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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is on a huge number of people's best films of all time. Sadly, I think that says more about the people than the film. This was a feel-good film made in the aftermath of World War II and is supposed to reference the great depression. We shouldn't expect subtlety from such a morality tale, and truth is the characters are more like those from a Christmas Pantomime than from some carefully crafted, nuanced film plot. So Jimmy Stewart plays the Aladdin/Dick Whittington character, "George" who wants to go off and see the world but instead always does the "right thing" standing by the potentially downtrodden people of Bedford Falls. These, who would otherwise be at the mercy of archetypal villain, "capitalist/banker" Potter. ("Boo"! "Hiss"!) It takes nearly half of the film's two hours plus for George to be pushed into the arms of the pantomime's leading Girl, the saccharine sweet "Mary", by his mother!? The telephone scene in which he finally kisses her is utterly implausible, even risible. No wonder its original audiences and its writers didn't care for it. Then we have the major story arc of "Clarence" the Guardian Angel (= Fairy Godmother), who is trying to earn his wings by saving George from committing suicide (which would have disqualified paying out on his insurance policy). This is why the film is described as re-working of Dicken's Christmas Carol, and they are indeed, fairy-tale morality tales. Scrooge is redeemed, and George is saved from pointlessly topping himself and abandoning his wife and children. Of course there a whole load of holes in the plot line. Just one example; a call to his highly successful younger brother, whose life he saved, would surely have secured a loan to bridge the gap? And the film is misogynistic, sexist and racist: The "world without George" version of the bar in which he originally gets sozzled is just there for "men to get drunk, quick", associate with loose women and has a black guy playing the piano! OK, so Pantomimes are popular at Christmas...
It is a nice movie, but what is the special thing about it? What is the "magic"? The story develops slowly... veeeeery slowly. It might have been appropriate 65 years ago, but today? Storytelling in cinemas changed and that is not always a bad thing. The setup took to long and the struggle of the hero was not believable for me. The acting was good (more or less). The moral of the story was lame. "Your life makes a difference!" It is a calendar motto, the message of a cheap self-improvement book. Maybe I am not romantic enough to enjoy this movie. To me it was OK, but it was not a "revelation". Not a movie, that I want to watch "over and over".
My family's annual viewing of 'It's a Wonderful Life,' on Christmas eve, has
become as ritualistic as eating turkey on December 25. With the fresh smell
of the tree in the corner of the room, a flickering candle on the fireplace
and a mince pie soaked with brandy butter in my hand, relishing the
spectacle of 'It's a Wonderful Life' is, despite the number of times I've
now sat through it, something I look forward to and treasure each year. It
is, quintessentially, a Christmas movie, and I'll never be able to bring
myself to watching it in the middle of an August heatwave.
I can't quite put my finger on what exactly makes this film so special. But surely the heart-warming plot, which proves to us that, us humans, we can always eventually triumph over despair, and the overall magical feel of the film, is a crucial element of Capra's masterpiece. It teaches us, as privileged westerners, many lessons about the true meaning of humanity and forces us, just as it does to George Bailey - played with relish and sincerity by James Stewart, capturing some of his finest moments - to appreciate, on reflection, just how lucky we actually are.
There are countless of our favourite films that, through sheer force of habit, we find ourselves enjoying on a regular basis. But the very fact that, on the same day each year, I ensure that I savour 'It's A Wonderful Life,' proves that this film is really something quite remarkable with an ability to make its mark.
Though this film is associated with Christmas because it has been shown at
Christmas time, it is really a dark study of the insides of the human soul.
George is driven to the point of wanting to die and wanting not even to
Frank Capra takes us through the life of a man so that we can see why someone would be willing to choose oblivion rather than existence. Then we see that, even though life may seem meaningless, we, like George, have choices and that these choices can make a great difference in the world even though we may not realize that fact. The film helps us to realize why we are alive. That is its real enduring appeal.
I think it's an average movie. It's got classical Hollywood propaganda- and politics. I think people tend to ignore the undertones of trying to get people to stay in the 'homeland' of America. There's also political messages about democracy and individualism, as well as small messages about family life and propaganda about the war. It's good in that it gets people to appreciate life, yet it seems to discourage people to aim higher. For some people having a wife and kids and friends is nice, but for some they have other goals. Seeing the world and achieving ones goals is important, we can't all accept second best. We have to be selfish in some ways if we are to get what we want. There needs to be a balance, but in this movie George lives more for others.
