On the Twelfth Day of Christmas… “It’s a Wonderful Life”

[...Day 12 of the 12 Days of Christmas review project...]

Director: Frank Capra
Writers:Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Frank Capra
Producers: Frank Capra
Starring: Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell, Henry Travers, Gloria Grahame
MPAA Rating: NR
Running time: 130 min

Christmas is finally here and I may’ve saved the best of this Christmas movie watching project for last. Over the past twelve days I’ve watched films on Christmas murders, Christmas wars, Christmas past lives, Christmas ghosts, monsters, the abduction of Santa Claus and even Christmas on another planet. But when all is said and done and Christmas Day is finally here, it turns out that director Frank Capra and a good old fashioned morality tale with the most recognizable of all Christmas symbols, an angel, provides what is really the best of the holiday spirit films. It’s easy to understand why this is the quintessentail Christmas movie that is played in households around the world year after year on this day (though our household prefers Darren McGavin and the Scut Farkus affair).

Everyone pretty much already knows the story of George Bailey and is slow fall from grace after a financial accident. But when an angel appears to show George just what he means to this world and how important he is to everyone who’s ever known him, George changes his tune quickly and is reminded that moeny isn’t the answer to your prayers; it’s friends and family.

Interestingly enough, the movie’s strength really isn’t the final 30 minutes or so in which George is learning his lesson. Sure the climax is touching, but watching George struggle and become the man that he is seemed to me to be the most compelling. Fixing every issue and solving everyone else’s problems and making everyone’s life that much better by fighting off the greed and mean spirit of the local Scrooge. George does all this at the expense of his own happiness. Ironically and unbeknownst to George, helping people is exactly what makes George the happiest. Even if he doesn’t know it yet.

Jimmy Stewart is one of the biggest stars of all time and with It’s a Wonderful Life it’s more proof as to why. Though younger, he exhudes charm and more personality from his left pinky than most stars had in their entire career. Stewart is 90% of what makes this film so captivating and fun to watch. Donna Reed was quite a looker in her day too. Hubba hubba.

Well, it’s Christmas evening and I have my own family to attend to, so I’ll cut this one a bit short. It’s been a long and stressful year, but it’s also been a lot of fun here in the third row. Here’s to another great year and best wishes and Merry Christmas to all of you. Thanks for reading and discussing and debating.

Andrew James
Podcaster. Tech junkie. Movie lover. Student. Also, beer.

20 Comments

  1. I actually just saw this for the first time a couple of days ago. I know, I know, I should have seen it YEARS ago but for some reason I just never got around to it/got the chance. But I got to see it for the first time on the BIG SCREEN. And I loved every single minute of it, it certainly warrants such a respectable reputation.

    I think it will easily become a repeated watch for me, if for nothing else to remind myself that life isn't all bad. And of course Jimmy Stewart RULES.

    Next stop on the "embaressingly not watched yet" list – Spartacus. Yeah, I gotta' get onto that.

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  2. Hey Ross, Merry Christmas! Yes, this was a first for me too (all of the films in this project were first time viewings for me).

    And I'll tell you right now, this movie is way better than Spartacus. I agree with you that the reputation this film has gotten is well warranted.

    I did notice some strange editing glitches a couple of times, but hey, whatever.

    I also like in the beginning with the narration of the stars/angels that they manipulate the film (pause the projector) while talking about the main character (kind of like in Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang). Good stuff and yeah, great film.

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  3. Spartacus is awesome.

    I still haven't seen this, even though I've had every opportunity. Ditto A Christmas Story. I don't know, I just haven't cared enough to commit, and tell myself I'd watch it on DVD instead of on TV.

    And even then, I'd actually rather watch it in say, July, because by Dec 24 – which is when it usually gets aired – I'm pretty much overwhelmed, tired and ready to just watch anything but Christmas movies.

