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Camden New Journal - By DAN CARRIER
Published: 3 January 2008

New Journal film critic William Hall, Everyman’s Miriam Foley and Colin Shindler. Below, Frank Capra with his wife, Colin Shindler and his daughter Amy
It’s a wonderful film... and a great fundraiser

THE James Stewart classic It’s A Wonderful Life underlined its credentials as a Christmas favourite when a screening in aid of the New Journal’s hamper appeal sold out.
The showing at Hampstead Everyman Cinema Club two days before Christmas saw film lovers queue to watch the heartbreaking story of down-on-his-luck do-gooder George Bailey and the guardian angel sent to save his life. The screening raised more than £500 for our appeal, which hands out goodie-packed hampers to those in need.
Cambridge University film expert Colin Shindler, who lives in Muswell Hill, and the New Journal’s film critic, William Hall, introduced the film
Prof Shindler revealed how he befriended legendary film director Frank Capra when he was writing a PhD dissertation on the movie-maker’s career. He wrote to Capra in California in 1972 and persuaded him to be interviewed. It was the start of a long friendship, with Capra spending holidays at Prof Shindler’s small Cambridge flat.
Prof Shindler said: “In the 1930s Capra was a big deal in Hollywood. He had won three best director Oscars and had earned the right to have his name before his films. It was Frank Capra’s Mr Deeds Goes To Town and Frank Capra’s Mr Smith Goes To Washington.”
But the outbreak of World War II changed that. Prof Shindler explained: “In the 1940s he was called up and worked on a series of propaganda films to bolster the war effort. Entitled Why We Fight, it included such films as one called the Battle of Britain. But war does things to you. You don’t come home the same person.
“Both Frank Capra and James Stewart returned to Hollywood and felt they had lost something. They were worried they would never be able to make the same kind of films they used to do so successfully in the 1930s again.
“Stewart had changed. He had been away for four or five years and he had not made a film in that time – he’d been leading a squadron of bombers. Jimmy Stewart was petrified – he thought he had lost his touch.”
Through Capra’s new production company, Liberty Films, the pair found the story of George Bailey and the sleepy town of Bedford Springs. Both knew they had a tearjerker on their hands.
But It’s A Wonderful Life was a flop when first released – adding to Capra’s and Stewart’s woes. It was beaten to a number of Oscars and this dented its appeal.
Prof Shindler explained: “In the 1930s, Frank had created the Capra hero: the slow-talking, honourable man who remains true to his beliefs. He wanted to revisit this theme after the war and found this story of the simple hero who is going to take his own life when a guardian angel appears and shows how his home town would have been if he had never lived, and highlights all the good he has done over the years.
“It’s a powerful idea, and Capra was devastated when it did not do well.”
But as Prof Shindler discovered when he met Capra in person, the film’s popularity, which came later with its showings on television at Christmas, was a matter of immense pride for the director.
Prof Shindler said: “He felt this film had been badly received for the wrong reasons. Then it suddenly became everybody’s favourite Christmas film. It was a great comfort to him in a grand old age.”

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