After slowing down as a feature-film director, Frank Capra produced and directed the "Wonders Of Life" educational films, which aired as Bell Telephone Science Hour TV specials in the late '50s, and later became science-classroom perennials, amusing students with their bizarre juxtaposition of kid-friendly explanations and hardcore science. The series' animated interludes and colorful metaphors disguise their foundation of complicated biology and geophysics, as in 1956's Our Mr. Sun, which starts with a silly "Have you ever imagined a world without sunshine?" scenario and ends by fretting over the population explosion and postulating a utopian future filled with glow-in-the-dark wallpaper and fields of chlorophyll-boosted wheat. The 1957 installment The Strange Case Of The Cosmic Rays drafts puppet versions of Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky to help track the puzzling source of extraterrestrial particle bombardment, though the writers' search for "clues" and "henchmen" ultimately makes biochemistry more confusing. Capra's second 1957 "wonder," Hemo The Magnificent, explains the function of blood in human anatomy, but again gets mired in comparing nerves to telephone wires and vascular sphincters to railroad switchmen, until the analogy becomes more complex than the anatomy. The 1958 episode The Unchained Goddess is perhaps the most direct of the series, though its meteorology breakdown is complicated by an introduction of angry weather deities. All four of Capra's Bell productions are now available on a pair of DVDs, and though they're too cutesy for older science students and too complex for the elementary-school set, they should play well to postgraduates looking for an educational refresher, or to those nostalgic for the clean energy and tireless optimism of mainstream '50s entertainment. Co-hosted by a good-natured egghead scientist (played by real-life Shakespearean scholar Dr. Frank Baxter) and a down-to-earth writer (played first by Eddie Albert and later by B-movie stalwart Richard Carlson), the "Wonders Of Life" films attempt to soften the American distrust of intellectuals by playing the two lead characters off each other. But they also revel in the spirit of cooperation and possibility, creating a comfortable mood–with the accidental effect of allowing exhausted pupils to bliss out amid the drudgery of institutional learning. The films also remain fascinating for their weird postmodernism, which has the audience watching the scientist and the writer figure out how best to make the film that the audience is already watching. Then there's Capra's religious agenda, displayed via the sprinkling of scripture into lessons that nevertheless acknowledge evolution as an organizing biological principle. In the end, the "Wonders Of Life" become highly personal, as Capra lingers on footage of weather disasters and beating hearts as a way of infusing science with divine mystery.

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