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MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON could quite possibly be my favorite Jimmy Stewart film- it certainly ranks way at the top of the list to my favorite Frank Capra movies. Stewartís career spanned decades and he was always perfect in the role of idealistic everyman, whether it was in later films like THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE or Capraís own IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE- Stewart earnest screen persona was best suited to these are the kind of roles. As for MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, this film finds Jimmy Stewart to be the ideal actor in an idealized kind of role- and he delivers one of the finest performances of his career as a political innocent, who is seemingly being lead like a lamb to the slaughter in the corrupt world of Washington politics.

The basic premise of MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON finds Jimmy Stewart in the role of Jefferson Smith, the equivalent of a Boy Scout leader, who suddenly finds himself appointed to the US Senate after the sudden death of a sitting Senator. The reason for the appointment of such an unlikely candidate- it seems that the corrupt political machine running Smithís home state figures that a political innocent such as Smith will be easy to control and will be nothing more than a rubber stamping yes man for the senior Senator- Joseph Harrison Paine (Claude Rains). Unfortunately our erstwhile do-gooder isnít easy to control, and when he turns out to be a political liability, our corrupt senator sets in motion a chain of events to destroy the young senator and his reputation. MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON climaxes with our hero filibustering on the floor of the senate, in one of the most memorable sequences from any Capra movie. The cast of MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON also features Jean Arthur, Edward Arnold, Guy Kibbee, Thomas Mitchell, Eugene Pallette, Beulah Bondi, H.B. Warner and Harry Carey.


How can anyone talk about IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT without mentioning the fact that movie took home all of the major awards at the 1934 Oscars. The Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director and Best Screenplay gave IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT a total of five Academy Awards. Sure, this number is less than certain other films, but then again, IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT took home the awards that really matter. In my opinion, IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT is one of the most significant Academy Award winning films because it is a comedy. In later years, the Academy came to looks upon comedies with distain, which is completely unfair since making people laugh is a genuine art form. After all, dying is easy... comedy is hard...

IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT tells the story of Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert), a spoiled rich girl who runs away from her millionaire father because he objects to her penniless playboy husband. To avoid her father's dragnet, Ellie makes her way from Florida to New York on a bus, where she encounters Peter Warne (Clark Gable), a down on his luck reporter. When Peter sees Ellie's face plastered on the cover of every national newspaper, he decides to get close to her and secure himself the story of a lifetime. Of course, an heiress and a gruff newspaperman mix like oil and water, so it's a personality clash from the get go. However, when Ellie and Peter are forced to abandon the bus, and hitchhike the rest of the way to New York, the sparks really begin to fly. The plot of IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT is completely simplistic, yet the film succeeds on the strength of it's smart screenplay, the personalities of two genuine stars and a brilliant director who knew how to bring it all together. Without question, this powerful merging of talent remains as effective today, as it was way back in 1934. The cast of IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT also includes Walter Connolly, Roscoe Karns, Jameson Thomas and Alan Hale Sr..


YOU CANíT TAKE IT WITH YOU is one of the great cinematic classics of the 1930ís. A wonderfully vibrant film that won two prestigious Academy Awards, one for the Best Picture of 1938 and the other for its legendary director Frank Capra. Of course, there was no way in the world that YOU CANíT TAKE IT WITH YOU could have been anything other than a great motion picture. After all, the movie was based upon the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, in addition to featuring a superb cast that featured Jean Arthur, Lionel Barrymore, James Stewart, Edward Arnold, Mischa Auer, Ann Miller, Spring Byington, Samuel S. Hinds and Donald Meek.

One could look upon YOU CANíT TAKE IT WITH YOU as the film that put the screwballs in screwball comedy, even though the genre had been around for a few years. The plot of YOU CANíT TAKE IT WITH YOU concerns a family of "screwballs" that live life the way it was meant to be lived- carefree and in pursuit of the things that makes one happy. Presiding over this rather bohemian clan is Grandpa Vanderhof (Barrymore), who has been pursuing happiness in the same house for thirty-five years. The house itself becomes a point of contention, when industrialist Anthony P. Kirby (Edward Arnold) decides to buy out an entire neighborhood, so his company can force the competition out of business and monopolize the munitions industry. Of course, Vanderhof is the only person who refuses to sell his home, thus souring the entire deal. Things are further complicated, when it is discovered that Vanderhofís seemingly "normal" granddaughter Alice (Arthur) and Kirbyís son Tony (Stewart) are in love and plan to marry. When the middleclass free spirits finally meet the repressed upper crust, more than a few comic fireworks ensue.


MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN is another marvelous piece of Frank Capra cinematic magic that benefits from a wonderful performance from Gary Cooper. In MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN, Gary Cooper portrays one Longfellow Deeds an idealistic small town individual, who has never set foot outside of Mandrake Falls, Vermont where he was born and raised. Deeds contends himself with playing the tuba and writing bits of homespun philosophy for postcards, but soon finds himself on the ride of his life when he inherits twenty million dollars from a distant relative and is whisked off to New York City.

