An angel helps a compassionate but despairingly frustrated businessman by showing what life would have been like if he never existed.
James Stewart: George Bailey
Truly one of the finest films ever made. It's message still resonates as if 1946 was yesterday. It's central themes of love, appreciation, loyalty, and sacrifice are valuable reminders any time of year; This isn't just a Christmas film! This is a complex story about life itself and the importance of giving!
Like many other Christmas-themed stories, this one reminds us to pause for a moment and take in our surroundings.
It is unfortunate that such films are expected to be only celebrated once a year, but that particular trait also adds a certain degree of rarity to its charm and appeal. The characters are well-developed and whether loved or hated; each plays a vital role in the film; as in George Bailey's life.
Director Frank Capra has simply put a masterpiece onto celluloid here; and that is quite a feat for a holiday niche film. Never dull, always heartwarming, funny, and true, It's a Wonderful Life is truly one of cinema's shining achievements.
If you have a chance, watch both the Colour and Black & White Versions. Alot of work has gone into restoring and preserving the film; equally adding colour shows how perfect this film truly is.
Sure there is the whole cliché of seeing the world as though you have never existed; the waking up to show how important life is to so many. It's a rendition of Dickens yet spun in a way that makes it original. The entire film could have run with the gimmick and created a complete story from it; as numerous reinterpretations have done. Instead the filmmakers have started us at the end, a tragedy has occurred and a man's faith in life is taking a diminishing blow. Prayers have been sent above and the Gods have decided to send down an angel to help our hero out of his predicament. Well this angel knows nothing about George Bailey; so for the first three quarters of the movie we go along for the ride to catch up on the life of this great man, just as our angel Clarence does the same. We are shown the life of a man who has given the whole of his being for those around him. With not a selfish bone in his physical frame, George continues to sacrifice his happiness for the joy to see his friends jubilant. Through his good deeds, he eventually wakes up to the treasures of life that have been in front of him the whole time and really takes a small town from the Depression to a bonding, successful society. It is almost a strain to consider he could be in so much trouble that he would be contemplating suicide, but once again we see his caring nature come through in that trying, desperate moment. When the story finally catches up to itself we learn that the predicament he is in is actually one of another that he has taken responsibility for in order to see if he can't solve the town's problems again.
James Stewart is a revelation here. The self-deprecating nature is prevalent at all times, and the intellect his character retains balances nicely with his humour and good nature. Stewart is George Bailey, as the role fully encompasses his being. Every nuance of emotion is etched to his face as he goes from wide-eyed explorer to smitten lover, responsible adult, compassionate son and brother, loving husband and father, beaten failure, and finally redeemed hero and friend to all men and women he has ever come across. Of course what hero can exist without a nemesis of equal power whose immense strength comes from evil? Here we have the loathed Mr. Potter played brilliantly by Lionel Barrymore. I don't think anyone who has ever seen this film can have any real compassion for this man who is truly a scrooge to all. People are numbers and figures to him, which need to be conquered and claimed as his own. Barrymore is despicably slimy and true to his character at all times. There must also be mention of the beautiful Donna Reed as our protagonist's love interest. Her striking beauty and self-assuredness shows why George Bailey could be so taken by her, always getting distracted away from his dreams of leaving Bedford Falls. The sexual tension between Reed and Stewart throughout begins humourously at a dance and after when drenched with water and culminates in a serious and real moment as the love takes over during a phone conversation with an old friend. The relationship is believable from start to finish; portrayed even by the young actors who played their roles as children.
True there is a segmented population during Christmas time containing those whom watch A Christmas Story, those with a love for Christmas Vacation, and those championing It's a Wonderful Life among many others. I must say that I have been converted to Capra's classic film and would have no problem watching it not just every Christmas but every holiday, for the rest of my life. The story means alot of things to many people and has been remade countless times in many forms, (there are chunks of time here which show how even Back to the Future II is copying it's paradoxical story at one point). If you want a perfectly written and acted tale of the joy of giving and the strength of friendship to help show the true meaning of Christmas, look no further than this diamond that has endured for over 60 years.
Remember, George: no man is a failure who has friends.