Frank Capra is a most loved movie director, best known for such classic films as "It's a Wonderful Life," "It Happened One Night," "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town," "Lost Horizon" and "Arsenic and Old Lace," all of which frequently show up on television, video rentals and in repertory movie theaters.

But before those great films, Capra made quite a few others, films that are never seen on television, haven't been put on video and which have been unavailable to movie theaters.Until now.

Columbia Pictures, where Capra did most of his work, has recently made new, high-quality 35mm prints of some of Capra's early films, among them such little-known classics as "Platinum Blonde," "American Madness," "Ladies of Leisure," "Forbidden," "Dirigible," "The Miracle Woman" and "The Bitter Tea of General Yen."

These films still aren't available to television and they're not going to video very soon, but they are starting to make the rounds in repertory houses, and the Avalon Theater, 3605 S. State, has begun a five-week festival of the best of Frank Capra's early movies.

All the titles mentioned above will be shown in double features, along with "You Can't Take It With You," another classic film (and winner of the 1938 best picture Oscar), and "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town."

The current program is "The Bitter Tea of General Yen," co-billed with "The Miracle Woman," both from the early '30s and both starring Barbara Stanwyck. (For details see the "On the Screen" movie list on page W-2.)

Next Wednesday the films will be "Forbidden," also starring Stanwyck, and "American Madness," with Walter Huston and Pat O'Brien.