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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"It's a Wonderful Life" speaks the most universal truths about the kind
of values humanity should stand for to make life that wonderful. It's
Frank Capra's Christmas gift to Cinema and one of the all-time greatest
Indeed, what we use to define as 'classics' in the Cinematic Dictionary is probably the kind of movies that look and sound familiar to movie fans BEFORE the first viewing. And for me, the great classics as those we're familiar with before watching them and without this parameter affecting the magic of the first experience. We know that Marion Crane will be murdered; that Michael Corleone will become the Don, and that George Bailey will reunite with his family but it NEVER affects the enjoyment.
I've seen enough parodies from "Simpsons" episodes or TV Christmas specials to know the very basis of Frank Capra's immortal classic, I even remember James Stewart's final wink from the movie "Look Who's Talking", and I was so aware of the film's plot that the first viewing probably consisted on spotting all the references I had. Not that it ruined the whole experience though but I didn't really grasp the inner greatness of the film until the second viewing, and now I do. Yes, it's very positive, very "good-vibrations inducing", something that definitely justifies its top spot on AFI's 100 Most Inspirational list, but there is more to that. There is more.
You see, I've always thought the film to be a Christmas story and nothing else, expecting a 'message'; an obligatory happy ending established by the Family reunion, I expected that and well, I got it. BUT it's surprising how dark it really gets for a Christmas film and even by today's standards, 2000's TV specials can't elevate themselves to this gutsy change of tone. And James Stewart carries it quite spectacularly in "It's a Wonderful Life", powerfully transcending the initial atmosphere of the film. I would never have expected such genuine and authentic displays of sheer anger and Stewart is really scary here. I recall one line in Ebert's review where he regretted the colorization of the film precisely because it didn't visually fit these dark undertones. I can't imagine myself watching the film in color either.
And Stewart's anger is very significant, because it illustrates the overall sentiment conveyed by his character, George Bailey, toward his life. The man considers himself a failure because he didn't fulfill all his dreams of travels and explorations. Sure, all his achievements helped the community, but never did he expect to stay in his modest natal hometown, Belford Falls. Bailey exemplifies the notion of being victim of circumstances, something I could relate to who spends my whole time dreaming of what I wish to do, instead of appreciating what I already did. Seriously, could it be more frustrating than dreaming of the world and be forced to live in a dull small town? Logically, Bailey becomes a bitter man with the eyes so turned to the future that he can't turn his back and consider the extent of his achievements and his popularity.
George Bailey reminded of one of my friends' sayings: "we don't spend our lives writing the future, but writing the past" It's even truer for Bailey whose past (understand: achievement) helped people to build their future. Following the death of his father, he took over the "Loan and Building" affair and played a significant role in the lives of all the people of Belford Falls by selling houses lower than the prices they would normally rent it, thus providing them the most precious thing in America: a land, a home, with prices low enough to be able to sustain to the other obligations. He naturally made himself an enemy through Lionel Barrymore as the infamous half-tyrant half-tycoon Mr. Potter, a fitting 'Capraesque' villain as the morally corrupted rich man who tyrannizes and despises little people. (Interestingly, both Bailey and Potter are in AFI's Top 10 Heroes and Villains)
Frank Capra is one of the few directors whose style became instantly identifiable and "It's a Wonderful Life" is the opportunity to culminate his own standards but not with the usual emotional bias this time. Here it's Bailey, the very protagonist of the film who takes distance from the little people, too real, too down-to-earth while he is a man who dreams, who writes the future in big, bold letters. This time, the enemy is not just the rich, the powerful, the corrupted, but the hero's inner demons, unknowingly celebrating Capra's humanistic vision: a world of solidarity, brotherhood, goodness and compassion. It's also, cinematically-speaking, the incarnation of a lost era through these characters forever graved in our memories, Mary Bailey (Donna Reed), Uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell), Clarence (Henry Travers) and all these unforgettable faces.
"It's a Wonderful Life" is the coming to realization of a man that he's better than what he thinks he is, and whose achievements speak something more important about him than his dreams. The trick was to allow him to see what his life would've been hadn't he be born: a frightening alternate reality (just noticed where "Back to the Future II" took its inspiration from). This little spice of fantasy conducts the atmosphere of the climax. And its darkness is perfect because the scarier it'll get, the more convinced Bailey will be. And he finally learns it the 'hard way' but this is the fate of all Capra's heroes, they all struggle, they're all licked and desperate before triumphing. Why so hard? Why the harder it is, the louder the 'YAAY' will be and so will the 'Merry Christmas' shouted while George Bailey is running out of joy, probably the most communicative of Cinema's history.
