Critics of the late Frank Capra often had to work overtime to find ways to demean the work of the outstanding film and television director who just died at the age of 94. ``Capra-corn,'' detractors frequently have labeled some of his more popular works, such as ``It's a Wonderful Life.''
But one can't help wondering if the nation wouldn't be at least a little better off these days if there had been more Capra productions on the screens and fewer of the lusty, bloody-and-gutsy and totally tasteless ``productions'' which the movie-going public too frequently has been dealt since Capra's heydey.
Capra came to the United States as a boy from Sicily. His parents could neither read nor write and he grew up poor and struggling. The famed director admitted he hated being poor, living in sleazy quarters and just scraping by, and he was truly devoted to a nation and its system which allowed him to do so well and enjoy himself so much in doing it.
But he was not overtly preachy in his films, which some describe as vehicles that allowed people to ``cry in pride.'' They did indeed. Capra set moral tones and then let story lines and character development make points about ethics, morality and, most important, love of individuals and country.
Many Americans in the 1930s and 1940s, and later people the world over, watched Capra films and were given good examples to follow. His movies were something like the carrot on the end of the stick that tends to keep a stray donkey on the right path. Fiction sometimes can transmit into fact, and chances are a lot of people became better citizens because of the messages transmitted by so many of Capra's great films.
Contrast these with some of the out-and-out trash we get nowadays, and the comparison often produces a sickening feeling.
Consider, also, that there seems to be a trend back to the so-called kinder and gentler type of movie, where moral values, the triumph of virtues and good laughs are the core. And keep in mind that some of the current films of this nature are beginning to make money while the more bizarre efforts designed to shock or titillate are suffering at the box office.
Maybe there's hope yet for the movie industry. And if ``Hollywood'' does find a way to pull out of its worsening tailspin, it will have people such as Frank Capra to thank for setting the standards that all too often are ignored in this day and age.