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Customer Review

on December 27, 2000
A beautifully crafted film that proved to be the apex of triple Oscar-winner (1934, 1936, 1938) Frank Capra's distinguished career, and the epitome of his cycle of works celebrating the "common man". Mr. Deeds found himself suddenly wealthy, Mr. Smith went to Washington as a Senator, and John Doe became the focus of a socio-political movement; but "Life"'s George Bailey never distinguishes himself outside of his small hometown of Bedford Falls --- his brother Harry is the one who becomes a war hero, and his friend Sam Wainwright is the one who achieves financial success. George's triumph is simply his personal integrity, his code of ethics, and his strength of character --- his goodness, if you will --- during the unexciting course of his ordinary, mundane existence. In this respect, George is more an Everyman than any other Capra protagonist, inviting strong audience identification and response.
In one of the most exquisite performances ever given in an American film, James Stewart is superb as George. It's not an easy role to play because so much screen time is spent focusing on George's subtle reactions to the world around him. One incredible moment comes at the train station when George slowly begins to absorb the news of his brother's recent marriage and new career opportunity, and how his brother's fortune will destroy his own hopes of leaving Bedford Falls and the family business. Stewart's face is extraordinary in this scene, as surprised realization fades into quiet disappointment and finally, gentle graciousness and acceptance. Stewart's tour de force is given strong support by a superb cast of Capra stalwarts, including Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell, H. B. Warner, and the phenomenal Beulah Bondi (as George's mother). And Donna Reed, in one of her first romantic leading roles after a number of years playing supporting ingenues and bits, is excellent in the warm but unglamorous role of George's loving wife, Mary.
The Republic Home Video DVD is definitely the edition of this classic to own. Like the LaserDisc before it, the DVD offers a crystal clear, beautifully restored film-to-video transfer which will amaze and delight anyone who is familiar only with the horrible multi-generational VHS cassettes, or the awful colorized version, that were commonly screened back in the late 1970's and 1980's. There are some nice bonus features on the DVD, including a "making of" documentary and the theatrical trailer. This is one DVD that you'll never regret adding to your home theatre collection!
Trivia note: If you're a fan of this movie, try finding a copy of film historian David Thomson's 1985 novel "Suspects" which continues George's story and relates the characters from this movie to many others (did you know that Donna Reed's "Mary Bailey" is actually the sister of Gene Tierney's "Laura"?!, etc.) ... great fun!
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