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After Frank Capra’s film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington premiered at the National Press Club in October 1939, Alben Barkley, then majority leader of the US Senate, roundly condemned it. John F. Kennedy’s father, Joseph Kennedy, actually offered Columbia Pictures two million dollars to keep it out of theaters. Undeterred, Capra persuaded Columbia to release the film and to market it with the motto “Liberty is too precious to get buried in books,” a line spoken by James Stewart in the film. Capra thought American ideals were uniquely well served by the medium of film, even as his motion pictures were being labeled “Capra-corn.” But just how was sentimental cinema supposed to advance American ideals? And how did Capra come to believe it could? These are two of the key questions James Chandler attempts to answer in a forthcoming book on Capra and the legacy of literary sentimentalism.
This program is presented as part of the annual Karla Scherer Endowed Lecture Series for the University of Chicago.