And we wouldn't have had one of the truly happiest happy endings of cinema's history, immortalized by the sight of James Stewart smiling, with little Zuzu, Mary and a thought for his guardian angel.
Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed are terrific as the main leads in this
Frank Capra movie. Set very close to his own working class roots (
supporting cast and characters bear this out) and some nasty people
thrown in to boot, this film holds the viewer's attention without
getting overly sentimental.. Ever said to yourself " I wish I had never
been born?" This film will clearly answer that question.
It just goes to show that movies do not have to have all the special effects bells and whistles, deafening sound track and Dolby digital to capture viewer interest. Movies like this were made in a time when violence was often only suggested, not played in grizzly detail. There are certainly some dark themes. However you can't help being uplifted by the ending..
"Each man's life touches so many other lives." ~ Clarence Oddbody, AS2
I believe "It's a Wonderful Life" is a favorite of many. It is certainly a favorite of mine. James Stewart's portrayal of George Bailey is, well, wonderful, and one of his very best performances. Lionel Barrymore is perfection as Mr. Potter, the richest and meanest man in town. Donna Reed is darling as George Bailey's beloved wife, Mary. And Henry Travers is charming and adorable as Clarence Oddbody, AS2 (Angel Second Class).
In the spirit of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol", this is the story of a man who gets a rare glimpse of what the world would be like if he never existed. Through the magic of Frank Capra, we take a glorious ride with Clarence, a guardian angel who has yet to earn his wings. In answer to many prayers from the folks of Bedford Falls, Clarence is assigned to help George Bailey, the town's hero, in his darkest hour.
George Bailey is a man who has positively impacted many people's lives by putting the needs of others ahead of his own; but still, he has regrets. After giving up his own career aspirations, he steps into his late father's role of running the small Building and Loan business in order to continue his father's good work to help the folks of Bedford Falls and keep it out of Potter's greedy hands. He settles down and marries his childhood sweetheart and raises a family in the same small town despite his dream to travel the world and become an architect.
Mr. Potter, the heartless villain in the story, tries everything in his power to take down George Bailey and the rinky-dink Building and Loan Company. George manages to keep the company afloat, even using his own money at times, and continues to be loyal to the people of Bedford Falls - who depend on him for a chance to own their own homes. But one fateful day, $8,000 accidentally goes missing from the Building and Loan and George fears the scandal will take them down after all. Distraught and defeated, George contemplates suicide, believing he is worth more dead than alive. Enter Clarence, the gentle and child-like guardian angel, who shows George the way.
The sentiment in this movie is overwhelming and if it does not tug at your heart, you are not human. In classic Capra style, this film offers lessons in patience and perseverance, selflessness and self-respect, loyalty and compassion and faith and forgiveness. This movie is a magical journey of pure love.
Even though I have seen this film many times over, I still watch it every Christmas. It is one of my essentials.
IMDb Top 250: 28
Every Christmas Eve, I watch this film with my dad. Before I can remember anything else, I remember this film. I used to be bored of it, and leave sometimes, but this is the first time I can truly appreciate what an amazing, inspiring, heartwarming and perfect film this is. Without a doubt, It's A Wonderful Life is Frank Capra's masterpiece, and one of the best films of all time.
In one of his most iconic roles, Jimmy Stewart is George Bailey, a noble man living in Bedford Falls. After an intro that already leaves you choked up, we see an otherworldly conversation in which Joseph sends Clarence, an AS-II, to help George, who is "contemplating throwing away God's greatest gift". From there, we see George grow up, seeing his dreams pushed aside to help the town face the greedy Mr. Potter. Eventually, we catch up to Christmas Eve, where one of the greatest scenes in film takes place- only to be followed by another. It is a dark film, but ends with the most uplifting message ever told convincingly on the screen.
Everything about the film is perfect (except for 3 cuts). The acting, and the characters, are top notch. George Bailey is one of the most likable, developed characters of all time. He is a selfless man who puts the people first. As Clarence says, "I like George Bailey." I wish there were more George Baileys in the world. His wife, Mary (Donna Reed) is much like him- kind and gentle. Together, they're one of the classic screen couples, and we feel for them. The dinner scene in the abandoned house, and their first scene on the dance floor; it's... wonderful.
