July Book Review

This month’s review is by Tom Tomlinson

Cry Wilderness
By Frank Capra

If the name Frank Capra is new to you or you can’t recall in what context you know the name, I recommend that you don’t read this book; instead go to the Capra film file and check out any two of his 1930s films. Cry rains with purple prose, clichéd Hollywood characters of good and evil, a wondering organization, highlighted by an uncertain beginning; in short: Cry needed a savvy editor’s surgical blue pencil. Frank Capra writing fiction as revealed in Cry was not his forte. Making movies: that was the Capra touch during the 1930s and 1940s.

But, if you are familiar with his films and can abide the writing, take a stab at Cry Wilderness because it makes a study in continuity from his films to this novel. Cry does recall themes that Capra broached and pursued during the two decades of cinematic triumphs noted above. The natural intelligence and decency of the common man who, pitted against sophisticated opposition mounted by wealthy, corrupt political people – persons in power – will prevail. In Cry Wilderness, readers find the narrator, Frank Capra [sic!], a successful Hollywood studio figure, trades the dollar-driven, politically corrupt world of corporate film studios of southern California for the restorative peace found on the east side of the Sierra Nevada mountains. In real life, Capra owned a cabin in the June Lake Bridgeport region of Mono County where Cry is set. Narrator Capra imagines a life of fly fishing, hiking, and reading and simply revering the Sierra wilderness; indeed, the title becomes a short-hand lament for the very issue that Capra is beginning to morn: his threatened Wilderness. (I like to think that the wished-for savvy editor might have proposed an alternate title, something like: Cry for the Beloved Threatened Wilderness). But, quickly in the novel Capra, the character, becomes involved with a kind-hearted sheriff who ignores the direction of his chief by caring for a couple of eccentric hermits whose loopy but harmless ways are thought to compromise the prospective financial interests of a group of real estate entrepreneurs seeking to build hotels, ski lifts and the like. Local politicians take sides reflecting the interests of developers. Nothing new here as Capra, the real- life film script writer, producer and director has shown in such 1930s films as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Meet John Doe among others. The novel ends in what is for Capra an uncharacteristic way.

Capra is thought to have drafted Cry Wilderness around 1966 remaining unknown until published in 2018. Born in rural Sicily in 1897, Capra immigrated with his illiterate family to Los Angeles around 1903. After high school, he studied engineering and mathematics at what is now Caltech. During college, the Capra family moved to Sierra Madre where father Capra oversaw the management of a citrus orchard. The house in which the family is thought to have lived is still standing at 735 Canyon Crest.


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