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Books on Frank Capra By Joseph McBride
Description:  Joseph McBride is a film historian and professor in the School of Cinema at San Francisco State University. His many other books include HAWKS ON HAWKS and WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO ORSON WELLES?: A PORTRAIT OF AN INDEPENDENT CAREER and the critical studies ORSON WELLES and JOHN FORD (the latter with Michael Wilmington).

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Frankly: Unmasking Frank Capra

“There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches.” — Ray Bradbury
Joseph McBride’s 1992 biography Frank Capra: The Catastrophe of Success was described by Barry Gewen in The New York Times Book Review as “Masterly, comprehensive, and frequently surprising.” What readers did not know then was how arduous it was to reveal the hidden truth about this iconic American figure. While McBride was researching and writing for more than seven years, he was fighting a pitched legal battle with his original publisher and allies of the celebrated film director. Frankly: Unmasking Frank Capra (2019) is McBride’s revealing, harrowing, often darkly comical account of that Kafkaesque but ultimately successful struggle.


Frank Capra: The Catastrophe of Success

Frank Capra's beloved films are idealistic, patriotic, full of human comedy, and often sentimental -- so much so that skeptics have called them Capracorn. Moviegoers often assume that the director's life resembled his classic films, such as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Meet John Doe, or It's a Wonderful Life: A man of the people faces tremendous odds and, by doing the right thing, triumphs. But as Joseph McBride reveals in this meticulously researched, definitive biography, the reality was far more complex, a true American tragedy.

An immigrant from Sicily, Capra came to America with his family as a child in 1903 and struggled against great odds to achieve an education and find success as a Hollywood gag man and director. His great popular and critical breakthrough with the classic 1934 romantic comedy It Happened One Night, while bringing him the triumphant vindication and social acceptance he craved, also caused him to fall into a state of crisis, doubt his own abilities, take credit belonging to others, and gradually pull his political punches. When the post-World War II Red Scare caused Capra and his work to be considered possibly subversive, because of its elements of social criticism during the Depression era and his associations with leftwing writers, he panicked and betrayed his ideals.

Using declassified U.S. government documents about the director's response to those charges, and drawing on extensive interviews with Capra and 174 of his collaborators, family members, friends, and colleagues, McBride chronicles Capra's creative and personal downfall. While examining in detail the evolution of Capra's great films, McBride shows that the conventional view of the director's life, propagated in his autobiography The Name Above the Title, is far from the truth. The life story of this celebrated director of human comedies was, in fact, tragically at odds with the ideals his films so movingly espouse.


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