‘IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE’
Please feel free to comment on my review.
Frank Capra’s Christmas Masterpiece with James Stewart
This review is for my Mum and Dad.
Merry Christmas everyone!
‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ is one of the most beloved and cherished Christmas films ever made from the 1940s in America. It’s a ‘wonderful’ film starring James Stewart and Donna Reed and is wonderfully directed by Frank Capra. This film is about the meaning of life and the human spirit.
The film depicts the story of how a man experiences his wish being granted about him never being born and about how he has touched many people and their lives around him. This is a Frank Capra classic in movies and it is a proper Christmas film that is still highly rated to this day.
The 65th anniversary DVD is a 2-disc set. It contains two versions of the movie, including the original black-and-white version on Disc 1 and a brand-new colour version of the film on Disc 2.
I find it very surprising that ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ became a film flop on its initial release in the cinemas/theatres in the 1940s. I’ve seen a number of Frank Capra’s films before ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’. The films were ‘You Can’t Take It With You’ and ‘Mr Smith Goes to Washington’.
Frank Capra’s films have been considered ‘camp’ and ‘over-idealistic’ over the years. But I find that he’s directed some of the finest well-made films of the 1940s that has a blend of sentiment and humour. ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ is no exception, but it stands out in the theme to cherish life.
‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ is about George Bailey who lives in Bedford Falls. One Christmas Eve, he is about to commit suicide. Many of George’s friends and family pray for him and in Heaven the angels receive their prayers. A second class angel named Clarence is assigned to rescue George.
Clarence sees George’s life from the beginning as a little boy to how he grew up and gave up his dreams of travelling the world to help the people at Bedford Falls. Clarence saves George before he commits suicide. George soon wishes he’d never been born and Clarence grants him his wish.
The reason why George is on the verge of suicide is because of the loss of some money that was meant to be paid into the bank and got misplaced on the way. The loss of that money greatly affects George as that mistake drives him to anger and despair over the fact he could end in jail.
George doesn’t realise how much good he’s brought to people that he’s wishing his life away and believes he’s a failure. When Clarence comes to pull him out of his despair, George refuses to listen. When George’s wish gets granted, he gets to see the world without him from Clarence.
This film is based on a short story by Philip Van Doren Stern called ‘The Greatest Gift’. Frank Capra uses the basis of that short story in his film about a man experiencing life when he was never born. The idea of a man experiencing life where he never existed is clever and frightening.
I’m impressed with how Frank Capra directs his film by journeying George Bailey’s life from childhood to the 1920s to the Depression, through to the Second World War before the incident on Christmas Eve. George grows up to be a manager of the Bailey Building and Loan Association.
George interacts with the community and it’s one of the most defining things about the film and sets what he dreams and ambitions for to help the people of Bedford Falls. The angels narrate this story to Clarence in order to show him how George has touches the lives of so many people.
James Stewart stars as George Bailey in ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’. I’ve seen James Stewart in many films including ‘The Glenn Miller Story’ and he’s worked with Frank Capra a number of times in his films including the ones I’ve mentioned. His stand-out performance as George is very so epic.
He excels in every measure and facet regarding the character of George. James delivers a believable performance as he has a range of emotions from happy to sad and from angry to joyous. This film is what James Stewart is remembered for and one of his stand-out acting roles.
Co-starring with James Stewart is Donna Reed as Mary, George’s childhood sweetheart who becomes his wife. I love seeing Donna Reed in ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ as she’s so graceful and lovely throughout. Mary has loved George since they were kids and she is filled with joy at seeing him.
The relationship between George and Mary is sweet and believable. It’s such a moving moment when they realise they love each other and get married. Mary’s loyalty to George is very heart-warming and amazing, despite when George is angry and despairs during the Christmas section.
Lionel Barrymore stars as the villainous Mr. Potter. Barrymore has worked with Frank Capra before in the film ‘You Can’t Take With You’. Barrymore’s villainous performance as Potter is extremely good as he plays a cold, unfeeling person who’s wealthy and doesn’t consider people.
