It's A Wonderful Life (1946)

AND a skinny wife!
AND a skinny wife!

Genre: Drama Family Romance

Starring: James Stewart (Rear WindowThe Naked Spur), Donna Reed (From Here to Eternity • "Dallas")

Directed By: Frank Capra (Mr. Smith Goes to WashingtonIt Happened One Night)

Overview: It's Christmas Eve and George Bailey is sent a guardian angel to stop him from committing suicide. The angel shows George what life in his town would be like should he have never been born. 

Feel free to click here to skip the spoiler bit at the beginning.

As you all know, the critical moment that causes George Bailey to consider jumping into the drink stems from his partner losing their business' money. What makes It's a Wonderful Life so surprising to this critic is how the incident is treated. If you'll allow me to walk you through it: George Bailey's business partner, Uncle Billy, goes to the bank to deposit $8000 (today, that would be almost $90,000). On his way to the teller, he runs into Mr Potter, curmudgeony antagonist and profiteer extraordinaire. He talks to Mr Potter about a homecoming, pointing out the article in our antagonist's newspaper. This is when Uncle Billy leaves the overstuffed cash envelope, literally, in Mr. Potter's lap. Mr. Potter quickly finds the cash and, being an opportunistic low-life, keeps it, and keeps it quiet.

So many twists of the plot could have brought that envelope to light: Uncle Billy's retracing of his steps; George Bailey's guardian angel could have become a Deux Ex Machina and worked his angelic magic of reparation; Potter could have been discovered with it; Potter could have whipped up a sudden morality - or at least a sportsmanship about the whole thing - and given it back of his own volition; or as I had most expected, Mr. Potter's butler could have come forth, even anonymously, and left it at the Savings and Load door. Capra's film explores none of these things. The lane of least resistance, that manageable happy ending that comes from everything being set to right is replaced instead with a far more realistic display. The bad guy stays bad, and the money is lost forever in his pockets.

For as much as Frank Capra might make films that are about 'distilled human kindness', he remains true to the characters and that cataclysmic twist without cheapening the terrifying situation of losing a year's worth of profit. The reason It's a Wonderful Life is so timeless must be because that ending is so pure, as opposed to being too convenient. My only regret was expecting that feel-good happy ending to come in such a convenient and obvious way. A tip to the hat to you Capra, for thinking outside the box.

Yeah, we all know he's dreamin'
Yeah, we all know he's dreamin'
For those of you who have not seen It's A Wonderful Life, your reasons are  clearly one of the following:
  • You suffer from blindness
  • Glorious Black And White gives you seizures
  • You live in a cave, don't believe in Christmas, and you might actually be plotting America's downfall
  • Frank Capra touched you in your dirty place and you can't bring yourself to watching any of his films
  • Because "It's old and I'm not really that much into Christmas movies"

Allow me to retort:

If you're blind, there's this thing called Descriptive Video now, and because of all the grand speeches and amazing dialogue, you most likely will not be missing much. Also I don't know how you're reading my blog.

If you're seizurific, well that sucks, but I would say this one is worth the suffering.

If you're a terrorist, well I think you're looking for Capra's Why We Fight series. Keep looking.

If you're deluded, well there's a lot of movies that you'll blame your horrible childhood on, so I won't try and convince you otherwise.

And finally, if you're not really one to expand your horizons beyond the world of colour film and Hanna Montana movies, do yourself the favour and see why Jimmy Stewart is a powerhouse on the screen; learn what makes Frank Capra a name to remember, and seriously, it's Christmas, come on.

It's A Wonderful Life is the 11th movie on AFI's Top 100 films of the last 100 years, and although Capra's films lean on the saccharine side of the human condition, the sheer presence of the cast and the power of the script inspires the kind of Drama that everyone will love. It's no wonder that you can find this on television every single Christmas, several times over the season.

And for you new Technology snobs, yeah, it's available on Blu-Ray.

Even moments down in the doldrums!
Even moments down in the doldrums!

Performance: 10 Cinematography: 8 Script: 8 Plot: 8 Mood: 8

Overall Rating: 84% (Wonderful and Terrific)

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I find reason #4 void. Henry Winkler touched me in a dirty place and I still love Arrested Development. That's not a lie, there is a video of him tickling me. It's wierd.

Great review!

Hahaha. All new meaning to 'Jump the Shark'

For Australian viewers 'It's A Wonderful Life' screens at 8.30 AEDST on ABC TV (ABC 2) this Saturday night (18th Dec).

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