One of cinema's great villains, Lionel Barrymore's Henry F. Potter is the personification of greed. He has no family and no need for money, but he needs more power and tries snatching it away from the Baileys for the entire film. He is a completely realized character. The film also has a great supporting cast- Sam, the one who did achieve his dreams, Violet, the head turner, Uncle Billy and Harry... everyone brings this film together.
The location is a character itself. Bedford Falls, the fictional (New York?) town, is the backdrop of Georges adventure: he wants to leave, but can't shake the town. The strip, Bailey Park, Martini's and the bridge, it's a fully fledged town created on a set.
Truly great films use every shot to show something, and It's A Wonderful Life is a part of that club. Mostly little things that you can't remember, but every scene, every shot, benefits the viewer. We learn a little thing about George, a little about the town, a little foreshadowing, this quality separates great films from fantastic films.
Many films try to inspire, but this one puts all others to shame. For two hours, we build up, seeing why this good man is in a terrible situation, and then he is taught a divine lesson, and then you cry for a while as he understands the lesson and viewers wish to become better people- more like George Bailey. That's a factor you can't describe in writing, and the major reason this film is played every year. No matter who you are or what you believe, you can take something good away from this film.
You can call this a Christmas film, and it feels great watching it in season, but It's A Wonderful Life is timeless. The greatest actors, the greatest story, the greatest message- if you haven't seen this film you have to.
"To my big brother George, the richest man in town." -Harry Bailey 10/10
It's hard to review a movie such as this. Everything worth saying about
it has already been said. No words truly do it justice. It's one you
have to sit down and watch. Every year without failure, millions of
people plop down in front of the television to be spellbound by it.
One only needs to refer to its ranking on the IMDb top 250 at #30 to see how well-regarded and beloved this classic is. It's one of those giants in film history that everyone needs to see.
I wasn't introduced to this film by my parents like many were. In fact, I'm the one who instituted the policy that we must watch It's a Wonderful Life every December in my house growing up.
This is the type of film which doesn't age. The themes and morals expressed in the film are the definition of timeless.
I would strongly encourage anyone thinking of viewing this film to watch it in black and white. Some networks have aired the color version and the Blu-ray also contains the colorized version. The colorized version was not what the filmmakers and actors intended. Here's what James Stewart thought of the colorized version: "I tried to look at the colorized version, but I had to switch it off--it made me feel sick." James Stewart and Donna Reed are one of the best on-screen pairings I've ever seen. This isn't just a Christmas movie. It's every bit a romantic drama and explores some dark themes.
Neither the director, Frank Capra, nor James Stewart knew what they had when this film was made. They hadn't discovered all the layers that existed within this movie. It took the viewing audience to find this classic on television for it gain the following it has today.
We found it then and we do again every year.
I have seen some very good films in my life, of that there is no doubt. This one though, Frank Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life" I remember the first time I watched it, it was the holiday season I think my sophomore year of High School. Being a high schooler I tried extremely hard not t let my tears show, but it was no use, and I could see similar failures around the classroom. I haven't seen a movie that could reach such an emotional level with me since, probably the only one that ever came close was Lion King, when I was 5. This movie will always be on my top 5 list, and so far no contender has got even close to removing it from the #1, and 64 years after this movie has been made there still isn't, that is really saying something.
Before I started watching it and even after watching around 50 minutes of movie, my first impression was not that good. As I am native American, I was even missing some links in this movie but then it absolutely changed !! After watching the movie as a whole (complete 2 hours and 9 min), I realized that this is one of the best movies which i have even seen. It gives us some teachings about how important are your friends are and what will be the world without you !! This is a must watch without thinking of what genre you usually watch or something, just remember the fact that after watching this movie you will realize the importance of friends and your presence... What are you waiting for ? GO WATCH !!
