Once again, I have finally watched one of those classic feel good movies that comes on every Christmas and realized what I have been missing. It’s a Wonderful Life is full of Jimmy Stewart’s aw-shucks attitude, Christmas spirit and Frank Capra’s simple wholesome movie magic.
The movie starts with everything looking like Christmas time and prayers going out. They are received by some cosmic masses, who discuss sending an angel, Clarence (Henry Travers), to go convince this George (Stewart) from taking his own life. This is Clarence’s big chance to finally earn his wings, but first ,he needs to learn a bit more about George.
From here on, we’re shown the major events in George’s life, beginning with his episode as a boy saving his younger brother when he fell through some ice. This incident left George deaf in one ear. As he grows older, all he dreams of is traveling, getting an education and building the next great things in the world. But all that is sacrificed when his father suddenly dies and to prevent the heartless, money driven Henry f. Potter (Lionel Barrymore) from taking the business and ruining the good people in town, George takes over. From then on, George marries his sweetheart, Mary (Donna Reed), and lives an honest and happy life never having much money.
But this day, this Christmas Eve, his business partner Uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell) has accidentally lost eight thousand dollars. In 1946, that’s enough to ruin the business and if George can’t find the money he’ll be arrested, thrown in jail and his family will go hungry. The most valuable thing he has is his life insurance and he realizes that he’s worth more money dead than alive.
When Clarence intervenes, George is no less morose, and wishes he had never been born. So Clarence shows George exactly what his town would be like today if he had never been born. It’s enough to shock George to realizing that no matter how bad his life gets, he has done a lot of good for his world and he just wants to live.
Capra loves to play on the idea of giving rather than receiving, no better setting to put one of his films than Christmas. Throughout the film we see so many examples of this, George sacrificing his travels, his education even his honeymoon for the sake of others. Under a portrait of George’s father in the office is the caption “All you can take with you is what you’ve given away.” Wonderful words to live by.
Through generations we have upheld It’s a Wonderful Life, and every December you’ll find it airing on a few channels. I can finally understand how this film warrants this honor, its message warms the heart and make us all see and appreciate the wonderful life we have. No matter how little we have, we should cherish and be grateful for the live we are given.
“Each man’s life touches so many other lives.”
This is my favorite movie. Not just my favorite Christmas movie, but my favorite of all movies. My only quibble is that all the initial bit about Clarence’s mission and “management” approval of his plan never gets followed up on after about the middle of the movie. In a modern movie, they might have toyed with that during the credits to avoid breaking the scene at the Bailey house Christmas….
I absolutely love this film. It’s one of my favorites.
I only saw it for the first time a couple of months ago, and found it interesting that it is much less sugar coated most of the times than I expected. This is dark stuff, especially learning what all these supposedly nice people are capable of, and how easy it would be to turn the town into a wicked witch lair just by removing one little piece of the puzzle. But indeed a very fine piece of work from Capra. I could have done without the slightly camp opening scenes in heaven, though… My thoughts after seeing it: http://thomas4cinema.wordpress.com/2010/12/29/its-a-wonderful-life-frank-capra-1946/
I pretty much had the same reaction as you when I finally saw it.