It’s a Wonderful Life
Release year: 1946
Director: Frank Capra
Screenwriter: Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Frank Capra, Jo Swerling, Philip Van Doren Stern (story)
Starring: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell, Henry Travers, Beulah Bondi, Frank Faylen
Ratings: 5 Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor (James Stewart), Best Director, Best Sound, Best Film Editing. 1 Golden Globe: Best Picture.
Moviegeek Sunday Classic #28, week 51 2014
As the angel Clarence (Henry Travers) is told about George Bailey (James Stewart), along with him we too hear about the life of a decent and friendly man who again and again selflessly choose to help the people of the town instead of following his dreams. But one Christmas Eve, George and his business gets into money trouble leaving George believing that everyone would have been better of if he had never been born. Clarence gets a chance of earning his wings by helping George.
This Christmas classic and a favourite of its kind among many was according to James Stewart (Rear Window 1954) his personal favourite of all his films. But on its first release the movie was, almost unbelievable today, a flop. An opinon that has been reversed today where it is one of the most beloved classics, even coming in second at BBC TV Listing magazines’s 2004 poll of “The Best Film Never to Have Won an Oscar” (The Shawshank Redemption came first). The movie has a bit of a special origin, based on the short story “The Greatest Gift” by Philip Van Doren Stern, who when unable to get it published sent the booklet as Christmas cards for friends and family, making It’s a Wonderful Life the only movie to be inspired by a Christmas card. As the movie is one of the most inspirational Holiday movies made, delivering a message of the importance of friends and family and especially, the importance of every single human being as we touch so many more lives than what we expect, it somehow seems fitting that its inspiration came from a Christmas greeding sent to friends and fmaily. The part was originally written with Gary Grant i mind, but when it came into the hands of Capra (It Happened One Night 1934) he rewrote the character to make him fit for his own choice, James Stewart. Stewart was at first reluctant to take on the part so soon after returning from war, but he luckily decided to take on the part that would turn out to be one of his most popular characters. Today it is hard to imagine anyone else but the charming Stewart with his honest appearance and endearing drawl play George Bailey. As we follow George through one disappointment after another and watch his dreams get shatterede over and over again, the likeable being that Stewart is, helps you forgive George for not opening up his eyes to everything life brings him instead. One of those things is the beautiful and resourceful wife he finds in Mary played by a wonderful Donna Reed (From Here to Eternity 1953). Sweet, decent, and strong minded she is the perfect match for the more weak minded George. The connections and chemistry between the two are warm and real, in fact so warm that parts of the scene with their embrace had to be cut due to being too passionate for the censors. The effective frame of Clarence being updated about the life of George Bailey, makes the life span of 26 years in the movie glide along smoothly even though his younger years are mainly told in bits an pieces. The frame consists of so much playing time, that the part that would be considered the main story begins later in the movie than what one would expect. But when you reach that part, you will benefit from the long introduction, as you are so aquainted with George, Mary, and Uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell, Gone With the Wind 1939) that you genuinly care about their well-being, just as you at that point detest the horrible Mr. Potter, played horrifyingly well by Lionel Barrymore (The Girl From Missouri 1934). It is not just a beloved classic with ageless themes of friendship and humane values but an excellent movie with a brilliant cast. Watch whenever you need to have your faith in humanity restored.
42 angels got their wings over the course of the movie (you hear 42 rings in the movie).
Donna Reed grew up a farm girl, a fact she stated when she won a challenge from Lionel Barrymore on set about whether she could milk a cow.
The only movie Frank Capra both co-wrote, financed, directed, and produced.
Picture copyright: RKO