2. It’s a Wonderful Life

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Movie: It’s a Wonderful Life

Release Date: December 20, 1946

Director: Frank Capra

Starring: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell, Henry Travers, Beulah Bondi, Ward Bond, Frank Faylen, Gloria Grahame.

Tag Lines: “Frank Capra’s…”It’s a Wonderful Life”.”

“The most loved Christmas film of all time!”

“Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.”

“Frank Capra’s original ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’.”

“Wonderful news…about wonderful people!…in a wonderful picture! It’s a wonderful love! It’s a wonderful laugh!”

“James Stewart and Donna Reed in Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life.”

“Where wishes come true… where angels are real… The greatest gift of all… is right at home.”

“They’re making memories tonight!”

“Wonderful! Wonderful! Wonderful! How could it be anything else?”

“Continues to weave a special magic.”

“They’re going steady…straight to your heart!”

Relevance: Released in 1946, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ received mostly poor reviews from critics with most calling it too sentimental and unrealistic. Audiences did not cozy up to the film either as the movie recorded a loss for RKO Pictures, the company that released it. Despite the critical and commercial failure, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ was nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Picture, although it did not win any of the coveted statues. Now seen as the holiday classic to define all holiday classics and one of a handful of films worth an annual viewing, it wasn’t until three decades later did the film start to get recognized as such when it started airing on television in 1976. And that’s exactly when I was introduced to it by my family.

James Stewart was a family favorite, especially for my maternal Grandfather who loved watching his films. Mr. Stewart played the “everyman” so eloquently and realistically, it was easy for Tom (my grandfather) to relate to him. Because of that I had seen many of Mr. Stewart’s movies as a kid, some leaving a lasting impression on me enough to appear on my list of most influential films of all time (see 240. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and 237. Rear Window), with ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ being by far the greatest of inspirations.

I can’t remember exactly the first time that I watched ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ but I do know that it was sometime in the late 1970’s around Christmas. The film, along with ‘The Bells of St. Mary’s’ (see 361. The Bells of St. Mary’s), became a holiday tradition for me and my family that we would watch every year. There were many a Christmas Eves waiting to attend Midnight Mass that my family watched this classic drama. I have to say though that as a five or six year old child, I was easily entertained by the second half of the film when Clarence the angle popped up. The first half of the movie, not so much. Eventually as I got older, I got to love the entire story and grew an attachment of some sorts to the character of George Bailey. There were some Christmases that I watched the movie alone as my family seemed to have lost some interest. My interest never waned.

As an adult, I owned the VHS and would watch the movie every Christmas Eve while I wrapped presents. Whether I was with someone or single and alone, drinking eggnog with boxes and wrapping paper and the glow of the Christmas tree lights, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ played every year like clockwork. I never got tired of the story and always ended up bawling my eyes out over my ribbons and bows. There was an element of the story, mostly George Bailey’s plight to get out of Bedford Falls, that I always associated with and felt akin to. I was always that kind of person wishing and reaching for something bigger, brighter and better than what I had and not realizing what I already had was good enough. This movie acted as my yearly reminder that I really did have a wonderful life and forced me to stop my complaining about what could be. It worked. The movie always made me feel better about myself.

‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ was a polarizing film. I knew many people that despised it. These were unwell people. One of those unwell people was my son. I introduced the film to him around the same time that I was introduced to it and tried to watch it with him every holiday season. It didn’t take. To this day, my son loathes this movie and considers it to be one of the worst films ever made. Unwell. Despite some people’s affliction to it, I adored the film, now own the DVD and I am unabashedly proud to call it one of my favorite movies of all time. There are moments throughout the year, far from the holiday season, that I reference and quote this film. No matter if it’s December or July, a thought of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ always, always makes me smile.

Today’s Thoughts: “Remember, George: no man is a failure who has friends.”

When I tell people that ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ is one of my favorite movies, I always get the same retort, “But you’re an atheist.” Yes, that is a true statement. It is also true that Frank Capra made the film “to combat a modern trend toward atheism.” I guess the joke is on him. I, a proud atheist, love this film. Although I don’t believe in gods and angels as I did when I watched it as a five or six year old, I still believe in the kindness and goodness of the human spirit. I always felt that the film’s true message is the individual’s belief in himself. The fantasy elements are just that, fantasy. After all, it’s just a movie.

‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ is a movie, an excellent movie. My husband was one of those naysayers about the film, but he wanted to watch it with me this year because he said that he really doesn’t remember anything about it. So on Christmas night we watched it together. Like every movie I watch with my husband, the film was ridiculed, questioned and commented on incessantly throughout the viewing. I have somehow grown accustomed to this behavior by now. Usually I would get upset and tell the person to shut up, but since I knew that I would be re-watching the film again today, I let him go. Now my husband did cry at the end of the movie, but that’s not very telling. He cries at commercials. I believe after watching it again he is still sort of ho-hum about the picture. I still am not.

Watching it again only four days later, I enjoyed every second of this James Stewart classic holiday tale. I will never grow tired of it. I think it is most in part to Mr. Stewart’s honest, beautiful portrayal of George Bailey. The character, and the performance, just makes me smile form ear to ear. There is a certain warm fuzziness that I get every time I watch the movie. In 2020, I will take all of the warm fuzziness I can get. The only different take I got out of today’s viewing is that Mr. Potter is Mitch McConnell, evil, white, rich man taking money from the poor. I wonder what James Stewart, a staunch Republican, would think of that analysis. The truth hurts.

‘Its a Wonderful Life’ is a wonderful classic drama that I will always support one hundred percent with my entire being. It is not only tradition for me, it is a movie that always brings back warm memories and makes me feel like a better human being after watching it. To those that love the movie, my only suggestion is watch it in black and white. To all the negative Nancy’s out there that dislike the film, your loss. Merry Christmas to you anyway.

Awards: Academy Award for Best Picture (nomination), Academy Award for Best Director, Frank Capra (nomination), Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, James Stewart (nomination), Academy Award for Best Sound, Recording, John Aalberg (nomination), Academy Award for Best Film Editing. William Hornbeck (nomination), Golden Globe for Best Director, Frank Capra (winner), National Board of Review Award for Top Ten Films (winner), National Film Registry (1990), New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Director, Frank Capra (nomination).

Ways to Watch: Amazon Prime, YouTube, Vudu, iTunes, DVD Availability.

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