Its a Wonderful Life

1946 movie

If you haven’t seen it:

its-a-wonderful-life-posterIt’s a Wonderful Life is a heartwarming fantasy – one of the most well loved films ever made.

It is the story of a suicidal man, who is rescued by an angel who shows him that his life has not been a waste after all.

Frank Capra directed this masterfully crafted exercise in sentiment, and the great cast includes Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, and of course, the great James Stewart, in the role that he will always be remembered for.

The main “device” of the film has been copied many times over the years by TV shows and movies, such as Star Trek, Dr Who, Shrek, Dallas, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The original is the best though. There is good reason this is still so popular nearly seven decades after it was made.

If you have seen it:

Scroll down past the trailer for more.

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SPOILER ALERT: The plot summary and comments below contain details that might spoil your enjoyment of the movie if you have not already seen it.

Plot:

It’s a Wonderful Life is all about George Bailey. It begins by telling us that George is in trouble, then tells us his life story in flashback

xits-a-wonderful-life-interview
“No Jenkins, I told you to get me a small Bailey’s!”

The movie shows us several incidents from George’s childhood, including the time that he saved his brother Harry from drowning, and the time that he saved Mr. Gower the local pharmacist from making a fatal drug error. We learn that he sacrificed his own education for that of his brother, and that he married his childhood sweetheart, Mary, with whom he raised four children. We also learn how he always wanted to travel and see the world, but stayed in Bedford Falls to run the savings and loan – the only thing protecting the townsfolk from avaricious property owner and slumlord Henry Potter.

One Christmas Eve, George’s absent minded Uncle Billy accidentally loses $8000 of the savings and loan’s money on the day that the bank is to be audited. George searches for the money frantically, to no avail. Eventually, he finds himself on a bridge, and decides to commit suicide by jumping into the river, hoping that the insurance money will pay off the debt.

its-a-wonderful-life-clarence-oddbody
Odd body

George is saved however, by Clarance Oddbody, an angel sent by heaven, who is trying to earn his wings (actually, Clarence botches the rescue and George ends up saving him). In order to prove to George that his life has been worthwhile, Clarence shows him an alternative world – one where George had never been born. In this world, Harry is dead (as are all the people he saved in the war), Mary is a lonely spinster, and Mr Gower is a drunk – racked with guilt for the fatal drug error he made. Also, the town is now effectively owned and run by Mr Potter, and it is an unpleasant, corrupt place.

its-a-wonderful-life-basket
The bank was saved by loose change found in the laundry basket

When George returns to reality, he rushes back to his family. There, he learns that the town has actually come together to help him, and offers of money to keep the savings and loan afloat come from all directions. Surrounded by love, George is filled with a new appetite for life, and we realize that Clarence has succeeded in his mission.

Trivia Trish Says:

its-a-wonderful-life-dance
Fail
  • It’s a Wonderful Life was James Stewart’s first movie after returning from the war (he was a bomber pilot). He had been thinking of giving up acting, but was persuaded to return.
  • When the movie was originally released it sank like a lead octopus. It was the repeated TV showings in the Christmases of the 1970s that rocketed it to the top of the list of favourite family movies.
  • In 1947 the movie was given it’s own FBI file. The FBI believed it was an attempt to discredit bankers, “a common trick used by Communists”.
  • For the scene where Donna Reed had to throw a rock at a window of the old house, the production crew assumed she would be unable to hit the target, so they had a reliable thrower off camera who was ready to synchronize his throw with Donna’s to make it look like she hit the window. Donna asked if she could have one attempt on her own, and the crew decided to humor her. She hit the target first time.
  • Uncle Billy’s pet raven, Jimmy, appears in almost every Frank Capra movie.
  • The reason George is sweating when he and Clarence are on the bridge is that the movie was filmed in summer and it was 90 degrees that day.
  • Sesame Street Muppet characters Bert and Ernie are named after Bert the cop and Ernie the cabbie.
its-a-wonderful-life-pool
Epic fail

Steve Sunday Says:

It’s a lovely thought isn’t it? That the everyman who thinks his life is a failure is really very important after all? Yes, it’s very nice. Of course if, like me, you have never saved the life of a future war hero, or single handedly saved a small town from an evil Dickensian capitalist, then your guardian angel is going to have to take a different approach if you ever decide to end it all.

I wish real life was a wonderful life.

It’s a Wonderful Life It’s a Real Life
  • Banker = hero
  • Loss of money results in whip round
  • Vision caused by angel
  • Prettiest girl in town marries the nice guy
  • Henry Potter money grabber
  • Adorable children
  • Bedford Falls
  • Zuzu is a great name for a child
  • No man is a failure who has friends
  • Every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings
  • Banker = worse than a murderer
  • Loss of money results in being roundly whipped
  • Hallucination caused by Angel dust
  • The captain of the football team gets her pregnant
  • Harry Potter cash cow
  • My children
  • Lehman Brothers falls
  • Zuzu is a great name for a stripper
  • George Bush has loads of friends (probably)
  • Sometimes it just means there’s someone at the door

its-a-wonderful-life-bell

Chris the Critic says:

It’s a Wonderful Life has some very dark moments. George, the nicest man in the world, is pushed so far that he becomes selfish, abusive, despairing, and suicidal. His nightmarish alternate reality – Pottersville – is gloomy and oppressive, with a hint of film noir. Capra showed his genius though, in the way he balanced this perfectly with the light – sentiment, comedy, and the simple message that friendship and family are all a man needs.

Main Cast and Crew:

James Stewart – George Bailey
Donna Reed – Mary Hatch
Lionel Barrymore – Henry F. Potter
Thomas Mitchell – Uncle Billy Bailey
Henry Travers – Clarence
Directed by Frank Capra

Bunnies: It’s A Wonderful Life

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