The “Capraesque” Film


Besides amalgamating genres, the mature Columbia films exhibit a relatively stable set of narrative conventions in terms of both character types and plot development.  The character types include a hero, a heroine, an individual or collective villain, a benevolent authority figure, and a community that, after some reluctance, rallies around the hero.  The plot development includes a conflict between hero and villain(s) that is, at its most effective, rooted in the broader cultural conflicts of values and belief.  As the conflict plays itself out, the Capra hero undergoes a ritual humiliation that often leads to self-doubt.  He may even consider withdrawing from society and refusing to continue struggling against the obstacles erected by the villain.




Then the Capra heroine becomes the key to the narrative.  Overcoming her initial skepticism about the

hero's idealism, she moves closer to his ideological perspective and, at a crucial moment, urges the hero to

continue his battle.  Restored and energized, the hero returns to fight the antagonist at a public forum and,

thanks to the support of a benevolent authority figure (a judge or vice president, for example) and a larger

community that shares or comes to share his perspective, he emerges with at least a partial victory over the

 villain and a romantic integration with the heroine.






from Charles Maland, "Frank Capra at Columbia: Necessity and Invention," in Bernard F. Dick, ed., Columbia Pictures: Portrait of a Studio (University Press of Kentucky, 1992), pp. 79-80