In a movie It's a Wonderful Life, George Bailey (James Stewart) goes through out his life trying to help people in his home town living with his wife Mary (Donna Reed) and four children in an old house. Even though he understood that his father's business does not bring much income, people were his main focus. He lived with a dream that one day he will travel across the globe and will come back to build new buildings. Despite of his dream, Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore) prevents him from leaving his home town and is forced to take over his father's loan company. On the Christmas Eve, George's uncle Bill (Thomas Mitchell) loses $8,000 while he is attempting to deposit them into the bank account. Mr. Potter is the one who discovers the money but hides them from Mr. Bailey. As George realizes that after bank examiner finds out about missing money, he might go to jail and will loose his company, therefore he decides to ask Mr. Potter for help and give up his company. As he thought about his family, he was told that he is worth more dead when he is alive, and decided to commit suicide. Because of his family prayers, an angel Clarence (Henry Travers) was sent to save him and to show him how valuable his life is to the people he cares about by taking him to the time as if he was never born. I loved this movie because of its positive attitude. Some of the main characters are just perfect for their character in the movie. Even though James Stewart won an Oscar for his George Bailey character, my favorite character is the Mr. Potter. His bold head and cricket eyes are perfectly underline his grouchy character. Bailey's wife Mary is a perfect character as well. Her facial expressions are very clearly expressing her feelings. Her face did show an expression that she is deeply in love with George. Also you can see when she figured that George is in money trouble.
I was very much aware of this film consistently being listed as one of
the best movies EVER made. James Stewart has been one of my favorites
for a longtime. This DVD had been lying with me for quite some time so
I decided to give it a try. By God, I was stupefied, I did not write a
review immediately just to see if this was not a flash in the pan, just
an overdone, emotional blackmailer of a movie but this movie is simply
brilliant. As an after thought maybe, its so hard to describe what one
feels after watching this gem, this masterpiece. I am told it was a
resounding flop when it was released, aah thats so unfortunate.
Everyone goes through the vicissitudes of life, and many a times it is so tempting to end it all, to blame each and everyone around for one's misery that we miss out on the differences one's life makes to others. This is Hollywood at its very best, this is what everyone needs to realize...............
Its a WONDERFUL LIFE... indeed...... ! See it and praise the Lord !
Upon first inspection it is easy perhaps to understand why when first
released, Frank Capra's Christmas movie, inspired by a simple seasonal
card, was not well received. It is a movie that opens with a
fantastical scene of a star, later revealed to be an angel, talking to
a faceless God, the voice-over obvious, stilted in sweet humour, and
immediately suggesting the film is going to be one that is too
saccharine a pill to swallow. The thing is, beyond that, "It's A
Wonderful Life" is the ultimate exercise in feel-good cinema, its
virtue as such much parodied and referenced in TV and other films.
The film presents George Bailey, played by James Stewart who would go on to refer to the film as his own favourite, who stifles his lifelong dreams of travelling and discovery in order to save and run his father's Building And Loan Association. It has long been responsible for the affordable housing in his hometown Bedford Falls and he cannot see it lost to the scoundrel of the piece, Henry F. Potter, who is a major shareholder in the Building And Loan and the only man residents could otherwise turn to. After a run at the bank leaves the Building And Loan on the brink of financial ruin, and George's Uncle Billy misplaces $8000, in an act of desperation he attempts suicide, at which time he is saved by the angel Clarence. Understandably confused, he wishes he had never been born, and so his wish is granted.
If the plot seems familiar even though you have not seen "It's A Wonderful Life", it is probably because you saw the idea loosely re-worked in the Nicolas Cage film "The Family Man". For all its up to date technique, its colour, modern setting, etc, this version could not capture what made the original.
So, what did make the original? What could surprise people is how Capra clearly believed in the notion that you have to suffer the low to get the high. The second act of the movie gets really quite dark, with Bailey seeing what the world would be like without his birth, coming to understand just how important a person is to everybody else's existence, and bringing him to a full appreciation of his worth as a husband, father and friend. The finale is obviously that classic scene that we all know, even if we do not realise it, with his daughter's famous, "Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings", and despite how much you might think the whole thing sounds cheesy, silly, saccharine and sentimental, the power of the film is to bring a genuine tear of pure enjoyment to your eye regardless; for a while you are full of the joy of life and completely happy, no matter what.
A lot of the film's success comes down to how believable James Stewart makes the plight, and for any flaws you may find with it, its colourful characters, its tremendous performances, humour, heartbreaking moments, perfectly pitched highs and lows, and its' unabashed final sequence make this an inexplicably perfect film.
No wonder it remains at the top spot of many people's favourite Christmas films, and so it should.
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