The Films of Frank Capra and Robert Riskin

The Films of Frank Capra and Robert Riskin
Throughout their partnership, director Frank Capra and screenwriter Robert Riskin produced films which uplifted the hard-working and hungry, demonstrating that integrity and truth are the best defense against oppression by the rich and powerful.

The two collaborated on eight films before going their separate ways. While the two were respectful of each other and considered themselves friends, they approached the world from different ideologies. This, however, did not hamper their creative alignment. The compatibility of their creative styles produced some of the most memorable films of the 20th century.

Undoubtedly, you have seen – or at least have heard – of most of the following films made during the time they worked together. If not, most can be found through digital sources for little or no cost.

Platinum Blonde (1931)
While on assignment, working class reporter, Stew Smith (Robert Williams), falls in love at first sight with society gal Ann Schuyler (Jean Harlow). They marry, but the honeymoon is soon over when Ann tries to force Stew into society life. After he is dubbed “Cinderella Man” by the press, Stew’s long-time gal pal on the paper, Gallagher (Loretta Young), might be the only one who can help Stew rebuild his reputation.

Lady for a Day (1933)
Annie (May Robson) is in a jam. She hasn’t seen her daughter, Louise (Jean Parker), since she was a baby. Now, Louise is coming to New York and is excited to reunite with her mother, whom she believes is a wealthy socialite, instead of poor street vendor Apple Annie. How will Annie save face when confronted by her daughter? Fear not, Annie will get by with a little help from her friends.

Broadway Bill (1934)
Alice “Princess” Higgins (Myrna Loy) and her brother-in-law, Dan (Warner Baxter), bet all of their hopes and dreams on Dan’s thoroughbred racing horse, Broadway Bill. However, the path to the winner’s circle isn’t easy as the two have to arrange some creative financing before they can enter the starting gate.

It Happened One Night (1934)
Spoiled Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert) runs away and has to rely on reporter, Peter Warne (Clark Gable), to survive in a world where money doesn’t flow freely. Both Capra and Riskin walked away with Academy Awards for their roles in this well-known classic. This film was remade in 1945 as Eve Knew Her Apples with Ann Miller and William Wright, and then again in 1956 as You Can’t Run Away From It with June Allyson and Jack Lemon. Both remakes were billed as musical comedies.

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)
Longfellow Deeds (Gary Cooper) is just a regular guy, living a regular life, in a regular town, with regular people. When he inherits a fortune from his uncle, this ordinary fella is thrust into the scheming and greedy world of wheeler-dealers and hot-shot reporters like Babe Bennett (Jean Arthur). Because of his small-town roots, the city slickers think they can manipulate Deeds, but alas, Deeds has a long way to go before he is done. Capra was the only one to receive an Oscar for the film.

Lost Horizon (1937)
When the ugliness of war starts closing in, a plane carrying a diplomat, Robert Conway (Ronald Coleman), and four others, makes a crash landing in the Himalayas. Nestled between the mountain peaks, is strange and beautiful Shangri-La. It is a true land of mystery where the inhabitants thrive, separate from the modern world. The comforts found in this magical place are tempting enough to want to stay forever, but is paradise worth the price?

You Can’t Take It With You (1938)
Alice Sycamore (Jean Arthur) is in love and her fiancé, Tony (James Stewart), is about to see how those without his pedigree live. He discovers that the other side of the tracks is lined with eccentric characters and hearts of gold. The Academy awarded the film with Best Picture, and Capra with the Oscar for Best Director in 1939.

Meet John Doe (1941)
In an effort to increase circulation, reporter Ann Mitchell (Barbara Stanwyck) fabricates a story about a John Doe who is intending to protest against social injustices by jumping off the roof of City Hall. The paper hires Long John Willoughby (Gary Cooper), a hungry, broke, and out of work baseball player to assume the identity of the fictional John Doe. Soft-spoken Long John becomes the voice of the little people, until he discovers he is just a pawn in a well-funded political game.

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