Lost Horizon

  • Directors: Frank Capra
  • Producers: Frank Capra
  • Writers: Robert Riskin, Based on the novel by James Hilton
  • Genres: Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Mystery
  • Actors: Ronald Colman, Jane Wyatt, John Howard

Before returning to England to become the new Foreign Secretary, writer, soldier, and diplomat Robert Conway has one last task in 1935 China: to rescue 90 Westerners in the city of Baskul. He flies out with the last few evacuees, just ahead of armed revolutionaries.

Unbeknownst to the passengers, the pilot is replaced and their airplane is hijacked. It eventually runs out of fuel and crashes deep in the Himalayas, and their abductor is killed. The group is rescued by Chang and his men and taken to Shangri-La, an idyllic valley sheltered from the bitter cold. The contented inhabitants are led by the mysterious High Lama.

Initially anxious to return to civilization, most of the newcomers grow to love their new home, including paleontologist Alexander Lovett, swindler Henry Barnard, and bitter, terminally ill Gloria Stone, who miraculously seems to be recovering. Conway is particularly enchanted, especially when he meets Sondra, who has grown up in Shangri-la. However, Conway’s younger brother George and Maria, another beautiful young woman they find there, are determined to leave.

Conway eventually has an audience with the High Lama and learns that his arrival was no accident. The founder of Shangri-la is said to be hundreds of years old, preserved, like the other residents, by the magical properties of the paradise he has created, but is finally dying and needs someone wise and knowledgeable in the ways of the modern world to keep it safe. Having read Conway’s writings, Sondra believed he was the one, and the Lama agreed with her. The old man names Conway as his successor and then peacefully passes away.

Conway continues on and eventually meets up with a search party sent to find him, although the ordeal has caused him to lose his memory of Shangri-la. On the voyage back to England, he remembers everything; he tells his story and then jumps ship. The searchers track him back to the Himalayas, but are unable to follow him any further and Conway returns to Shangri-la.

Mr Deeds Goes to Town

  • Directors: Frank Capra
  • Producers: Frank Capra
  • Writers: Clarence Budington Kelland, Robert Riskin
  • Genres: Comedy, Romance
  • Actors: Gary Cooper, Jean Arthur

In the middle of the Great Depression, Longfellow Deeds (Gary Cooper), co-owner of a tallow works, part-time greeting card poet and tuba-playing inhabitant of the hamlet of Mandrake Falls, Vermont, inherits the enormous fortune of 20 million dollars from his late uncle, Martin Semple. His uncle’s scheming attorney, John Cedar (Douglass Dumbrille), locates Deeds and takes him to New York City.

Cedar gives his cynical troubleshooter, ex-newspaperman Cornelius Cobb (Lionel Stander), the task of keeping reporters away from the heir. He is outfoxed, however, by star reporter Louise “Babe” Bennett (Jean Arthur), who appeals to Deeds’ romantic fantasy of rescuing a damsel in distress by masquerading as a poor worker named Mary Dawson. She pretends to faint from exhaustion after “walking all day to find a job” and worms her way into his confidence. She proceeds to write a series of enormously popular articles mocking Longfellow’s hick ways and odd behavior, naming him the “Cinderella Man”. Meanwhile, Cedar tries to get Deeds’ power of attorney in order to keep his financial misdeeds secret.

Deeds, however, proves to be a shrewd judge of character, easily fending off Cedar and other greedy opportunists. He wins Cobb’s wholehearted respect and eventually Babe’s love. However, when Cobb finds out Bennett’s true identity, Deeds is left heartbroken.

During his sanity hearing, things look bleak for Deeds, especially since he initially refuses to defend himself. Cedar even gets Deeds’s Mandrake Falls tenants, eccentric elderly sisters Jane and Amy Faulkner (Margaret Seddon and Margaret McWade), to testify that Deeds is “pixilated.” That charge falls apart when the two spinsters admit that everyone in town, except themselves, suffers from the same affliction. When Babe convinces Deeds that she truly loves him, he systematically punches holes in Cedar’s case (before punching Cedar in the face) and the judge declares him to be “the sanest man who ever walked into this courtroom”.

