Saturday, December 14, 2013

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) ***

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It is a myth that the suicide rate increases between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  However, the “most wonderful time of the year” is not always so wonderful for everyone.  Christmas cards, crowded stores, wrapping presents, and mounting debt can weigh heavily on the psyche. And, then there are those who have lost loved ones or feel as though they haven’t any loved ones at all.  For these people, the holiday season is a torturous time, full of regrets and sorrows.  What-ifs, should-haves, and if-onlys play cruel tricks on those who carry around ghosts and faded dreams in their troubled minds.  I suspect this is the reason that It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) has endured as a Christmas tradits-a-wonderful-life-failureition for more than fifty years. Everyone—yes, everyone—has a little of George Bailey running around in their subconscious.  As a wise person once told me, circumstance touches everyone—no one is immune.

I enjoy watching It’s a Wonderful Life every Christmas season because I can relate to George Bailey (James Stewart). An adventurer at heart but a duty-bound person in reality, George and I both made life-altering decisions based on the cards circumstance dealt us—even if that deck was full of jokers we played the game by the rule of responsibility; I expect many others can say the same.

For those unfamiliar with George’s story, it is a simple one. From a very young age George exceeded expectation: he saved his brother (Todd Karns) from drowning and prevented his drunken pharmacist boss (H.B. Warner) from accidentally poisoning someone. When his father (Samuel S. Hinds) died of a stroke he forwent a trip to Europe and then college to head the family’s struggling building and loan company. Instead of spending $2,000 on his tumblr_mbucxk8NL61qfoua5o1_250honeymoon he used it to stave off a run on the bank.  He invested in a town, Bedford Falls, and a group of people that at heart he wanted nothing more to do than to escape.  Along the way he married a girl (Donna Reed) he knew worshipped him, and agreed to live in a ramshackle house filled with children that required he continue in a job he hated in a town too small for his ambition. And then a bit of ironic circumstance slapped poor George in the face: his undoing was to come at the hands of his own obedience to duty and responsibility.  This, no doubt, was the last bitter pill that George could allow himself to swallow, and so he took it believing that at least he did what was best for others.  Ah, but what would have life been like for all those who benefitted from George’s benevolence and self-sacrifice if he had never existed?  It takes an angel (Henry Travers) seeking his wings to show George that what he viewed as a failed existence was of significant importance to so many others.  

In the end, It’s a Wonderful Life, is a redemption tale. Upon release some critics found the movie too sentimental and said that it idealized an unrealistic world.  By this time just about any film from director Frank Capra was labeled as overly-YCURTIS_P1.jpg_full_380sentimental by many critics (perhaps you are familiar with the term “Capra-corn”?), and so many overlooked the universal theme of circumstance—it touches everyone.  And, so this corny film that lost $525,000 in 1946, now draws millions of viewers every Christmas. I’ve heard many people say that they watch it to remind themselves that perhaps they didn’t live the life they wanted, but at least they lived the life they got.  They, like George Bailey (and myself), endure the circumstances of life. Perhaps you are not a religious person—you are the perfect candidate for this film which Capra made to combat atheism—but there is one particular Bible verse that applies to this movie. It is written in James 5:11 that “we count them happy which endure”.  Happily, the spirit of It’s a Wonderful Life continues to endure today. 

12 comments:

  1. I try and watch the classic film, It's a Wonderful Life, every Christmas. Because of the wonderful story of courage, sacrifice. It also reminds us how our friends and family are very important to us.

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    1. It is a film that reminds us how important our loved ones truly are.

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  2. This film really owes its current popularity to the fact that it went into the public domain and every TV station that could find a copy showed it over and over every Christmas season. A whole generation grew up seeing it.

    I actually never did see it until I was an adult. I liked it, but then I tend to like Capra films. I've never heard that Capra intended this film to "combat atheism", though. And I am not a religious person; Christmas is a secular holiday for me - a time to get together with family and exchange gifts.

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    1. Another odd thing about this film that most people don't know is that Capra didn't envision it as a Christmas film. It became one after it went into the public domain and was shown at Christmastime.

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  3. The depth of Frank Capra's art is often lost in our over familiarity with "It's a Wonderful Life". The director's sure hand and way with the wonderful character actors who populate Bedford Falls makes the film come alive and touch us as few others do.

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    1. I've always viewed Capra as a director with a conscience. He always seemed to have something to say about the depth of human goodness. I can't recall one of his films that didn't touch on this theme.

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  4. Capra films are great and the chemistry between Stewart and Reed is incredible and very believable. Nice job Kim, right on the money...

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    1. Yes, this is the most sexed up I ever recall Reed being. She and Stewart make a nice couple. Thanks, for the nice comments, Dave.

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  5. "I’ve heard many people say that they watch it to remind themselves that perhaps they didn’t live the life they wanted, but at least they lived the life they got." Very true, and "It's a Wonderful Life" certainly reminds us of that.

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    1. Capra films always have such little pearls of wisdom in them, don't they?

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  6. I think you are very right that there is a George Bailey in all of us. Certainly can relate to it.
    I actually do not like George Bailey as a character, he is way to loud, but I think that is actually an advantage. It makes him more human not to be perfectly likable.

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  7. Jimmy Stewart sometimes fluctuates between endearing and annoying with that voice of his, so I can see how George's loudness could come off as a bit loud.

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