It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

its a wonderful life poster 1946 movie
9.5 Overall Score
Story: 9/10
Acting: 10/10
Visuals: 9/10

Jimmy Stewart, Classic film

Story is all over the place

Movie Info

Movie Name: It’s a Wonderful Life

Studio:  Liberty Films

Genre(s): Drama/Family/Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Seasonal

Release Date(s):  December 20, 1946 (Premiere)/January 7, 1947 (US)

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

its a wonderful life pool scene dance george bailey marty hatch donna reed james stewart

Get ready for a swim!

George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) finds himself at a crossroads.  His life has not turned out the way he planned.  His goals of traveling the world fell through and left him trapped in his hometown of Bedford Falls.  When an accident causes him to lose the payment to his company the Building and Loan, George Bailey finds himself facing the threat of jail time.  This and the stress of the holidays is too much for George who contemplates suicide…George’s only hope is an angel named Clarence (Henry Travers) trying to earn his wings.  Clarence is going to show George how important his life has been…but will it work?

Directed by Frank Capra (who co-wrote the script), It’s a Wonderful Life is a holiday fantasy drama.  The film is an adaptation of “The Greatest Gift” by Philip Van Doren Stern from 1944.  The film initially received mixed reviews and a poor box office return.  The movie’s copyright lapsed in 1974 and began frequently airing before being picked up by Turner (who colorized it) and then later NBC.  The movie received Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor (Stewart), Best Director, Best Sound Recording, and Best Film Editing.  It was selected in 1990 by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry.

its a wonderful life merry christmas bedford falls george bailey james stewart

Merry Christmas, Bedford Falls!!!

I grew up with It’s a Wonderful Life filling out every unscheduled nook & cranny on TV during the holidays (along with The Bells of St. Mary’s which is referenced in the film).  I don’t know that I sat and watched it until college.  It is an extremely dark story, but it has grown on me over the years because it is amazingly dark…and not what you’d expect from the generally Americana Capra.

The film’s structure is kind of clunky.  The first part is a telling of George Bailey’s life to Clarence the Angel, but it often just feels like a biographical drama of the character…it doesn’t flip back to Clarence enough it feels like.  The last part is a fantasy that dips into science fiction about what would happen if you completely erased George Bailey from existence and the cascading effect it would have.  It really makes the first part of the film, but it also almost feels out of left field in context with the rest of the film.

Capra turned to many of his old stand-ins for the cast and the cast is what makes the movie work.  Jimmy Stewart gives one of his best performances as George Bailey, and it is because his demeanor makes Bailey so likable.  It is this likability that makes it hard to watch scenes where he is upset and lashing out at his family because of his feelings he’s failed at life…and he quickly becomes a suicidal drunk.  Equally impressive is the evil Mr. Potter played by Lionel Barrymore.  He is completely morally bankrupt and possibly one of the most evil men in cinema history…and he doesn’t pay for his crimes at least in the movie no one realizes he has the missing $8,000 (Saturday Night Live in 1986 did a “lost ending to It’s a Wonderful Life” which evened the odds).

its a wonderful life ending angel gets his wings george bailey james stewart donna reed karolyn grimes

You nailed it, Clarence!!!

Visually, the movie looks like a classic 1940s film.  It has some special effects surrounding Clarence, but it largely is a straightforward slice of America.  I do like the junked up Pottersville in the non-George Bailey world where everyone is the worst person.  It is also strange to see modern versions of the film which are so cleaned up compared to the versions I saw growing up over the air and cut to pieces.

I can see a person seeing It’s a Wonderful Life and not getting why it is so endeared in people.  It isn’t a clean and pretty movie, but if you grew up when it was always on, there is a comfort to the film outside of the actual film.  It is a sign of the holidays and it sometimes doesn’t feel like Christmas until George is running down the street screaming Merry Christmas to Bedford Falls.  If you’ve never seen the movie, give it a chance, and try to think of it in the context of when it was made…it is a wonder movie with a wonderful life.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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