Robert Brent Toplin
Part 3: The Women Were Usually Strong
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Barbara Stanwyck in
Meet John Doe.

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There’s another important theme, an interesting theme, that appears in many of Capra’s films, it's one that gets less attention, but it's nevertheless, I think, important. The women in the Capra movies, especially up to 1940, 1945, period or so, were usually strong. They were tough-minded, like Jean Arthur, who showed Jimmy Stewart the ropes around Washington DC, or that savvy newspaperwoman, Barbara Stanwyck, who tricked Gary Cooper, at first John Doe, but later came on his side and helped him to win some battles. Of course later on, as we get to 1946 and the famous Capra movie, It’s A Wonderful Life, we must confess that Donna Reed in that film is rather spineless. Perhaps she reflects that new age America of the forties, the later forties when separate spheres were the expectation. So many of the Capra movies show us the little people battling the big ones and winning some battles, if not all the wars.

A run on the bank in It's A Wonderful Life.
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But at the same time we have to realize that Frank Capra didn’t learn his lessons about life at the foot of Pollyanna. Frank Capra’s movies demonstrated the problems of America in the thirties and forties. In his films we see a lot of references to cynicism, problems of wealth and poverty, corruption, the problems of the Great Depression, bank failures, personal bankruptcies, and a lot of other painful subjects get attention in the Capra movies. In fact, frequently Frank Capra gets his heroes into such troubles over these and other problems that, at the end of the movie he has to sort of invent a miracle to get his hero out of trouble.

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Robert Brent Toplin
Part 1: A Stunning Example of Success
Part 2: This Notion That the Little Guy Has Dignity
Part 3: The Women Were Usually Strong
Part 4: Some Critical Questions
Introduction | Toplin | Levine | Carter | Multimedia Index | Credits | JMMH

Frank Capra's America
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