While you would think that this small town rube would be an easy mark for the city slickers looking to pick clean the estate, Deeds proves to be too wily for them in terms of finance. Where Deeds comes up short, is in the realm of interpersonal relationships with women, as he soon finds himself under the spell of reporter Babe Bennett (Jean Arthur), who is masquerading as a small town gal to insinuate herself into the life of suddenly rich Longfellow Deeds and having everyone in New York reading about his exploits. While MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN has many screwball elements, the film also has a great deal of social consciousness and the story exhibits a serious side, when our hero grows sick of his wealth and turns philanthropy, much to the horror of those looking to get their hands on Deeds inheritance. The cast of MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN also features George Bancroft, Lionel Stander, Douglass Dumbrille, Raymond Walburn and H.B. Warner.


Featuring a terrific performance from Walter Huston and plot elements that would later resurface again in IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, AMERICAN MADNESS is pure Capra classic with just a smattering of Capra-corn thrown in for good measure. AMERICAN MADNESS tells a depression era tale of banker Thomas Dickson, who refuses to merge with another financial institution, much to the distaste of his board of directors, who are only looking to line their own pockets. Dickson is an idealist who believes in ordinary people and the necessity of keeping money in circulation, if the country is to recover from the depression.

A bank robbery gives rise to a run on the bank and potential ruin for Dickson and his financial institution that has helped so many. Making matters worse is the fact that Dicksonís right hand man Matt Brown (Pat O'Brien) is accused of the crime. Although innocent, Brown is hesitant to tell Dickson of his whereabouts, as they related to an indiscretion involving Mrs. Dickson, which may be more painful to his boss than the loss of his bank. The cast of AMERICAN MADNESS also features Kay Johnson, Constance Cummings, Gavin Gordon, Arthur Hoyt, Robert Emmett O'Connor, Robert Ellis, Jeanne Sorel, Walter Walker, Berton Churchill, Edward Martindel, Edwin Maxwell, Anderson Lawler and Pat O'Malley.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has made all the films that comprise THE PREMIERE FRANK CAPRA COLLECTION available on DVD in the proper 4:3 full screen aspect ratios of their theatrical releases. In regards to film preservation, Columbia Pictures garnered a rather nasty reputation for the shoddy way it maintained its catalogue of titles for many decades. Films were poorly preserved, original elements cut down for reissue, and in many cases, the most popular films were over printed to the detriment of the original negatives. The films featured in THE PREMIERE FRANK CAPRA COLLECTION have weathered the storm reasonably well, but in general, donít look as good as those carefully preserved by other studios. This isnít to say the films look bad, just that they are all almost beyond seventy years of age, and at times, they do show it signs of their longevity.

For the most part, the black and white transfers hold up well enough- appearing reasonably sharp and nicely defined. Some of the films look crisper than others, but all demonstrate moments of mild softness. Blacks tend to be accurate across the board, as do the whites. There are intermittent problems with contrast and grayscale on most of the films; YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU is sometimes the worst offender in this regard. But in general, these problems are usually limited to individual shots or brief sequences. Film grain is noticeable in all of the films, not to mention there are specks, scratches and other peculiarities that pop up here and there. Digital compression artifacts are always well contained.

All of the films in THE PREMIERE FRANK CAPRA COLLECTION come with more than respectable Dolby Digital monaural soundtracks. As expected, the majority of background hiss and noise have been cleaned up in the mastering process. Sure there are some minor irregularities that are related to the age of the films contained in the set, but nothing to distract one from enjoying these movies. As the majority of the films are more than seventy-years-old, fidelity is very limited. Fortunately, dialogue always remains understandable. No other language tracks have been included on the DVDs, but English, Japanese, Portuguese and Korean subtitles are provided.

The basic interactive menus allow one access to the standard language set up features, as well as the supplemental features included in the collection. The primary supplement is FRANK CAPRA'S AMERICAN DREAM, which is a nearly two-hour documentary on the life and career of the legendary director. Narrated by Ron Howard, the documentary also feature interviews and comments from the like of Robert Altman, Edward Bernds, Frank Capra Jr., Allen Daviau, Andrť De Toth, Richard Dreyfuss, Bill Duke, Peter Falk, Amy Heckerling, Marshall Herskovitz, Arthur Hiller, Michael Keaton, Angela Lansbury, Garry Marshall, Joseph McBride, John Milius, Richard Schickel, Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone, Bob Thomas, Fay Wray, Jane Wyatt and Edward Zwick.

Each of the films also features a running Audio Commentary with Frank Capra Jr., in addition to Cathrine Kellison, who also comments on IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE and YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU. Additionally, each film comes with a brief documentary entitled Frank Capra, Jr. Remembers. Several of the films also include a Vintage Advertising Gallery, Theatrical Trailer and IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT features Original Live Radio Broadcast. Four Featurettes close out the video portion of the set: Conversations With Frank Capra, Jr.: A Family History (twenty-five minutes), Conversations With Frank Capra, Jr.: The Golden Years (eighteen minutes), Frank Capra: Collaboration (nineteen minutes) and The Frank Capra I Knew (thirteen minutes). A Ninety Page Booklet is the final supplement to the collection.

Frank Capra was truly one of the great American filmmakers of all time. The five films contained in THE PREMIERE FRANK CAPRA COLLECTION represent some of the directorís the best, not to mention, his wide-eyed American idealism. Sonyís DVDs look as good as existing film elements will allow. The supplemental materials are superb. Absolutely recommended.


The Premiere Frank Capra Collection (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington / It Happened One Night / You Can't Take It with You / Mr. Deeds Goes to Town / American Madness / Frank Capra's American Dream)



DVD reviews are Copyright © 2007 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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