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Criticizing It's A Wonderful Life is almost an act of treason in this
country, but if ever a movie deserved a closer look, it's this one.
Far from being a celebration of the importance of the individual, or of small-town life, "It's a Wonderful Life" depicts most citizens of Bedford Falls as timorous weaklings. Moviegoers identify with the hero, George, of course, but he's the exception in this movie, not the rule. If any general lesson is to be learned from the story, it's that a willful leader is the only thing preventing ordinary small-town folk from losing not only prosperity, but morality.
The evidence is plain: Without George Bailey to hold the town together, it becomes Pottersville, which is a Hays Code version of Gomorrah. The townsfolk haven't got the courage or sense to manage their own affairs without a leader. In Bedford Falls, that's either corrupt Potter or long-suffering George. The only other characters with any backbone are Harry Bailey and Sam Wainwright, and they both left town. What remains are virtual ciphers like Mr. Gower, Uncle Billy, Ernie, and Bert.
America doesn't exactly burst at the seams with self-reliant citizens, according to Frank Capra. So why does this movie merit a healthy 7 rating? Two reasons:
1. Because it has undeniable power. Capra was a good director-- but a great propagandist. He made patriotic short films for the U.S. Army from 1942 until 1948-- and "It's a Wonderful Life" was made in 1946, smack in the middle of that period. The film is a masterpiece of manipulation. People love it, watch it over and over again every year, never noticing that its real message is deeply cynical, presenting little hope for mankind, and almost no faith in it. Indeed, it is almost fascistic in the way it champions the idea of a single leader (or worse, divine intervention) taking charge over ineffectual ordinary middle class people.
2. Because Capra proves himself right with his own movie. As an influential leader/filmmaker, he is skilled enough to make generations of sheep-like Americans cry and cheer at his movies, no matter how much he insults us.
On one crisp December evening, two decades ago, my husband and I
celebrated our very first Christmas together as a married couple. One
of our yearly traditions, which we established that very Christmas
season, has been to settle in front of the TV with a large bowl of
popcorn and sodas for a quiet evening enjoying the holiday classics.
That evening, my husband flipped the channels and excitedly noted the film "It's a Wonderful Life" had just started playing. After learning that I'd never seen it, my hubby enthusiastically said, "You have to watch this movie - it's one of the best films EVER."
I guess my prejudice toward black-and-white TV was rearing its ugly head. I was in no mood to watch a dated film that I thought was of no relevance to us. I encouraged my hubby to see if he could find one of the many holiday classics that we enjoyed as kids growing up in the late 1960s, early 1970s timeframe.
My husband chuckled and said, "Trust me, you'll love this story. It's about this guy, George Bailey, who..." After relating a brief synopsis of the film, he warned me that I might find the first 45 minutes or so to be slow-moving. Still, he encouraged me to pay attention closely. "Remember everything happening now to this guy, George," he advised, "It'll pay off in the second part of the film."
As I watched George struggle with his devoted wife to raise their kids and pay the bills, report to a job that he never really wanted, battle his devious nemesis Mr. Potter, and yearn for a life that might have been, I thought - okay, there are some universal themes here. But this was a Christmas film? I couldn't make the connection, and really wasn't in the mood to continue watching anything that wasn't about Christmas.
I was getting ready to go into the other room to finish my Christmas wrapping when, suddenly, finally, it was Christmas Eve in George Bailey's little world. I remembered looking at that serene little town, decorated for Christmas and bathed in fluffy white snow, and wishing that I lived in such a place.
And just as my husband had promised, over the course of the next several minutes, everything started to come together. By the end of the film, as I watched George Bailey come to the realization, with his cherished family and lifelong friends gathered around him under his Christmas tree that George Bailey, representing every man and woman, ultimately realized that he surely had had a wonderful life. I wiped away a happy tear from my eye, knowing I'd viewed something very special.
Then two and then four Christmases later, as I sat in a rocking chair, at first with our newborn baby girl and then her baby brother, I watched It's a Wonderful Life with my babies. I have subsequently repeated this tradition with friends and relatives of all ages. Many of them, like me at first thought they were dealing with an out-of-touch film from the mid-1940s, only to come to realize the timeless, wonderful gift we've all been given by Frank Capra.
Since Christmas 1985, I have watched "It's a Wonderful Life" countless times. I agree with many other viewers - it is not only hands-down, the best Christmas movie, but perhaps my most favorite movie of all. I love and cherish it for so many reasons, perhaps most of all because it really makes you stop to think about what's important in your own life.
And the most special moments of all are those times when I get to share "It's a Wonderful Life," as my husband did that one Christmas so long ago, with someone who is watching the film for the very first time.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The premise of the story is, of course, how a man named George Bailey
keeps sacrificing his money and his desires all his life to help others
in various ways over the years, and when later in life he is finally
overwhelmed by his latest problems which he cannot solve himself and is
ready to commit suicide, an angel from Heaven whose eyes are upon
promotion is sent down to tell George about how all his
self-sacrificing had saved so many people from disaster.
