Donna Reed, James Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life

On this Day:

In 1946, the Christmas classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” film premiered in New York, directed by Frank Capra, starring James Stewart, Donna Reed and Lionel Barrymore.

It’s a Wonderful Life is a 1946 American Christmas fantasy drama film produced and directed by Frank Capra, based on the short story and booklet The Greatest Gift, which Philip Van Doren Stern self-published in 1943 and is in turn loosely based on the 1843 Charles Dickens novella A Christmas Carol. The film stars James Stewart as George Bailey, a man who has given up his personal dreams, in order to help others in his community, and whose suicide attempt on Christmas Eve brings about the intervention of his guardian angel, Clarence Odbody (Henry Travers). Clarence shows George how he has touched the lives of others and how different life would be for his wife Mary and his community of Bedford Falls if he had not been born.

Theatrically, the film’s break-even point was $6.3 million, about twice the production cost, a figure it did not come close to achieving on its initial release. Because of the film’s disappointing sales, Capra was seen by some studios as having lost his ability to produce popular, financially successful films. Although It’s a Wonderful Life initially received mixed reviews and was unsuccessful at the box office, it became a classic Christmas film after it was put into the public domain, which allowed it to be broadcast without licensing or royalty fees.

It’s a Wonderful Life is considered one of the greatest films of all time. It was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and has been recognized by the American Film Institute as one of the 100 best American films ever made. It was No. 11 on the American Film Institute’s 1998 greatest movie list, No. 20 on its 2007 greatest movie list, and No. 1 on its list of the most inspirational American films of all time. Capra revealed that it was his favorite among the films he directed and that he screened it for his family every Christmas season. It was one of Stewart’s favourite films. In 1990, the film was designated as “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” and added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.

On Christmas Eve 1945, in Bedford Falls, New York, George Bailey contemplates suicide. The prayers of his family and friends reach Heaven, where Angel 2nd class Clarence Odbody is assigned to save George in order to earn his wings. Clarence is shown flashbacks of George’s life. He watches 12-year-old George save his younger brother, Harry, from drowning, but lose hearing in his left ear. George later prevents the distraught town druggist, Mr. Gower, from accidentally poisoning a child’s prescription.

George plans a world tour before college and is reintroduced to Mary Hatch, who has a crush on him. The attraction is now mutual. When his father dies from a stroke, George postpones his travel to settle the family business, Bailey Brothers Building and Loan, which avaricious board member Henry Potter, who controls most of the town, seeks to dissolve. The board members vote to keep the Building and Loan open if George runs it. George acquiesces and works alongside his uncle, Billy, giving his tuition to Harry with the understanding that Harry will run the business when he graduates.

But Harry returns from college married and with a job offer from his father-in-law. George resigns himself to running the Building and Loan. Following their wedding, George and Mary witness a run on the bank, and use their honeymoon savings to keep the Building and Loan solvent.

Under George’s leadership, the company establishes Bailey Park, a modern housing development rivaling Potter’s overpriced slums. Potter offers George $20,000 a year to be his assistant, but, realizing that Potter’s true intent is to close the Building and Loan, George rebuffs him.

During World War II, George is ineligible for service because of his deaf ear. Harry becomes a Navy pilot and is awarded the Medal of Honor for shooting down a kamikaze plane headed for a troop transport. On Christmas Eve 1945, as the town prepares a hero’s welcome for Harry, Billy goes to the bank to deposit $8,000 of the Building and Loan’s cash. Billy taunts Potter with a newspaper headline about Harry, but unintentionally wraps the envelope of cash in Potter’s newspaper. Potter finds the money but says nothing, while Billy cannot recall how he misplaced it. With a bank examiner reviewing the company’s records, George realizes scandal and criminal charges will follow. Fruitlessly retracing Billy’s steps, George berates him and takes out his frustration on his family.

George appeals to Potter for a loan, offering his life insurance policy as collateral. Potter says George is worth more dead than alive, and phones the police to arrest him. George flees, gets drunk at a bar, and prays for help. Suicidal, he goes to a nearby bridge, but before he can jump, Clarence dives into the river. George rescues him.

When George wishes he had never been born, Clarence shows him a timeline in which George never existed. Bedford Falls is now Pottersville, an unsavory town occupied by sleazy entertainment venues, crime, and amoral people. The druggist, Mr. Gower, was imprisoned for manslaughter since George did not prevent him from poisoning the pills. George’s mother reveals that Billy was institutionalized after the Building and Loan failed. Bailey Park is a cemetery, where George discovers Harry’s grave. Since George did not save Harry, Harry did not save the soldiers on the transport. George finds that Mary is a spinster librarian. When he claims to be her husband, she screams for the police and George runs away.

Convinced that Clarence is his guardian angel, George begs for his life back. The original reality is restored, and a grateful George rushes home to await his arrest. Mary and Billy have rallied the townspeople, who donate enough to cover the missing $8,000. Harry arrives and toasts George as “the richest man in town.” George receives a copy of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer as a gift from Clarence, with a note reminding George that no man is a failure who has friends, and thanking him for his wings. When a bell on the Christmas tree rings, George’s youngest daughter, Zuzu, explains that it means that an angel has earned his wings. George, his family and friends sing “Auld Lang Syne” as they celebrate Christmas Eve (per Wikipedia).

First, a Story:

Clarence tells George there are two unwritten rules in life:



Second, a Song:

In 1990, It’s a Wonderful Life was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in their National Film Registry.

In 2002, Channel 4 in the United Kingdom ranked It’s a Wonderful Life as the seventh-greatest film ever made in its poll “The 100 Greatest Films”. The network airs the film to British viewers annually on Christmas Eve.

In June 2008, AFI revealed its 10 Top 10, the best 10 films in 10 “classic” American film genres, after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. It’s a Wonderful Life was acknowledged as the third-best film in the fantasy genre.

The film’s elevation to the status of a beloved classic came three decades after its initial release, when it became a television staple during Christmas season in 1976. This came as a welcome surprise to Frank Capra and others involved with its production. “It’s the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen”, Capra told The Wall Street Journal in 1984. “The film has a life of its own now, and I can look at it like I had nothing to do with it. I’m like a parent whose kid grows up to be President. I’m proud … but it’s the kid who did the work. I didn’t even think of it as a Christmas story when I first ran across it. I just liked the idea.” In a 1946 interview, Capra described the film’s theme as “the individual’s belief in himself” and that he made it “to combat a modern trend toward atheism”. It ranked 283rd among critics, and 107th among directors, in the 2012 Sight & Sound polls of the greatest films ever made.

The film’s positive reception has continued into the present. On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 94% based on 85 reviews, with an average rating of 9.00/10. The website’s critical consensus reads, “The holiday classic to define all holiday classics, It’s a Wonderful Life is one of a handful of films worth an annual viewing.” On Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating to reviews, the film has a score 89 out of 100, based on 17 critics, indicating “universal acclaim”.

Here is the ending scene from “It’s a Wonderful Life”. I hope you enjoy this.


Thought for the Day:

“You See George, You Really Had A Wonderful Life.” – Clarence

Have a great day!

Dave & Colleen

© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

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