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  4. Couldn't agree more Drew. Glad you got to it and enjoyed it. I still don't get "Christmas Story". I try every year, and I just don't get the appeal. Oh well. To each their own. (PS- Got the Bourne Trilogy Box Set! Awesome!)

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  5. someone should put up a christmas haul post – i remember there was one last year, right? i forget who, but someone got a fuckload of stuff last year. just absurd.

    For DVDs got the complete Rocky collection, Bigger Stronger Faster*, This American Life season 1, and Tenacious D Complete Masterworks Volume 2. Everything else was sensible grownup presents. The only other DVD I asked for I didn't get – that would be Cars, which I feel the need to own because its Pixar, but I wouldn't pay for by myself.

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  6. I noticed some editing glitches too, Andrew. I thought maybe it was just the screening I was in but since you mentioned that I guess it was the film itself.

    The one that stood out to me was after Stewart and the angel are getting dry after they've come out of the water and the angel starts to show him what life would be like without him. The shot kind of jumps/glitches backwards – I guess that was to cut from Stewart from being wet and having a bloody lip to him being dry and his lip being fine. Guess it was just down to getting the shot done in the era it was made.

    Care to mention any of the glitches you noticed, Andrew?

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  7. The glitches I noticed were in a moment when Mr. Potter was sitting in his wheelchair looking through some papers out in the lobby of his bank. The frame kept "glitching." He'd be in one spot and then in a split second he'd have shifted just slightly or the guy in the background would have a slightly different expression on his face. This happened about 4 times in this 30 second scene.

    Then it happened one other time, but I can't remember when exactly.

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  8. Ashley, great article.

    Although I don't think the movie is quite as dark and cynical as that author argues. A lot of bad things happen (as the author points out), but lot of the reasons those things happened were good reasons and for the benefit of a lot of other people.

    As for losing the money being a felony, I think he might be able to prove it really was an accident. He didn't steal the money exactly did he? I admit I missed a couple minutes of why the money was being carried around at all (it was hectic at my house while I watched the film).

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  9. For your next technicalities stunt use the real names of everyone, since i'm sure there'll come a point where at least one or two actors are going on stage names. A certain Nazi movie that came out on christmas, for example

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  10. I watched it on NBC Christmas Eve. Seen it many times but it always holds its power. It is a complex film that can be seen from a few different angles. Its one of the greatest films ever made. While NOT as good, I think the Nic Cage, Tea Leoni film The Family Man(which touches on some of the same themes) is well worth seeing.It has built a nice following since its release. That film has really grown on me!

    chuck

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  11. I watched It's a Wonderful Life for the first time ever today.

    This is one of the stupidest movies I've ever seen. First off, on a base level, I actually find Jimmy Stewart really annoying when you let him as far off his leash as he is in this movie, and for that matter George Bailey is a fucking asshole, and just lays into everyone like a dickhead whenever something isn't going his way.

    And yet he's also this helpful saint? What the fuck? This guy who'll drive drunk and treat his family like shit when things are down is also the same guy who gives away every cent? This dude is bipolar or something, or is doing all this good through clenched teeth of resentment, which is the only reason you can justify his meltdown. And would explain his turn of a pin from "MONEY!" to "FUCK YOU!" right to Potter's face. And for his arrogant disrespect he deserved to have some comeuppance, even if its from Potter. The same people you meet on the way up are the same people you meet on the way down.

    Forget Potter's cartoon evil, Uncle Bill needs to go to jail. He fucked up, and he fucked up large, and while gloating.

    But more than anything, the whole lesson about his friends and what its like when he's not around is just retarded, when everyone is an asshole when he's not around. And they do this to show how important he is to the city, but really it just means everyone is helpless and stupid without him, that the lesson should be that his rage and stress of having to hold everything together is a hundred percent justified. This dude is Ayn Rand's "Atlas" – he shrugs and the city falls to pieces.

    I thank the movie for inspiring the alternate 1985 in Back to the Future 2, but seriously, what the fuck?

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