With Thanksgiving upon us and Christmas not very far away I couldn’t help but review a classic feel-good film. Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life is a magical story that 70 years later is still entertaining and heart-warming. It is movies like this one that have inspired countless other filmmakers, screenwriters and movie-goers alike.
The film spans a couple decades as it follows a man named George Bailey from childhood, to adolescence and finally adulthood. George, played by the legendary James Stewart, is a man who understands sacrifice better than most. He has given his time and showed unbelievable kindness to many people throughout his life. However, after an unfortunate turn of events George lands in despair and almost makes a terrible decision. It is in his greatest hour of need that an angel named Clarence (Henry Travers) comes to his aid and shows him just what life would be like had he never been born.
In 2016, the premise of It’s A Wonderful Life may not seem incredibly original, but in 1946 it was the first of its kind. There are movies still being made today that borrow from this screenplay and direction. Interestingly enough, Life bombed at the box office in its day, mostly because people were still reeling from WWII and had more interest in war-related fare.
I cannot imagine what this film would be without James Stewart. He is truly a one-in-a-million kind of actor as his range of talent is incredible. Stewart brings this character to life in a very honest and well-rounded way. He portrays George Bailey as an affable man whose main flaw may be putting others before himself.
After a large sum of money disappears from the Savings & Loan vault, George comes to believe that he has worked in vain and is thrown into turmoil when he realizes that he might even be jailed for this indiscretion. In George’s darkest moments when he is close to losing his sanity is when Stewart shines the most. The forlorn look in his eye and deep furrow in his brow is so natural that you may forget that this is merely a movie.
Clarence the Angel is of course a bright spot in the film and during the second half of the movie he provides a decent foil for George. Clarence’s main goal is to win his wings and he is hoping that by helping George he may finally receive them. Several of the funniest lines are delivered by him and he is not quite what one would envision in thinking about angels. Yet every story needs a character like him and he serves his purpose well.
Many scenes from It’s A Wonderful Life simply tug at your heartstrings. Such as when young George saves his drunken pharmacist employer from accidentally poisoning one of his customers. Another memorable scene that comes to mind is the evening walk George shares with his love interest Mary (played by Donna Reed).
When Stewart says “What do you want [Mary]? You want the moon? Just say the word and I’ll throw a lasso around it and pull it down” and Reed looks at him with fondness in her eyes, it is apparent that theirs is a beautiful love story. Mary is the ideal wife for a man like George and the on-screen chemistry that these actors share is nearly palpable.
Obviously, Life is a movie originally done in black and white and due to the time period there are limits on what can be achieved in terms of technical camera work. I don’t think that takes away any from the story or overall message. If anything, I think that makes this movie that much more special because it shows that it has withstood the test of time.
What George comes to realize in the film’s final moments is something that we can all benefit from. He was unable to fulfill all of his boyhood dreams and he didn’t get to chase every opportunity that came his way. However, seeing what his town would be like without him made him understand just how much good he had done. His influence within the community made a profound impact on many. It is the prayers of George’s friends and family that bring Clarence to him in the first place.
Be on the lookout for this one this season- it will no doubt air on television or you can look for it at a local theater as many do special showings around the holidays. ‘Tis the season for showing kindness to those we meet 🙂
It’s A Wonderful Life is directed by film-making legend Frank Capra. He also took part in writing the screenplay alongside Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett. Also starring are Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell, and Beulah Bondi.