At the beginning of Frank Darabont's 2001 film "The Majestic" is one of cinema's most tragic scenes about screenwriting this side of "Sunset Boulevard." A hardworking contract screenwriter — "a creative," in modern parlance — sits in the middle of a Hollywood office in 1951, the camera resting on his face. He is withdrawn, only half listening to the people around him. He is evidently surrounded by off-screen executives who are pitching long and elaborate — and completely trite — story ideas for some upcoming production. They talk of heroic dog rescues and weeping love interests and other hackneyed, sentimental ideas. The screenwriter, Peter Appleton (Jim Carrey) eventually looks up, knowing he will have to somehow turn these terrible ideas into a screenplay.

For anyone who has worked in Hollywood, the sequence is equal parts comedic and horrifying.

"The Majestic" then takes a surprising turn. Peter, fleeing persecution from the encroaching Hollywood Blacklist, gets in a car crash on a beachside road. He is revived in a nearby town, stricken with amnesia, and assumed to be a man named Luke, lost in World War II. Peter's discovery of life in this small town allows his heart to grow, and his cynicism about Hollywood to melt away. Peter's fresh-faced love of movies also inspires the locals to re-open their long-defunct movie theater, the Majestic.

If that sounds like something Frank Capra would have made in the late 1930s, that's not a coincidence. In a 2012 interview with IGN, Darabont stated explicitly that Capra wasn't merely an influence on "The Majestic," but a full-bore love letter to his favorite filmmaker.


Frank Capra, for those unfamiliar with him, was one of America's preeminent filmmakers throughout the 1930s and 1940s. His films are marked by a fresh-faced optimism, and often tell stories of people finding hope in the face of hated capitalism and greed. In Capra's world, positive, small-town ideals will always win over complex, corrupted systems designed to protect the wealthy. Just about every sentimental Hallmark Christmas movie about someone leaving the big city to find quaint adoration in a small American town owes its existence to the precedent set by Capra. In the director's filmography are several must-sees including "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," "It Happened One Night," "Arsenic and Old Lace," "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town," "You Can't Take it With You," "Lady for a Day," and "It's a Wonderful Life."

Frank Darabont, like many filmmakers, adores Capra, and one can see the influence in every frame of "The Majestic." He even saw in Jim Carrey a parallel to one of Capra's most famous collaborators. As he told IGN:

"This movie really is for me, personally, a love letter to Frank Capra […] I love his work, it means so much to me, he's been a huge influence on me. I start crying during the opening credits of 'It's a Wonderful Life.' [… And] if it's a love letter to Capra, we needed our Jimmy Stewart."

James Stewart and Capra worked together on three feature films, and any one of those three often makes lists of the best American movies of all time.

Carrey Is Stewart

Jim Carrey, meanwhile, exploded into the public consciousness in 1994 with the three-punch of "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective," "The Mask," and "Dumb and Dumber," all massive comedy hits. It wasn't after appearing in comedic roles for several years that Carrey began to turn toward more dramatic material. Despite the actor's talents for wild, fun overacting, and slapstick hilarity, Frank Darabont saw a calm, gentle soul within. A performer, it seems, that reminded him of the aw-shucks attitude of Jimmy Stewart. In Darabont's words:

"For some reason, for years now I have gotten this sort of Jimmy Stewart vibe off of Jim Carrey […] I don't know if it's his physicality or his sincerity and heart, but I always had this sense of him. When we decided to do the film, we immediately talked about Jim, and we could only hope that he was at a point in his career where he wanted to do something like this. As it turned out, he was hungry to do it — to do something where he puts all the gimmicks aside."

When the fan website JimCarreyOnline interviewed their namesake in 2001, he was diplomatic. He knew that he was playing a Stewart-type role, but that he was free to invent Peter himself. Carrey said:

"Jimmy Stewart is an unreachable star to me. He was his thing and no one can ever be that again. I'm lucky to be in the same town and working in the same business that he was. I don't try to concentrate on that. I just try to make it as real and as interesting as possible when I'm doing it. Then when they say cut I sit around and beg for compliments."

"The Majestic" is a gentle, nostalgic film designed to crack stony hearts.

Capra would be flattered.

Read this next: 15 Best Films Of The 1930s

The post Frank Darabont Saw The Majestic As His Chance To Make A Frank Capra Film appeared first on /Film.