It s a Wonderful Life

  • Directors: Frank Capra
  • Producers: Frank Capra
  • Writers: Screenplay, Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Jo Swerling, Frank Capra, Short Story, Philip Van Doren Stern
  • Genres: Drama, Family, Fantasy, Romance
  • Actors: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Henry Travers

On Christmas Eve 1946, George Bailey (James Stewart) is deeply depressed, even suicidal. Prayers for George Bailey are heard by angels appearing as stars in the night sky. Clarence Odbody, an Angel Second Class, is sent to Earth to save him—and thereby earn his wings. Joseph, the head angel, is told to review George’s life with Clarence.

As a 12-year-old boy in 1919, George (Bobby Anderson) saved the life of his younger brother Harry from falling through ice, though George caught a cold that became an ear infection and left him hearing-impaired in one ear. Returning weeks later to his job as errand boy in a pharmacy, George stopped his boss, local druggist Mr. Gower (H.B. Warner), from accidentally filling a child’s prescription with poison while grief-stricken over the death of his son from influenza.

From childhood, George’s greatest ambition has been to see the world and design bridges and skyscrapers. However, George repeatedly has to sacrifice his dreams for the well-being of the people of Bedford Falls. Four years older than Harry, he puts off going to college to help in the family business until Harry graduates from high school and can replace him at the Bailey Building & Loan Association, essential to many of the disadvantaged in town. But on Harry’s graduation night in 1928, as George discusses his future with Mary Hatch (Donna Reed) — who has had a crush on him since she was a little girl — family friends arrive after George and Mary were throwing rocks at an old house to make wishes, and break the news to George that his father has had a stroke. Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore), a vicious slumlord, seizes this opportunity and tries to persuade the Board of Directors to end the “sentimental hogwash” of home loans for the working poor. George persuades the board members to reject Potter’s proposal; they agree, but only on condition that George himself run the Building and Loan. George reluctantly stays in Bedford Falls and gives his school money to his brother.

George returns to the bridge and calls upon Clarence and God to let him live again. His prayer is answered and George is returned to the moment he met Clarence. Small changes that had occurred while he didn’t exist, such as his daughter’s petals in his pocket, his crashed car, and even the weather being windy instead of snowy, are now just as they were, but George runs home filled with a new appreciation of what he has accomplished. There, he finds that his friends and family have collected a huge amount of money to save George and the Building & Loan from scandal and ruin. The newly arrived Harry proposes a toast to his brother, “the richest man in town.” Seeing how many lives he has touched, and the difference he has made to the town (and having helped Clarence earn his wings), George Bailey realizes that despite his problems, he “really has a wonderful life.”

Arsenic and Old Lace

  • Directors: Frank Capra
  • Producers: Frank Capra, Jack L Warner
  • Writers: Joseph Kesselring, Julius J Epstein, Philip G Epstein
  • Genres: Comedy, Thriller
  • Actors: Cary Grant, Josephine Hull, Jean Adair, Raymond Massey

A drama critic and confirmed bachelor, Mortimer Brewster (Cary Grant), has written a number of books describing marriage as an old-fashioned superstition. Nevertheless, he falls in love with and marries Elaine Harper (Priscilla Lane), who grew up next door to his old family home in Brooklyn.

Immediately after the wedding – on Halloween, as it happens – Mortimer visits the bizarre relatives who still live there, two elderly aunts (Josephine Hull, Jean Adair) and his brother Teddy (John Alexander). Teddy thinks he’s Theodore Roosevelt; each time he goes upstairs he blows a bugle, yells “Charge!”, and takes the stairs at a run (an imitation of Roosevelt’s famous charge up San Juan Hill). He is also digging “The Panama Canal” in their cellar. Mortimer finds a corpse hidden in a window seat, and tells his aunts that Teddy must be sent to an asylum, as he has killed someone.

At this point, Mortimer’s sweet, if misguided, aunts explain that they are responsible (“It’s one of our charities”). They have developed what Mortimer calls the “very bad habit” of ending the presumed suffering of lonely old bachelors by serving them elderberry wine spiked with arsenic, strychnine, and “just a pinch of cyanide”. The bodies are buried in the basement by Teddy, who thinks he is digging locks for the Panama Canal and burying yellow fever victims.

