Directed by Frank Capra
Starring James Stewart, Donna Reed, and Lionel Barrymore
USA, 130 min – 1946.
Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life opens with a series of prayers for George Bailey (James Stewart), from family and friends. George has fallen on hard times this Christmas Eve. Although he has spent his entire life helping others, he has never achieved the things he wanted in his youth: higher education, travel, and a ticket out small town, Bedford Falls. When his Uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell) loses $8000, the family business is in trouble and George could face jail time. George contemplates suicide. In a turn of events, Clarence (Henry Travers), a second string angel, looking to gain his wings, comes to Earth and shows George what life would be like, if he had never been born.
It’s A Wonderful Life is Frank Capra’s “American spirit” defined. George Bailey cannot be brought down, even by his own negative thoughts and disappointment. His struggle and triumph encourages audiences to find the silver lining that can be so elusive, when life goes sour. This theme is a part of Capra’s films, which seeks to inspire Americans, during difficult times.
The 1950s brought change to America and American filmmaking. The kinds of films that made Capra so successful in the 1930s were no longer needed in ‘peace time.’ However, It’s A Wonderful Life remains a classic and Capra’s most well-known picture. It’s also a staple of Christmas movie watching, when families gather together.
It’s A Wonderful Life presents a picture of America that people want to believe in. The individual matters. Friends come together, in small town fashion, to help each other. People may not be rich, but they really care about one another. True or not, Capra’s vision of America is lovely to watch. When families want to feel close to each other, or people need an extra oomph of encouragement, It’s A Wonderful Life can deliver, and so, the film continues to make a difference.