One of the all-time Christmas classics, this excellent piece of work
from Frank Capra focuses on George Bailey (James Stewart, in one of his
career-best roles) who is stopped from jumping into the river in
despair by a friendly angel called Clarence (Henry Travers). We then
see in flashback what has brought George to the brink of suicide and
key events from his life - saving his brother from drowning when the
ice breaks; alerting his chemist boss to a fatal mix of drugs; courting
and marrying his childhood sweetheart (the winsome Donna Reed); and
dealing with the film's token bad guy, Mr Potter (brilliantly played by
the crusty Lionel Barrymore). Clarence then shows George what the
sleepy town of Bedford Falls would have been like without him and
proves that you're never alone if you have friends around you and if
you make a difference.
Interestingly, two direct influences from this film were on the poetry e-zine 'Zuzu's Petals' (George Bailey's little daughter, who leaves some flower petals in his jacket); and, so it is said, on the children's TV programme, Sesame Street (Bert and Ernie, the mad puppets, who are the names of the cop and the taxi driver in this).
And let us not forget, when you hear a bell ring, it means an angel has got its wings!
There is a folktale concerning St Martin, who as a soldier on a mission of
importance, gave half of his cloak to a naked beggar he met in a snowstorm... the moral being that there are circumstances where it isn't worthy (or
rational) to be charitable to the point where you can't survive yourself.
It's a A Wonderful Life, however, is the story of someone who - in effect -
gives all his cloak, then complains about the consequences.
There's been a deal of revisionist criticism focusing on the political subtext, but I'm more interested in the personal angle. In my view, George's suicidal state of mind is not caused by the greedy Potter or by family mishaps, but by his invariable decision to respond to such situations by throwing away all of his own wellbeing and hopes in favour of others.
His actions are not even necessarily 'good'. At every turn, George lets sentiment completely swamp reason. What if covering up for an incompetent pharmacist led to further deaths? Perhaps Uncle Billy *ought* to be in an institution? Perhaps George should have recognised a no-win situation, made a settlement with Potter and moved on, instead of selfishly saddling his family with a company he deliberately runs so unprofitably that it hasn't the capital to ride a financial setback.
Furthermore, the alternative timeline presented by Clarence is clearly fake, concocted to justify George's failure to break out of this self-created rut. There is no reason to asssume, other than because Capra wants it so, that if George hadn't existed his wife would have remained unmarried, his brother fallen through the ice, or the town's social change necessarily proved negative in the long run (Potter after all, won't live for ever).
Sorry, but I find this film deeply exasperating. This is not, as some have commented, a modern-day Book of Job, since George's problems are not inevitable fate, but so much down to his own choice to be a doormat.
Now, here is one movie where I will have to disagree with almost
everybody. I do not care that this film has become a Christmas staple,
and notwithstanding my love and admiration for Frank Capra and James
Stewart, this movie is far from even being particularly good, let alone
a masterpiece. This is a movie that somehow got hyped up with the
passing of time, and now exists in a universe of its own. It is telling
that at the time of its making, it did not even receive a single Oscar.
Apparently, at the time, nobody thought it to be so special...
Now, if you look at this picture objectively and without the typically "small-town-America do-good pink-shaded sunglasses", you will find a very simple, obvious and at times boring story. The characters are so simplified, that most are just caricatures of real people (just look at the local villain). Technically, there is nothing to write home about either. The sound, as a matter of fact is terrible, one can barely discern the (sometimes confusing) dialog.
And then we come to (according to the masses, and not only) the most important part of the movie: the message. Here is where I have another major problem... I may be cynical or stupid, but I do not see what this all-important transcendental message is; If it is simply 'be a good person', this could have been (and has been) done much better. This movie is a mix of slapstick Hollywood 'feel good' and of political correctness '1947 style'. No wonder it fares so good in our modern times...
`George Bailey is a pillar of his community whose life has been selflessly
dedicated to the welfare of others. Through the evil machinations of the
town's business mogul, George is driven to the point of suicide. In answer
to the prayers of the townsfolk, a missing angel comes to the rescue. He
shows George what a sad and sorry place the town would have been without
him. Can this life George out of his despair?'
Who hasn't seen this film? Anyone? It is an unashamed tribute to homely values and is hugely warming. The story itself is not exactly rocket science, but it is does contain plenty of nice touches as we follow George through his life of missed opportunities and sacrifice through to his marriage and eventual down fall. The world that this happens seems so distant nowadays, with our friendless society - so few people do anything for their fellow man in big cities etc. So this is very touching to see a man who serves others in such a major way. It is a story of how every little helps and how you cannot overdo friendly gestures.
Stewart is excellent with his partner Capra. Barrymore is also excellent in a thankless role - he represents all that is wrong in society and of course he rises to a powerful position. Henry Travers is good as Clarence, the wingless angel and of course who can forget the excellent Donna Reed as Mary.
It's pure hokum of course, the regular Christmas movie that lifts everyone's spirits. But isn't this what we all wish the world was like really? Why can't it be - if only for two hours. This is what Stewart and Capra do best - enjoy and forget the real world.
...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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