I think that It’s a wonderful life (1946), directed by Frank Capra, is a movie to watch around Christmas. Reminded me a little of Ebenezer Scrooge, although admittedly the story is a bit different. But all characters are well defined as in a Dickens novel.
George Bailey (James Stewart) has lived in Bedford Falls all his life, in spite of dreams and hopes where he pictured himself travelling, building monuments, etc…
George Bailey: I'm shakin' the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and I'm gonna see the world. Italy, Greece, the Parthenon, the Colosseum. Then, I'm comin' back here to go to college and see what they know. And then I'm gonna build things. I'm gonna build airfields, I'm gonna build skyscrapers a hundred stories high, I'm gonna build bridges a mile long...
Life decides otherwise, and a series of events sees him cancelling each of his plans to leave town. He grows more and more frustrated, in spite of the love of his wife Mary (Donna Reed), up until, after some money is lost (in fact stolen by archenemy Mr Potter – Lionel Barrymore, great uncle of real-life actress Drew Barrymore), he considers killing himself. This is where Clarence (Henry Travers), an angel looking to earn his wings, comes on earth and shows him what life would have been like if he had not been born.
Clarence: Clarence Oddbody, AS2.George Bailey: Oddbody... Hey, what's an AS2?Clarence: Angel, Second Class.
Clarence: Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?
Clarence: You see George, you've really had a wonderful life. Don't you see what a mistake it would be to just throw it away?
A few days after watching it, and after pausing to think about it a bit more, I think this film is darker than it looks : George’s dreams get crushed and his town becomes his prison. His suffering and agony are just there. In general, I’d say that unless you have been very lucky, life is usually a succession of trade-offs that may at times push you further from your « dreamed life ». You can be happy with it or not – that’s the point of life, isn’t it ? Taking you in directions you never suspected. But George here is not happy with it, which makes him vulnerable. Potter knows this and uses it against George to push him over the edge. Here, Stewart depicts every emotion superbly. Meanwhile, Donna Reed plays her role very well, dependable and rock-solid against Stewart's emotional swings.
The films big payoff comes after George realises how much he has to live for, embracing his family like he has not seen them in years, despite his financial troubles and the prospect of prison.
Yet it remains witty and funny
Annie: I been savin' this money for a divorce, if ever I got a husband.
George Bailey: A toast! A toast! A toast to Mama Dollar and to Papa Dollar, and if you want to keep this old Building and Loan in business, you better have a family real quick.Tilly: I wish they were rabbits.
The only critic I may have is that, as it lasts over 2 hours, the intervention of the angel comes a bit too late in the film.
James Stewart’s performance was number 8 in Premiere Magazine's 100Greatest Performances of All Time, and the American Film Institute ranked this as the number 11 Greatest Movie ofAll Time.
Not a surprise. Loved it.
And remember :
No man is a failure who has friends.