Potter is a greedy banker who is trying to get rid of the Bailey business. He’s against George Bailey who takes over the business after his father died. Potter is the one who finds the missing money misplaced and hides it from George to be found as he’s determined to humiliate his rival.
Henry Travers stars as Clarence the Angel. Henry is child-like in his performance as Clarence which I found sweet and amusing. Clarence comes across as eccentric to George in his angelic ways. Though Clarence is an angel, he still hasn’t earned his wings since he is an Angel 2nd Class.
Clarence has to help George come out of his despair and suicide in order to earn his wings. He grants George his wish of never being born and accompanies him to show what his life is like without him. Clarence reminds George of how dangerous it is to throw his ‘wonderful life’ away.
Thomas Mitchell stars as George’s Uncle Billy. Mitchell has also appeared in the Frank Capra-directed film ‘Mr Smith Goes To Washington’. Uncle Billy worked for George’s Dad at the Bailey Building and Loan Association before he eventually ends up working for George at that building.
I liked Uncle Billy in this movie as there are some funny moments with his character, including where he’s drunk with George; can’t find his hat and falls into a number of dustbins off-screen. Uncle Billy is the one who misplaces the money. There’s a dramatic scene with him and George.
The rest of the cast in this movie are fabulous. There’s Beulah Bondi as Mrs. Bailey, George’s mum; Ward Bond as Bert the cop; Frank Faylen as Ernie the cab driver and Gloria Grahame as Violet. There’s also H.B. Warner as Mr. Gower as well as Todd Karns as Harry, George’s brother.
There’s also Frank Albertson as Sam ‘Hee Haw’ Wainwright; William Edmunds as Martini and Sheldon Leonard (who would go on to be executive producer of ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show’) as Nick, the bartender. These are Frank Capra-esque characters and are well-performed by the actors.
The movie’s setting is Bedford Falls. It looks very impressive as a movie set of an American community in an American town. I like seeing Bedford Falls at Christmas time with snow falling in the night. The movie depicts how this town is very important to George and to everyone else.
Bedford Falls is enclosed ranging from Mr. Gower’s drug store; to the Bailey House; the Bailey Building and Loan Association building; the bank; the high school and Bedford Park. Seeing the changes in Bedford Falls becoming Pottersville when George’s existence is removed is terrifying.
I was frightened for George seeing the world without him as he slowly comes to realise his mistake of fretting over the loss of the money. George’s journey in the Christmas section of the movie when he’s angry and succumbing to despair is astounding as it makes this film so moving.
George’s shock horror of realising that he has no wife and kids and nobody to care for him is very frightening. It’s only a matter of time before George realise the mistake of his wish. That moment when he cries out, “I want to live again! Please God! Let me live again!” is very moving.
The film’s ending had me in tears when watching it. I was surprised by how I was in tears when I was watching the film’s final scenes. It proves that this film is deeply moving and effective even to this day when it made in the 1940s. I’m sure I say this about ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ for everyone.
The DVD special features on this 2-Disc DVD are as follows. As well as the colourised version of the movie, which I found very impressive indeed, there’s also included the original 1946 theatrical poster as well as 4 limited edition art cards including photos of the movie on the DVD.
I was saddened that there’s no introduction or making-of documentary on this 65th Anniversary DVD. Those special features were on the original DVD when the film was released in the early 2000s. The introduction and documentary has interesting behind-the-scenes info about the film.
‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ is a heart-warming and uplifting about the importance of life that is especially good to watch at Christmas. James Stewart delivers a brilliant performance as George Bailey in this with Donna Reed as his wife Mary and Lionel Barrymore as that wicked Mr. Potter.
The film’s themes of overcoming selfishness and despair resonate throughout. It’s a wonderfully and beautifully crafted film that is a masterpiece directed by Frank Capra. I cherish very fond memories and I highly recommend this special film to those who wishes to celebrate Christmas!
Happy Christmas to everyone!
‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ rating – 10/10