It's A Wonderful Life

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Wonderful life? more like a "wonderful Christmas movie!"

It's a Wonderful Life is a 1946 Christmas film based on the 1939 story The Greatest Gift by Philip Van Doren Stern. The film stars James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore and Henry Travers. The film was directed by Frank Capra.

Plot

Around the Holiday Season of 1945, George Bailey (Stewart) is suicidal and wishes that he had never been born. After he states that a guardian angel named Clarence (Henry Travers) appears and tells him how his life is wonderful and if he wasn't around, life would be awful.

Why It Rocks

  1. Beautifully written storyline written around Christmas.
  2. James Stewart's performance was well done along with Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Henry Travers.
  3. George Bailey is a great protagonist through all of his sacrifices and selfless acts during the film, even though he's still pretty flawed in the end.
  4. The rest of the characters are no slouches either.
    1. Mary Hatch-Bailey is kind and patient, a hard-worker who goes towards keeping the Building and Loan open, railed George's companions to regain the lost money, not to mention fixing up an old house and parenting four kids. Give this woman some credit.
    2. Mr. (Henry F.) Potter is a smart, manipulative antagonist who's awfully similar to Ebenezer Scrooge.
  5. It cleverly spans the characters through the most consequential period of American history: the first half of the 20th century. Some people call it the original Forrest Gump (which takes on the second half) for that reason.
    1. The Turn of the Century where Young George and his friends played outdoors, Mr. Gower experimented with new medicines, his son dies of influenza, Mr. Potter rides around in a horse-drawn carriage, and George reads National Geographic Magazine.
    2. The Roaring Twenties where George and Mary dance the Charleston with the Class of 1928, the Baileys have a black house servant, and George wears a “leatherhead” football uniform, just eight years after the founding of the first pro football league.
    3. The Great Depression where Victrolas and telephones became mainstays in most U.S. homes, like in the Hatch house, Sam Wainwright gets in on the ground floor of making plastics out of soybeans, and George prevented a bank run at the Building and Loan.
    4. World War II where George Bailey (4-F on account of his ear) fights the “Battle of Bedford Falls” with rubber drives and air raids, Mary Hatch runs the U.S.O., Mrs. Bailey and Mrs. Hatch sew for the Red Cross, Mr. Gower and Uncle Billy sell war bonds, Sam Wainwright sells plastic hoods for war planes, Mr. Potter runs the draft board, Bert gets the Silver Star fighting in North Africa, Ernie parachutes into France, Mary's older brother Marty captures a strategic bridge, and George's younger brother Harry shoots down 15 Japanese planes to save the lives of countless men on a Navy transport.
    5. and the Aftermath of WWII where the war men return home, George and Mary contribute to the baby boom, Bailey Park becomes a regular suburban town, Sam Wainwright explores the future of plastics, and Harry is awarded the Medal of Honor.
  6. Considering the film's concept was partially inspired by Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, the writers pretty much invented a new but similar concept in which we see just how a single person's existence and/or actions can affect so many others (the "It's a Wonderful Plot" trope), a concept that would continue to be used in various media.
  7. For once, the film's antagonist (Mr. Potter) ends the film victorious and without any form of comeuppance. This was a very bold move back in the 40s.
  8. The idea of a guardian angel by one's side made the film emotional in a good way.
  9. The film's ending is one of the most heartwarming and iconic moments throughout cinema.
  10. In Nick’s Bouncer, a familiar and forgotten actor from the Three Stooges, the late Cy Schindell, can be seen, but only for a limited screen time.

Bad Qualities

  1. A lot of continuity errors.
  2. Characters like Ruth Dakin-Bailey (Harry's wife), and Marty Hatch (Mary's older brother) don't get a lot of screen time or development.
  3. During the alternate universe side, there's a scene where Mary's seen as a single woman who works at a library. Somehow this is meant to be portrayed as a horrifying fate, but it's actually not that bad, especially when compared to what happened to everyone else in town (going to prison, being homeless, death, nobody thinking about other's safety and health). Honestly, Mary got off pretty lucky. In fact, Frank Capra himself state this aspect of the film didn't age well, and wished Mary had gotten a different fate.
  4. In the alternate reality, Clarence tells George that his brother died at the age of 9 because he wasn't there to save him from falling through the ice, but when you see the tomb stone, it shows Harry Bailey was born in 1911 and died in 1919. That would make Harry only 7 or 8 years old.

Trivia

  • Writer Philip Van Doren Stern sent out his short story “The Greatest Gift” as a 21-page Christmas card, which provided the original concept for the film. David Hempstead, a producer at RKO Pictures, ended up getting a hold of it and purchased the movie rights for $10,000.
  • The script went through many drafts and was worked on by acclaimed writers Dorothy Parker and Dalton Trumbo.
  • It's a Wonderful Life was James Stewart's first film after four years of military service during World War II.
  • Olivia de Havilland, Martha Scott and Ann Dvorak were all considered for the role of Mary, which was ultimately played by Donna Reed in her first major starring role.
  • The biggest snowstorm in the history of movies (at the time) was created for the film, requiring 300 tons of limestone and fifty tons of white plaster. Special effects expert Russell Shearman developed a new, more realistic looking snow especially for the picture.
  • From 1974 through 1993 the film’s copyright lapsed allowing for networks to broadcast the film throughout the holiday season, contributing to its popularity all over the world.
  • There is a tv move sequel called Clarence Which isn't very well known and got 17% on Rotten Tomatoes

Reception

When the film was first released in 1946, the film was a box office bomb while competing against another Christmas classic, which was Miracle on 34th Street. However, the film has since gained popularity in terms of cinema and Christmas tradition. The film was preserved in the National Film Registry in 1990.

External Links