Mortimer makes increasingly frantic attempts to stay on top of the situation as his bride waits for him at her family home next door, including multiple efforts to alert the bumbling local cops to the threat Jonathan poses, as well as have the paperwork filled that will have Teddy declared legally insane and committed (giving him a safe explanation for the bodies should the cops find them). He worries whether he will go insane like the rest of his family. But eventually Jonathan is arrested, while Teddy and the two aunts are safely consigned to an asylum. In the end, Mortimer is overjoyed to learn that he was adopted and is not biologically related to the Brewsters after all. He is actually the son of a sea cook, exclaiming: “Elaine, Elaine, Where are you? Can you hear me? I’m not really a Brewster. I’m a son of a sea cook!” (in the original play, the censored line actually was, “Elaine! Did you hear? Do you understand? Darling, I’m a bastard!”).[2]

It Happened One Night

  • Directors: Frank Capra
  • Producers: Frank Capra, Harry Cohn
  • Writers: Samuel Hopkins Adams, Robert Riskin
  • Genres: Comedy, Drama, Romance
  • Actors: Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, Walter Connolly

Spoiled heiress Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert) marries fortune-hunter “King” Westley (Jameson Thomas) against the wishes of her extremely wealthy father (Walter Connolly). He retrieves his daughter before the marriage can be consummated, but then she runs away, literally leaping off the side of the family yacht. Boarding a bus to New York City, she meets fellow passenger Peter Warne (Clark Gable), an out-of-work newspaper reporter. He recognizes her and gives her a choice: if she will give him an exclusive on her story, he will help her reunite with Westley, otherwise he will tell her father where she is and collect the reward. She agrees.

Various adventures follow. When they have to hitchhike, Peter claims to be an expert on the subject. When nothing he tries works, eventually, out of frustration, he ends up thumbing his nose at passing cars. The sheltered Ellie then shows him how it’s done. She stops the next car dead in its tracks by lifting up her skirt and showing off a shapely leg (see image below).

One night, when they are nearing the end of their journey, Peter leaves to make some arrangements. The owners of the auto court in which they are staying see that his car is gone and assume he has left without paying. They roust Ellie out of bed and kick her out. Believing Peter has deserted her, Ellie calls her father, who is so relieved to get her back that he agrees to let her have her way. Ellie has fallen in love with Peter, but she thinks he betrayed her for the reward money, so she agrees to have a second, formal wedding with Westley. Meanwhile, Peter believes he’s the one who’s been double-crossed.

While walking his daughter down the aisle, Andrews tells her what he has found out and encourages her to run off again, telling her there is a car waiting for her out back; at the last moment, she does. Her father pays off Westley, who agrees to have the marriage annulled, enabling Ellie to marry Peter.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

  • Directors: Frank Capra
  • Producers: Frank Capra
  • Writers: Story, Lewis R Foster, Screenplay, Sidney Buchman
  • Genres: Drama
  • Actors: James Stewart, Jean Arthur

The governor of an unnamed state, Hubert “Happy” Hopper (Guy Kibbee), has to pick a replacement for deceased U.S. Senator Sam Foley. His corrupt political boss, Jim Taylor (Edward Arnold), pressures Hopper to choose his handpicked stooge, while popular committees want a reformer. The governor’s children want him to select Jefferson Smith (James Stewart), the head of the Boy Rangers.[4] Unable to make up his mind, Hopper decides to flip a coin. When it lands on its side – and next to a newspaper story on one of Smith’s accomplishments – he chooses Smith, calculating that his wholesome image will please the people while his naivetГ© will make him easy to manipulate.

Smith is taken under the wing of the publicly esteemed, but secretly crooked, Senator Joseph Paine (Claude Rains), who was Smith’s late father’s oldest and best friend, and he develops an immediate attraction to the senator’s daughter, Susan (Astrid Allwyn). The unforgiving Washington press quickly labels Smith a bumpkin, with no business being a senator. Paine, to keep Smith busy, suggests he propose a bill.

Smith comes up with legislation that would authorize a federal government loan to buy some land in his home state for a national boys’ camp, to be paid back by youngsters across America. Donations pour in immediately. However, the proposed campsite is already part of a dam-building graft scheme included in a Public Works bill framed by the Taylor political machine and supported by Senator Paine.

Although all hope seems lost, the senators begin to pay attention as Smith approaches utter exhaustion. Paine has one last card up his sleeve. He brings in bins of letters and telegrams from Smith’s home state from people demanding his expulsion. Nearly broken by the news, Smith finds a small ray of hope in a friendly smile from the President of the Senate (Harry Carey). Smith vows to press on until people believe him, but immediately collapses in a faint. Overcome with guilt, Paine leaves the Senate chamber and attempts to kill himself. When he is stopped, he bursts back into the Senate chamber, loudly confesses to the whole scheme and affirms Smith’s innocence.