One can nitpick about various things in the movie: reading a Bible, there are references to cherubs and seraphs, angels whose status in Heaven is indicated by the number of wings they have; the fact that George, despite his frustrated ambitions, didn't do too badly-he has a nice wife and children and is not living in poverty, and not being eligible to serve in the military would not necessarily be considered by some people (including people who had) to be a bad thing.
My problem, though, is this-it turns out that Bailey has lots of friends because of all the good he had done, and they're willing to pay him back to get him out of his financial hole and save him from jail. Unfortunately, in real life self-sacrifice, especially excessive self- sacrifice, does not necessarily result in gratitude from those one had sacrificed for. They might necessarily take your actions for granted and in fact might regard you as a slave, which all too often happens in real life. Once your purpose is served, the sacrificer is discarded and forgotten, or even despised. And that, alas, would have been the far more credible ending.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Before writing my comment, I skimmed through the existing 196 user
and found that much has been said about the way this film reaches out and
touches people (some of whom are fully paid-up members of the cynics
There have also been some very negative views registered, and I think I
see why some find it hard to relate to this film, with it's post-war
and strong religious tones.
Personally I love 'It's a Wonderful Life' on all levels; it is heart-warming and moving, it has a message that is lacking in so many films today and it is a superb piece of cinematic art. But if the religious frame of the film does not appeal to you, I say look beyond it and appreciate some of the most skillful moments of cinematography and finest acting you will ever see.
In my mind the finest scene is that when George meets his brother from the train and discovers that he is planning to marry. Watch the way the rest of the action becomes incidental as the camera focuses on George, a man seeing his hopes slipping away from him.
I know this is going to sound ridicules, but seriously, I have not seen
this movie since I was a child. Even though they play it every year for
Christmas, I never really had an interest to see it again. I was
complaining to my mom the other day how sad it is that people just look
at Christmas as present time and just getting what you want, I almost
cried over it because I miss how my family would get me presents, but
we'd go the homeless shelter to help out people who couldn't have a
better one than us, I always thanked my parents for those wonderful
experiences. It taught me that there is always worse and we must help
those not just on Christmas, but all year around. Well, we did it again
this year, but I'm now in the retail business and when I complained
about this to my mom, she lent me the movie and said to watch it.
Watching this movie truly touched my heart and brought me back to the true meaning of Christmas. I mean, your heart just goes out to George and his wonderful little town of Bedford Falls. He and his wonderful wife Mary together do whatever they can to make it in life and support their 4 darling children. But when a horrible mishap goes on at the bank that George works at, loosing $8,000, he starts to wonder if his life is worth living. But there is one angel who will not give up on him and shows him what life would be like if George had never been born. In Bedford Falls without George, turned into Pottersville because of the very greedy business man Mr. Potter, no one is happy and Mary is all alone. George realizes that maybe life is worth living and comes home to this loving town that is willing to do anything to help him and his family out.
"What goes around, comes around", I couldn't stop tearing at the end because it's just so loving. I hope future Christmas's will go back like this movie's examples, where people are just happy to have what they have and realize some are not so lucky, but we must all do our part. Cheesy, I know, but if one person can raise their hand, we all will do our parts in the end. Merry Christmas, everyone! :)
The first time I am aware of seeing IAWL I managed to catch the last 5
Min's of the movie. It seemed to feature a character running around
shouting 'Merry Christmas' at everybody, followed by a party where
everyone handed over money To be frank, I wasn't in a hurry to see the
rest of the movie.
Then several years later, I started to watch IAWL from the beginning, unaware that it was the same movie. I was struck by how comprehensive the character study of George Bailey was. He was a good man, but his ambitions were frustrated at every turn. He wanted an Education, that was just outside his grasp. He wanted to travel, life conspired against him. At every step of the way, one person saw George 'rolling with the blows', that was Mary Hatch. This woman loved George and wanted to stand at his side, so they can face the slings and arrows of misfortune together. This is love of the purest kind.
But even Mary's love cannot prevent George contemplating suicide. A single bad day that sees George on the top of the World at the beginning and thinking that taking his own life is the only way out by 10.45 pm.
I was stunned when the ending turned into the movie I had seen some time before. But this time I understood, this wasn't just sentiment for it's own sake. To understand the ending you need to have gone on the same dark journey that George Bailey had been on.
Many others have commented on the feel good aspects of the movie, so I won't. What I would like to say is that there are a number of scenes which live in the memory long after the end credits.
Young George trying to persuade Mr Gower that he had prescribed poison (with young Mary Hatch Looking on).
George hurrying home when he heard his father had had a stroke (with Mary Hatch looking on).
George waiting at the station with Uncle Billy for Harry to come back from college (only to find Harry is already married and has a job that will keep him away from Bedford Falls).
That kiss (I have to check that I am earthed, there is so much electricity in the air).
Mary giving up their honeymoon money, to keep the Building and Loan out of Potters grasp.
The Bridal Suit (with Ernie & Bert).
