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It's a Wonderful Life
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It's a Wonderful Life More at IMDbPro »

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5 out of 10 people found the following review useful:

An all-time classic, darker than people think for its time

Author: Captain Ed from Minnesooooooooota
9 January 2003

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

(SPOILERS - but if you haven't seen this already ...)

Before finally writing a commentary on one of my favorite films, I read through a few of the preceding comments, and I was surprised to see so many nay-sayers. Their posts were far from the usual "this film sucks" type of puerile commentary, however; it seems this film provokes intelligent discussion even from those who dislike it (or perhaps dislike the avalanche of affection it normally receives).

I won't bother to recap the entire plot blow by blow. If you've seen it, you already know it, and if you haven't there are plenty of extensive recaps already in the User Comments section. What works for me is Jimmy Stewart as Everyman, George Bailey. Unless you are very fortunate, most people wake up and find out that they have given up their dreams as trade-offs for other things in their lives -- family, friends, etc. Most of us are at peace with this. However, it's very apparent that while George has put aside his disappointment, it lurks below the surface and is the vulnerable chink in his armor. Potter (brilliantly portrayed by Lionel Barrymore) knows this and almost successfully exploits it; George stops himself just before agreeing to be bought by Potter after Potter promises him a substantial (for its time, an enormous) salary and travel opportunities.

George, having had to put his own dreams on hold or away on at least three separate occasions now, prospers modestly and builds a family, and his disappointment stays below the surface until disaster strikes. His unreliable Uncle Billy (Capra regular Thomas Mitchell) unknowingly hands Potter the bank deposit, literally putting the means for George's destruction in Potter's hands. Potter informs the bank examiner and the DA about the $8000 shortage at the S&L, and George faces ruin and prison for embezzlement. He tries asking Potter for help -- crawls for it, actually -- and Potter gleefully refuses. George, while holding onto his low-equity whole-life policy, realizes that the policies make him worth more dead than alive and plans to commit suicide. That's when an angel steps in and shows George what his world would have been like had he never been born.

Some people think that George is owed something monetary by the townspeople, but actually George has prospered modestly by helping them prosper. In terms of money, neither really owe each other anything. In terms of friendship, George has been what Potter is financially -- as rich a man as any other. But George, in his plight, doesn't see this. All he sees is financial, legal, and social ruin because he's looking through Potter's eyes; Potter has succeeded (temporarily) in ruining him spiritually. He even turns into a low-rent Potter on his initial return home, barking at his kids and his wife, smashing things, yelling at the schoolteacher, before righting himself somewhat and trying to apologize to his terrified family. He leaves for a bar, where his friends try to find out what's wrong, and he sends up a desperate prayer to God for help in one of the most heartbreaking scenes I've ever watched. (And then he gets punched in the nose by the husband of the schoolteacher, in one of the most wry moments ever on screen.)

The look at what Bedford Falls becomes without ever having a George Bailey isn't as important, although Potterville certainly is the inspiration for Back to the Future Part II's alternate Biff-run Hill Valley. George comes back to reality with his soul and his faith restored, running through the restored Bedford Falls with joy while heading towards certain ruin. His faith leads him back to his wife, who has been his support and his partner through all his setbacks. Instead of ruin, his friends -- not his debtors -- have all heard that their friend is in serious trouble and have come to help. Their faith in their friend George never wavered (they know he didn't steal anything), even if his faith in them failed, mirroring the faith that God has in each one of us even when we don't have faith in Him or in ourselves. Even Sam Wainwright, from whom he 'stole' Mary, sends a line of credit that guarantees George will be saved. His brother, a Medal of Honor winner who was to make a triumphant entrance the next day, instead comes back in time to say what George finally realizes: he is indeed the richest man in town.

At its core, then, this movie isn't about Christmas, it's about faith: faith tested, faith failed, faith restored. George loses faith in himself and God and his friends and family, and is shown why their faith in him won't completely fail. In a way, this is really more of an Easter story -- Potter crucifies George, who becomes reborn. In order to make this work, you have to see George lose his soul, as he does in those moments after he realizes the ruin that Billy has made of their lives, and that means George has to do some unsympathetic things. A couple of the actions he takes at home borders on emotional abuse, which is why his wife asks him to leave. In order for the film to work, he has to hit bottom, and Stewart masterfully portrays this.

At the same time, Donna Reed had to play her role as even-keeled as possible, as dependable and rock-solid against Stewart's agonizing emotional swings, in order to both highlight Stewart's work and to symbolize God's support and faith. Reed is absolutely amazing in this role, understating while not giving an inch to Stewart in their scenes together. Mary is a real woman, not some straw-man symbol, and without that the film would have utterly failed.

