Nothing gets me bawling faster, and with such predictability, than a Frank Capra film. Take the prime culprit It’s a Wonderful Life, for instance. After more than a dozen viewings, my eyes start misting during the title credits, and I’m outright sobbing before the end of the opening flashback when George Bailey’s kid brother Harry goes through the ice. Produced by Capra’s independent company Liberty Films and distributed by RKO, It’s a Wonderful Life isn’t in Columbia’s new Capra box set, but its seeds are there among the five films when Capra first hit his stride as a studio director and a mainline into the populist American psyche. The earliest film included in the collection, American Madness (1932), digs right into Capra’s recurring theme of friendship over money as the ultimate measure of a man’s worth. Walter Huston stars as a bank president facing professional and financial ruin who is saved in the end by the little people he took a chance on. I lose it midway through when a fiery Huston tells his board of directors to go to hell. You Can’t Take It With You (1938) finds Lionel Barrymore as the plainspoken patriarch of an eccentric family of artists and misfits who must defend the idealist world they’ve created for themselves against the schemes of a corporate fat cat. There’s a courtroom scene that could have been a dry run for the living-room climax of Wonderful Life, but I get all teary much, much earlier, when Barrymore convinces a number-crunching clerk to give up his daily drudgery and follow his passion: making whimsical mechanical toys. And don’t get me started on Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). I’m a mess as soon as the Columbia logo appears onscreen (she looks so much like the Statue of Liberty). Does that make me a sucker? Who cares? Also included are It Happened One Night (1934) and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), a number of documentaries, commentaries and a handsome Capra “scrapbook.”
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Other recommended new releases: The Conformist: Extended Edition (DVD); Grey Gardens/The Beales of Grey Gardens (DVD); Miami Vice (DVD); Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (DVD). Also released this week: DVD: Beerfest Unrated; Charlie Chan Collection, Vol. 2; Holiday (1938); How to Eat Fried Worms; Look Both Ways; Lubitsch in Berlin; Mission: Impossible: The Complete First Season; New Year’s Day; 1900: Special Collector’s Edition; 24: Season Five; Pinky and the Brain, Vol. 2; Symbiopsychotaxiplasm Take One; TCM Archives: Forbidden Hollywood Collection, Vol. 1; To the Left of the Father; Tracks; The Wim Wenders Collection, Vol. 2.