It's A Wonderful Life
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Ruined by a miser on Christmas Eve, a suicidal family man sees life anew thanks to his guardian angel.
It's a Wonderful Life
Now perhaps the most beloved American film, It's a Wonderful Life was largely forgotten for years, due to a copyright quirk. Only in the late 1970s did it find its audience through repeated TV showings. Frank Capra's masterwork deserves its status as a feel-good communal event, but it is also one of the most fascinating films in the American cinema, a multilayered work of Dickensian density. George Bailey (played superbly by James Stewart) grows up in the small town of Bedford Falls, dreaming dreams of adventure and travel, but circumstances conspire to keep him enslaved to his home turf. Frustrated by his life, and haunted by an impending scandal, George prepares to commit suicide on Christmas Eve. A heavenly messenger (Henry Travers) arrives to show him a vision: what the world would have been like if George had never been born. The sequence is a vivid depiction of the American Dream gone bad, and probably the wildest thing Capra ever shot (the director's optimistic vision may have darkened during his experiences making military films in World War II). Capra's triumph is to acknowledge the difficulties and disappointments of life, while affirming--in the teary-eyed final reel--his cherished values of friendship and individual achievement. It's a Wonderful Life was not a big hit on its initial release, and it won no Oscars (Capra and Stewart were nominated); but it continues to weave a special magic. --Robert Horton
- The making of It's a Wonderful Life
- A personal remembrance: A special tribute to Frank Capra narrated by his son, Frank Capra Jr.
- Original theatrical trailer
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But, it's the Colorized version that blew me away... much better than older attempts, and good enough that you occasionally forget you are NOT watching the original film! Wow. I've seen IAWL over 60 times, but the color disc revealed things I've never seen before. Sometimes merely interesting background items (mounted butterflies on the wall at the family home), but other times more significant differences (the changes in Violet's outfits throughout the film). The color version more eloquently displays the difference in attire between the Bailey's and their wealthier friends the Wainwright's, and makes certain scenes entirely more lifelike (color travel posters and glowing fire in the "honeymoon suite").
I'm looking forward to watching IAWL again. And, next time, it will be the color version again.
This was Jimmy Stewart's first film role after serving in, literally, heroic fashion as a bomber commander during World War II. Despite being a star and subject to assignment in "morale roles" if he had so chosen, Stewart went into the Air Corp and flew a complete tour of 25 bomber missions. He also flew a number of other live missions that were tallied as flights where he trained air crews. When offered the chance to have those missions count against his tour of 25, he declined. If you know anything about the history of WWII, you know that bomber crew duty in the European theater was pretty much the most dangerous combat assignment in the war.
This DVD presentation is extremely well done. Whether from a clean print or a masterful restoration (or a combination of the two), the movie is free of artifacts of the type you find in old film prints or a rushed digital transfer. When you compare the actual film to scenes shown as examples in the two included documentaries, you can see what I mean.
And mentioning the two documentaries, they are very satisfying. One is hosted by Frank Capra Jr., the son of the famous director of the film. He narrates interesting facts about his father and this film in particular in a warm tone that makes you feel part of the process. The second feature is hosted by Tom Bosley (the father on "Happy Days"). That documentary is, I believe, somewhat longer. It goes into some of the casting choices that could have been made, which I always find interesting. Both have tidbits of history and trivia about the film that are anywhere from interesting to fascinating ... including an explanation of how the film was actually shot during a record heat wave!
"It's a Wonderful Life" has become arguably the top Christmas classic, in part due to its heavy exposure on TV, and in part because the film is so good it holds up under that heavy exposure very well. It is a must see for our family every Christmas season, and I have to say that I'm happy to own a DVD with a presentation of this high quality, so that I'm not subject to the random quality of prints shown on TV broadcasts.
Not surprisingly, Hollywood has stolen from Frank Capra for years, but you can't recreate classy talents like Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. The former made a career out of projecting the everyday man. He is never better than he is here as George Bailey... An idealistic man with big dreams that always ends up sacrificing himself and his desires for the greater good of everyone. His friends and family go on to do bigger and "better" things while he sticks around to keep the small town afloat by running the bank and preventing the grouchy scrooge like character Mr. Potter from taking over the town and controlling all of it.
Eventually it gets to be too much and our hero contemplates suicide because he doesn't feel that he had accomplished anything. This period in the film is where Stewart really shows his depth as an actor. He is often known for his awww shucks characters, but he is really impressive during the characters darkest moments. His performance is so good that you forget that you're watching a film for a brief time despite the fact that you probably figured how this would end before even seeing the film. But the ability to make the audience suspend disbelief is the sign of good acting.
Donna Reed is great also. She is a great combination of sex appeal, classic, femininity, smarts and vulnerability. How could any man feel Mary Bailey as a wife? But, that's the point of the story, isn't it? Or hero George needs to learn to see what everyone else see's. The tale might seem predictable in retrospect, but the journey is still well worth taking. This is easily one of the best Holiday movies EVER. Perhaps even the best.