And what of Potter? Why does Potter get away with the money? In a standard morality play, Potter would get caught and wind up ruined, but this film isn't a standard morality play. Potter exemplifies the Scriptural warning, "What does it profit a man to gain the world but lose his soul?" Potter, by taking and keeping the money and later turning George in, has lost his chance for redemption. He is dead already and nothing on Earth can save him but himself. However, this is not a blanket indictment of all who have money, as Sam Wainwright gladly steps in to save his friend -- and Sam is certainly the nouveau-riche type of person that is easy to dislike in standard morality plays. Potter represents himself and the greedy avarice that has consumed him.

When watching this film at any time of year, we are reminded that while events can cause us to lose faith in God and in ourselves, we can still hope that those around us do not lose their faith in us. We are not defined by how much or how little money we have; our goodness comes through in how we treat others and how we all help along the way. All the money in the world cannot save us from death, but God (and our friends) can save us from spiritual death in times of crisis. That's why this is one of the greatest movies ever made and why it belongs in the top 10 of anyone's movie list.

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6 out of 12 people found the following review useful:

Superb! Excellent! The Best movie ever!!!!!!!!!!

Author: RightWingGuy from United States
21 April 2006

Not liking this film is like not liking ice cream. The acting, the story, the directing, everything about this movie ROCKS! ***Spoilers*** George Bailey, at age 12, saves his brothers life. Several weeks later, he stops the town druggist from putting poison in some pills. We see that he accomplishes many things in his life, and he puts his dreams aside to help these people.

Even after he accomplishes many things, he begins to think his life is worthless. Especially after a horrific event one Christmas Eve, in which his uncle Billy loses $8,000. George seriously contemplates suicide, but his guardian angel, Clarence, comes to his rescue. He then learns, first-hand, what the world would be like if he hadn't been born. After he sees many changes that would have been if not for his birth, he gets his life back. He returns home, and then his friends and family come, along with money that they had collected from theirs friends in the town.

This is a great movie. Watch it on Christmas Eve. 10/10.

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6 out of 12 people found the following review useful:

"Should all acquaintence be forgot...."

Author: coverme6 from Allentown, PA
22 July 2000

Nothing makes Christmas more tender and great than a good

holiday movie, and "It's a Wondeful Life" is the quinssential

film to make the holiday mood brighter. Played by the ultimate

all-American average Joe Jimmy Stewart, his portrayal of an

honest man whose life is turned upside down by corrupt overlords

is smoldering and convincingly dramatic. It really touched my

soul. Because of financial troubles and the constant taunting of

a big time businessman Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore), executive

George Bailey (Stewart) feels the world crumbling around him. As

he contemplates suicide by jumping off a bridge and onto icy

waters, Bailey is visited by his guardian angel named Clarence

(Henry Travers), who shows Bailey on how life is if he wasn't

born. To his horror, George sees how his town is in dire

shambles, and he realizes that life isn't something to be taken

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10 out of 20 people found the following review useful:

It's a good movie...

Author: thefan-2 from Detroit
19 May 1999

...but not a great movie, and certainly not one of the greatest of all time. I realize you can't say that without being accused of kicking kittens and other atrocities, but that's the way I feel. Sorry.

I mean, really: "Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings"?? Puh-leez. If a Robin WIlliams movie were made today with such a line -- not to mention the cartoonish characters, the sappy plot, the false sentimentality -- it would be laughed out of the theaters. Are we supposed to make allowances because this movie was made back in 1946 when they didn't know any better? Believe me, they knew better.

The only reason to go out of your way to see this movie is that Drew Barrymore's great-uncle Lionel is in it. You should always show respect for Drew Barrymore.

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1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

When You Wish Upon A Star

Author: Gary170459 from Derby, UK
20 December 2014

Why should any open-minded open-hearted person want to dis this particular film? The same as with millions of other people it's my favourite Christmas film, and a classic I've always enjoyed for all kinds of wholesome reasons, with a heartwarming moral I know I am and which everyone should be the richer for the experience.

James Stewart has plans to do what he wants to and travel the world but is constantly thwarted with those plans and ends up not going and staying all his life in his crummy little town as a bank manager. His is a long story of self-sacrifice until a crisis is reached and the film veers into a charming and cathartic fantasy. Everyone played their parts perfectly, but Stewart was the essential part: it wouldn't have worked as well without his usual affecting intensity, the gulping emotion he displayed was knockout. The story was an excellent All-American updated retread of Christmas Carol with the moral surely just as decent and incontrovertible. It's worn very well, and I've never needed to watch it with rose-tinted spectacles or an excess of seasonal slush – the first time I saw it UK Channel 4 showed it one July presumably after the copyright had been allowed to lapse in the 80's. On the other hand as the decades have gone by the hype has been ratcheted up to hopefully sell Christmas DVD's, streams etc; there were only about twenty people in the local cinema to see it last night – a ten-day run is probably too much.

