Talkie of the Week: It’s a Wonderful Life
USA 1946, 130 minutes, black & white, RKO Radio Pictures. Director: Frank Capra, Written by: Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Jo Swerling and Frank Capra, Based on “The Greatest Gift” by Philip Van Doren Stern. Cast: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell, Henry Travers
Plot summary: After never getting out of his hometown to lead the life he intended, George Bailey is facing a personal crisis on Christmas Eve which makes him realize how wonderful his life actually is.
Review: It’s a Wonderful Life is a Christmas classic, gladly revisited by families every year. Originally released on December 20th, 1946, the film is still as popular today as it was then, sixty-five years ago. George Bailey’s journey is still every bit as gripping, Jimmy Stewart’s portrayal still touching and Bedford Falls still as charming as it used to be when the film was well received by its audience and the industry.
It’s a Wonderful Life is the tale of a man who had great aspirations in life, who wanted to explore the world and dreamed of adventures and an education. A man who stayed behind when his father died to save the family business and name, who sent his brother to college instead of himself. A man who never wanted to marry until he met a girl he fell in love with, a girl who did not tie him down but helped him create a new dream of having a home and a family. That man is George Bailey, respected and loved by his family and friends. A man who has made a difference in so many people’s lives although he never seems to realize just how important his good deeds have been to his community.
It may sound depressing to hear that George Bailey is trying to take his life. It may sound cheesy to know that an angel was sent to help him out. But the film is none of that: neither dismal nor corny. It’s a Wonderful Life is a beautiful film about the joys of a simple life, of solidarity and love. It is a film about the meaning of Christmas, family and giving back. It is a film for the entire family, grownups and small ones. It is a film from a decade when movies still knew to uplift their audience although they had a touch of melancholy and morale.
James Stewart was the perfect choice for breathing life into a troubled George Bailey. His all-American, boyish charm adds the right amount of nostalgia and courage to a fantastic script. Donna Reed was an equally superb casting decision. Her mix of earthiness and grace complement Jimmy Stewart’s style in the best of ways, and although her part is a small one, her Mary Bailey makes quite an impression on screen. They are supported by a stellar cast of supporting actors, none of them outshining the other but creating an atmosphere of unity instead.
To sum it up, It’s a Wonderful Life is a true holiday gem. Although a variety of colorized versions have been released on VHS and DVD over the years, I personally prefer the original material in black and white which, like so often, only adds to the quality of the film. Online I found the color version and thus added it here for y’all to enjoy. For those of you who are still unfamiliar with this film, I really hope it will warm your hearts as much as it always warms mine. Merry Christmas!
Available on DVD. It’s a Wonderful Life feature film (colorized version)