Trying to talk to Mary in the alternate reality, but managing frighten her.
I don't think I have seen a better character study, or for that matter a better movie.
My apologies to all of you "It's a Wonderful Life"-ers out there.
Please believe me when I say that I've tried multiple times to develop
warm feelings for this movie. But it's just not meant to be. I've seen
this film a couple of times, and I never want to see it again.
I want to beat James Stewart's George Bailey about the head and shoulders every time I watch the movie. Perhaps the most passive-aggressive hero in motion picture history, George Bailey spends half of his time sacrificing his own happiness for the sake of others, and the other half whining about his hard luck. No, George, it's not hard luck...it's the result of your own decision making skills. Either be selfless and stop complaining, or be a bastard and screw everyone else. But make up your mind, and don't take two hours to do it.
Ahhh, perhaps I now live in too cynical and jaded a world to tolerate George's namby-pamby indecision. But maybe that's a reason better than any other to keep this film around. Character aside, however, the one thing I can unequivocally praise about this film is the performance of Stewart. He provides a welcome bitter edge to combat Capra's sugary-sweet corn. His breakdown scene in a bar, where he desperately prays to God to help him keep himself together, is a tour-de-force.
Drag it out every Christmas and enjoy...I won't begrudge you that small pleasure. Just don't expect me to join along.
I had fond memories of "It's A Wonderful Life" but, somehow, it never made my top ten. The other night I felt the urge to see it again, from beginning to end, after that fun compilation from the AFI, 100 movies, 100 Cheers. The most surprising thing about this perennial classic is that it's not just a good movie but a sort of miracle. Age has made it more relevant, more powerful. Frank Capra is, without question, its miracle worker. His narration style was a first and in a way unsurpassed. As you may very well know, the film wasn't an instant success. A peculiarity it shares with most of the great works of art. The truth is something that needs time to be confirmed even recognized. James Stewart's performance lived from a 2006 stand point is, quite simply, extraordinary. Capra's films were known as "capracorn" in their day. Strange to think about it now because its sentimentality wasn't really sentimental but a need to find goodness in the darkest places. The great Capra not only found it, it unmasked it with the same relish that he unmasked evil and greed. My only regret is that on this times of technical prowess we'll never see again the likes of "It's Wonderful Life" But, trying to look on the bright side in the most Capraesque kind of way. "It's A Wonderful Life" will be around for ever.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
There are movies that we like so much we will watch them to the point
of redundancy and never get tired of them. It's A Wonderful Life used
to be one of mine, but not anymore. In fact, I can't remember the last
time I actually watched it in its entirety. I realize the reason why
now...it's Frank Capra's populist message. It had finally gotten under
The message, that having money is EVIL but being altruistic and broke is GOOD, served Capra well during the depression when everyone was broke (ironically, Capra got rich off this message). By 1946, Americans had money again and populism had worn out its welcome, which might explain the movie's dismal box office take.
George Bailey is altruism squared. He willingly becomes a doormat to townfolks who can't spoonfeed themselves, forgoing his goals and dreams of making his own life better. Sorry George, but I eventually lost sympathy for you. Your desires are equally important.
Other characters I got even more fed up with: Uncle Billy...what a drunken bonehead! Cmon, George, I don't care if he is family. Either fire this rumdum or make him into a harmless janitor or something so he won't go losing $8000 at a clip. Harry Bailey, you're next! You have no intention of ever paying back George for your college education, am I right? And finally, Clarence Oddbody,AS2. No wonder you haven't gotten your wings, you doofus. You knew about the $8000, so tell George that Potter stole the money so he, Mary, and the rest of the family could storm the bank and clean his clock like in the Saturday Night Live skit from 1986. Yes, I know that last part was played for laughs, but wouldn't that be your gut response, though?
Maybe my criticism is a bit harsh, but it's towards the populist message and story line. I still like the acting in it, and the special effects were very good for the time...Capra's fake snow all over Bedford Falls still looks realistic to this day. And as goofy and manipulative as it seems, I'm glad George's deadbeat customers finally paid him back in the end.
(P.S.: George, this would be a good time to remind your brother, Harry The War Hero, that he owes you four years of college tuition and the cost of a long distance phone call!)
No folks, I promise not to do the same thing to the Wizard of Oz or Gone
with the Wind, but this has got to be the most overrated movie of all
It took me a number of tries to watch it all the way through, because it is so incredibly boring. All the scenarios are exaggerated without a hint of the whimsy or joy that should mark a Christmas movie. NOBODY in it is likeable, including the hapless and almost hopeless hero. They even give Donna Reed an improbable scene in the alternate reality where she is a total... well, if I want this posted, I can't use the word.
But the worst flaw? THEY NEVER GET BACK THE MONEY THAT WAS STOLEN. It is morally unacceptable that this guy doesn't get punished and the townspeople have to rush in with a bailout.
I've heard this movie praised to the highest heavens as one of the ten best ever made for most of my life. I'll give them credit for the body language between Donna Reed and James Stewart in the scene where he is on the phone, but not for much else.
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