Tuesday, November 26, 2013

It's a Wonderful Life (1947)

It's A Wonderful Life is a wonderful movie.

Reel Popcorn Junkie has reviewed several Christmas films in recent weeks. This is the best of the bunch.

It's hard not to cry watching Frank Capra's 1947 film. Fellas, that's OK.

There's tears of empathy for George Bailey (James Stewart), the dreamer from a small town who wants to see the world and be associated with big projects like building bridges and erecting skyscrapers. He dreams of "shaking the dust of this crummy little town off my feet."

But life keeps George from ever leaving his hometown. Emergencies at home, at work and in the world economy all force him to keep staying put while his family and friends move on to new adventures. They find success in the workplace and their investments, rubbing shoulders with dignitaries and enjoying life's luxuries.

George ends up heading Bailey Building and Loan, a business that helps the town's residents get decent housing. But it's a far than lucrative line of work for its overseers. The enterprise is the only business in Bedford Falls that operates outside the clutches of cold-hearted businessman Henry Potter (Lionel Barrymore). There's little money for George to make and he has to work hard to keep Potter's paws off the enterprise.

It's a Wonderful Life has many wonderful scenes. One has Potter trying to woo Bailey to come work for him. There's a promise of a huge pay increase and business trips to large cities. It's like Satan trying to woo Christ in the desert. Bailey tries to get comfortable in a seat that's too small for him as he considers this amazing offer.

Bailey considers killing himself when his forgetful Uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell) loses a hefty bank deposit on Christmas Eve. Bank examiners are in town and those missing dollars mean scandal, and likely jail, for George.

Heaven sends Bailey's guardian angel, Clarence (Henry Travers), to stop Bailey from taking his own life. His attempts to reason with George go nowhere, until he suggests he wishes he'd never been born. Clarence makes George's wish a reality. He has never existed.

Here's where more tears come easily. Clarence finally gets a chance to show George how his absence affects Bedford Falls. Timely interactions with others through his life have never happened. That impacts others outside Bedford Falls that George never knew existed. No George means the lives of many, many others have been impacted - for the worse.

Appreciating life. Appreciating what you have. Understanding how someone can make a big difference even in a small town. It's these themes that make It's A Wonderful Life a Christmas classic.

Plus, there's a great romance between George and Mary Hatch (Donna Reed), the girl who has loved him since she was a youngster. There's laughs with George and Mary dancing the Charleston at a high school graduation bash and George's pondering what to do when Mary ends up with no clothes and hides in a bush.

George Bailey offers James Stewart one of the finest roles in his career. There's flashes of anger and despair as his character deals with what life has handed him. Lionel Barrymore is fantastic as one of Hollywood's great villains. This man has no soul. "I am an old man and most people hate me, but I don't like them either so that makes it all even," he tells George at one point. That's a wonderful life?

See this film, again and again, and appreciate all of your life's gifts.

Merry Christmas.

RATING: 10/10

FUN FACTS: Why didn't this happen to Titanic? It's A Wonderful Life was nominated for five Oscars, including best movie, actor and director, but didn't win a single Academy Award.

It's A Wonderful Life was James Stewart's first film after serving in the Second World War.

Ward Bond is in the supporting cast as Bert, a police officer. He was Major Seth Adams in television's Wagon Train.

Gloria Grahame is Violet Bick, the other woman who's interested in George Bailey. She won a best supporting Oscar for her work in The Bad and the Beautiful .

Look closely. That's Carl 'Alfalfa' Switzer from The Little Rascals who tries to get Mary Ward on the dance floor during the graduation scene.

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