I like slushy sentimentality with a strong and timeless moral – that is if it's handled well, as was this lovely little film. Frank Capra, I preferred your It Happened One Night, but thank you for making It's A Wonderful Life and I hope you've got your wings. Money can't buy you love but love sure can buy you money!

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1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

Holiday Classic

Author: gavin6942 from United States
7 December 2014

An angel (Henry Travers) helps a compassionate but despairingly frustrated businessman (Jimmy Stewart) by showing what life would have been like if he never existed.

After almost seventy years, and getting played over and over on television, you might think people have grown tired of this film. And yet, as of 2014, it seems to be appreciated more than ever. Not that it is a flawless film. The editing, for example, is pretty rotten. And critical, it is probably not a great film, especially alongside "The Best Years of Our Lives", which came out around the same time. But this film really hits the heart.

There are some parallels here with "A Christmas Carol", only now it is Bob Cratchitt who is the one in a need of a visit from a supernatural friend. The message is different, but also very much the same.

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1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:


Author: Becktoria from United States
12 February 2014

I usually do not enjoy old movies but my acting coach had recommended me to watch this film as I was going to produce, write and act in my own film. This film was not only inspirational but beautifully written. It was heartfelt and was very touching. I especially loved the scenes containing conversations between the stars in the universe. That really added the comedy aspect of the film.

The message of the film was moving and relatable to life in general. Furthermore, the music composed really added a great touch to the underlying emotion and setting of the film. This was one of my favorite black and white films of all time, mainly due to the moral of the story which inspired me.

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1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

It's a Wonderful Life

Author: childs07 from United States
22 September 2013

It's a Wonderful Life (1946) was produced and directed by Frank Apra. The film is about George Bailey, played by James Stewart, who dreams of leaving Bedford Falls, his home town, to travel around world. Unfortunately, a chain of events prevent him from realizing his dream. His father, who owned the family savings and loan, had a stroke. After the death of his father, George agrees to manage the savings and loan until his brother graduates from college. However, his brother gets married and accepts a job working with his father in law. George continues to run the family business. He eventually marries Mary, (Donna Reed) his childhood sweetheart, and they settle down to raise their four children.

On Christmas Eve, Uncle Billy, played by Thomas Mitchell, loses the $8,000 bank deposit. He absent mindedly placed the money in a newspaper, and gave the paper to Henry Potter, (Lionel Barrymore). Henry Potter was the major shareholder in the Bedford Falls Building and Loan. Potter keeps the money because he wants the bank to fail, and George to go to jail. George and Uncle Billy are unable to find the money. George asks Potter for a loan. Potter turns him down, and reports him to the authorities. George gets drunk and tries to commit suicide by crashing his car into a tree. After realizing that his plan did not work, he staggers to the town bridge. Before he can jump, Clarence, (Henry Tavers) his guardian angel, jumps in and pretends to be drowning. George rescues him and he discovers that Clarence is his guardian angel. Clarence convinces George that he has a wonderful life, by showing him what life in Bedford Falls would be like without him.

The theme of the film is that every life is important. Everyone is important, and everyone contributes to the greater good. George based his worth on the things that he did not accomplish. Therefore, he believed that Bedford Falls would be a better place without him. George was so focused on the negative that he forgot about the good things that he had accomplished; and all the people that he had helped. Through a series of flashbacks, Clarence convinces George that his life was important. Sound was used throughout the movie to provide transitions between two sequences. The actors projected naturalness, sincerity and truthfulness. Henry Potter and Clarence Odbody provided the theme of good and evil throughout the movie. The movie reminded me of Ebenezer Scrooge, by Charles Dickens. The movie shows us the importance of recognizing the good that we do in life.

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1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

It's A Wonderful Film

Author: CinemaClown
9 September 2013

One of those rare films people like visiting on an annual basis, It's A Wonderful Life is a heartwarming look at how every person affects everyone else around him/her without even knowing it.

A look at each person's importance in this society and how everything would've been different in the lives of their dearest ones in their absence, It's A Wonderful Life works not solely because of an honest heart at its core but also because of its brilliant direction, nicely crafted script, & well, James Stewart.

With nothing to complain and every ingredient of filmmaking blending pretty well to provide a brilliant finish, I've no doubt in saying that It's A Wonderful Life is, indeed, a wonderful film.

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1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

A really wonderful heartwarming movie...

Author: Thanos Alfie from Greece
22 August 2013

"It's a Wonderful Life" is the title of this movie and it really could not have been other because this movie show us the good and bad things in life and it also show us that life is wonderful.

This movie is not a simple old fashioned movie which is overrated, it's a movie that can learn you many things for life and not only for that, it can make you understand which are the true and more important things in life and which not. With this movie you can learn and earn very much.

James Stewart as George Bailey is really great and makes one of my favorite interpretations as well as Donna Reed as Mary Hatch.

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