918, he joined the army as a private. Discharged as a lieutenant, he had other odd jobs until he talked his way into directing a one-reeler, Fultah Fisher's Boarding House (1922), in San Francisco. He spent time learning the film business, and then became a gag writer for Our Gang comedies and for the comedian Harry Langdon. He directed some Langdon films and some two-reel comedies. His most renowned work as a director celebrated the decency and integrity of the common man as he combats corruption in high places, and he earned Oscars for It Happened One Night (1934), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), and You Can't Take It With You (1938). The film that would eventually become his most popular, It's A Wonderful Life (1947), did not receive any special attention at its initial release.