There are very few black and white classics that stand the test of time today and can reach a fairly wide audience year after year. It’s a Wonderful Life is one of those classics! Every year I come back to this film during the holiday season to watch George Bailey battle with the idea that he has, despite what he thinks is a good-for-nothing life, a truly fulfilling and wonderful life that he has stamped out for himself at his home town of Bedford Falls. It is an extremely charming movie and even though much of the scenery and dialogue is extremely dated, the movie still hold a lot of magic even today.
George Bailey is a small-town man whose life seems so desperate he contemplates suicide. He had always wanted to leave Bedford Falls to see the world, but circumstances and his own good heart have led him to stay. He sacrficed his education for his brother’s, kept the family-run savings and loan afloat, protected the town from the avarice of the greedy banker Mr. Potter, and married his childhood sweetheart. As he prepares to jump from a bridge, his guardian angel intercedes, showing him what life would have become for the residents of Bedford Falls is he had never lived.
Part of me wants to just leave this post where it is, I don’t feel like this movie needs any defending. It is truly a heart-warming classic and the story is extremely compelling and accessible regardless of the generation viewing it. George Bailey is a man at the end of his rope, when he was young he had dreams and aspirations of traveling the world and living a great and successful life. But due to certain circumstances he ends up staying in his home town working at the family bank. Bailey thinks that his life is not at all what he wanted it to be, that he is a failure and when he finds out that his bank will most likely go under, it seems like the final straw and he begins to contemplate suicide.
There is something just extremely compelling about a man at the end of his rope despite the fact that, while he might not see it, he has probably the most fulfilling life of all as well as the respect and admiration of his family and the entire town. But it is also heart breaking to see such a kind-hearted man be swatted down at every turn in his life which causes him to sort of hate himself. Your heart breaks when you see it, which makes the payoff at the end of the film all the more powerful and compelling.
It’s a Wonderful Life, for me, isn’t just a must see for the holiday season, it is quite possibly the best Christmas movie there is. It has everything you might want in a holiday classic. It has the Christmas spirit, love, family, redemption and much much more. George Bailey’s struggle is something that every person, no matter how big or small, can relate to because we, at the very least, have all had moments where we hated ourselves or felt like failures and ignored those around us who truly loved us and supported us in spite of our ignorance. It has many classic scenes, from the “I’ll bring give you the moon” speech to Bailey dancing over a gym floor that is opening into a pool, this movie really is a classic I recommend watching every year. And while the movie deals with a lot of grown up themes, I think families of all ages and sizes could find something to enjoy about this film.
For the scene that required Donna Reed to throw a rock into the window of the Granville House, Frank Capra hired a marksman to shoot it out for her on cue. To everyone’s amazement, Donna Reed broke the window with true aim and heft without the assistance of the hired marksman. Reed had played baseball in high school and had a strong throwing arm.
The set for Bedford Falls was constructed in two months and was one of the longest sets that had ever been made for an American movie. It covered four acres of RKO’s Encino Ranch. It included 75 stores and buildings, a main street, a factory district and a large residential and slum area. Main Street was 300 yards long–three whole city blocks.
Two of the writers called the finished film “horrid” and refused to see it when it was released. The only one of Clifford Odets‘ ideas to appear in the finished script was George preventing Mr. Gower from poisoning a boy with the wrong vitamin pills.
The film was a flop when it played theatres in 1946.
This was the first and last time that Frank Capra produced, financed, directed and co-wrote one of his films.
In 2004 the BBC TV listings magazine “Radio Times” conducted a poll into the Best Film Never to Have Won an Oscar. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) came second (The Shawshank Redemption (1994) was first).