It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
Directed by: Frank Capra
Written by: Albert Hackett, Frances Goodrich, Frank Capra, Jo Swerling, Michael Wilson, Philip Van Doren Stern
Starring: Donna Reed, James Stewart, Lionel Barrymore
On Christmas Eve, prayers for his wellbeing of Bedford Falls resident George Bailey, who is about to commit suicide, from friends and family reach Heaven. Clarence Odbody, Angel Second Class, is assigned to save George and earn his wings. Franklin and Joseph, the head angels, review George’s life with Clarence. At the age of 12, George saves the life of his younger brother Harry, who had fallen through the ice on a frozen pond, though George lost the hearing in his left ear. Later, as an errand boy in a pharmacy, George saves his grief-stricken boss, druggist Mr. Gower, by refusing to deliver a child’s prescription Gower mistakenly filled with poison. George’s dream is to see the world, but he repeatedly sacrifices his ambition and even his money for others, and the nasty Henry F. Potter, an ambitious shareholder in the Building And Loan bank which is ran by George’s father, seems to not only want to stop providing home loans for the poor but take over the bank and even the town………..
Frank Capra’s masterpiece It’s A Wonderful Life has a reputation as the Christmas movie, a cheery, feel-good film that is perhaps a bit to corny for some, but it actually isn’t any of those things until the end, and even then obvious problems still exist. In actuality, it’s one of the darkest movies to come out of 1940s Hollywood. Throughout its first two thirds, it’s really the tale of ambition time and again thwarted, a rather sad story of a man who again and again loses out. Except for marrying his childhood sweetheart Mary, nothing really goes the way he wants to, due to events and his own character. What is so amazing is that, due to the wonderful script by Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett and Capra, the movie is not depressing; instead, it feels like a beautifully condensed version of Life. Happy events alternate with sad ones, there are brilliant laughs, and romance, which peaks with one of the most touchingly romantic scenes in movies, where Mary welcomes George home for the first time to their makeshift house; even thinking about it makes me well up, it’s so sweet. Of course there is the hissable villain Mr Potter, but he obviously stands for everything that is cruel and nasty in life; in fact all the characters stand for certain archetypes or aspect of life, something which occurred to me greatly the last time I watched the movie. Of course, things eventually really go wrong, and, in a lengthy sequence of incredible audacity for the time [look at all the sleaze!] which has been imitated many times in movies, from Back To The Future 2 to Shrek Forever After, George is shown what the town would have been like if he has not existed. The film may end with “Every time you hear a bell ring, it means that some angel’s just got his wings”, but actually, it you think about it, little has changed. Not only has the villain got away with it, but George is probably still in “the shits”. Though it has its whimsical elements, with Clarence the most likeable angel in movies, It’s A Wonderful Life remains an astoundingly brave and honest film, as well as, of course, being amongst the best twenty or thirty ever made.