It's A Wonderful Life
Genre: Drama
Running Time: 2 hrs. 10 min.
Release Date: November 13th, 2007 (DVD)
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Frank Capra
Actors: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Henry Travers, Lionel Barrymore
"Jimmy Stewart turns in a tour de force of Christmas spirit, hope and anguish, and lights up the screen like few others."
One of the most heartwarming and uplifting films ever created, Frank Capra's It’s A Wonderful Life perfectly captures the human spirit through faith, love and second chances, and beautifully weaves an unforgettable tale. Essentially a twist on Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”, the characters are richly developed and each scene is elegantly directed. Jimmy Stewart displays the purest of human emotions with unbeatable acting, as does the superlative supporting cast including Donna Reed and Lionel Barrymore.

In Bedford Falls, George Bailey (James Stewart) contemplates suicide. Through the prayers of countless friends, an angel named Clarence Oddbody (Henry Travers) is sent to Earth to help George in his plight. From here the story backtracks with a narration by Joseph, the head angel, to fill in the details of Bailey’s life. As a young boy he saves his brother Harry from drowning, and later after the untimely death of his father, stays in Bedford Falls to help run the Business and Loan Company, started by his father and business partner, Uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell), years ago. George desperately wants to leave the small town that he's been cooped up in his whole life, but continually finds himself staying, first to save the business, then to allow his younger brother to go off to college, and finally to wed childhood sweetheart Mary Hatch (Donna Reed). When the conniving Mr. Potter, the richest man in town, who has been trying to buy out the Business and Loan Company his entire life, discovers a banking error that could destroy the fledgling company, George becomes impetuous and is convinced he's worth more dead than alive. “Is he sick?” asks the angel Clarence. “No, worse”, responds Joseph. “He's discouraged”.

Jimmy Stewart turns in a tour de force of Christmas spirit, hope and anguish, and he lights up the screen like few others. His acting is flawless and his emotions utterly genuine. Donna Reed is also exceptional as Mary, the girl who is madly in love with George and content with waiting until he realizes his feelings are reciprocal. It is a timeless romance and an essential part of this film which is often overlooked by the comparisons to Scrooge’s revelations in “A Christmas Carol”. The love story is prominent and heartfelt, and while noticeably characterized by the 40’s strict sense of decent relationships, an inspiring image that never fades. Lionel Barrymore plays Mr. Potter, the “Grinch” character who never does receive proper requital, although we are content knowing he never rises above the changeless miserable miser figure he holds throughout the film. He hates everyone who has anything he doesn't have - although money has never been one of those things.

And then there's Clarence, the simple angel who is anxious to receive his wings by helping Bailey realize the value of God's greatest gift. Henry Travers portrays Clarence with wonderfully elementary honesty and presents humorous situations of disbelief for George, which quickly turns to panic at the insistence and demonstration of Clarence’s guardian angel abilities. Clarence, while only appearing at the very end of the film, is a major player, giving George the chance to see what life would be like in Bedford Falls if he were never born. George spends a great deal of time struggling with disbelief at Pottersville, so renamed because of his absence in preventing Potter from taking over the town. His friends and family don’t recognize him, and he is reduced to tears at all of the now indifferent lives he didn’t know he had touched. As Clarence points out, it's remarkable to see how many people are influenced by a single individual.

Written, produced and directed by the legendary Frank Capra, It's A Wonderful Life created countless poignant and memorable moments and themes that would later be referenced and remembered in future filmmaking. George wants to do big and important things away from Bedford Falls, realizing only at the conclusion how important it was for him not to accomplish those goals. The broken down Waldorf hotel becomes the home of George and Mary’s dreams and even the location for the perfect honeymoon, one that the newlyweds missed out on initially, and George shouting from the top of the very bridge he nearly leapt from: “I want to live again!” In the end, George is the richest man in town, measured not by his wealth, but by his friends.

- Mike Massie

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