DIRECTOR: Frank Capra
May Contain Spoilers!
The Christmas classic which has left an unparalleled mark on movie history and the Family Christmas is undoubtedly, Frank Capra’s, It’s A Wonderful Life. Like many seasonal classics, this has gained its fame and recognition from TV showings over the seven decades since its initial release, but it’s clearly NOT a Christmas film in the traditional sense. Yes, it’s set on Christmas Eve and it features a Christmas miracle but most of it is pretty dark and set over the span of George Bailey’s (James Stewart) life.
It tells the simple story of how a good man’s life has more meaningful and has a greater impact on those around him than he could have possibly known, and is shown this by Clarence, a second class angel on a mission to get his wings. He fights for the underdog and sacrifices his own dreams in the process. This and the prospect of prison following his uncles mistake in misplacing $8000 of his banks money, eventually leads him to contemplate suicide. It is here that Clarence shows him what life would have been like without him and coins one of cinema and TV’s most used, or overused plot devices!
But the beauty of this classic is that it is a real film in its own right, whether you watch it at Christmas time of in June! It’s dark but moralistic tone plays out like a religious parable, with Stewart’s character facing off against the seemingly evil Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore) in order to protect the little man. In post-war 1946 America, this banker helping the working class would have been very topical but even today, in a world were bankers are perceived as crooks and thieves, the idea of Bailey’s idealism is appealing, a shows in a macrocosmic way how economy and socialism can work hand in hand.
But enough politics. This is a deeply meaningful and yet whimsical take, which is heartwarming throughout for all the right reasons. Family and proper, decent family values are promoted here, not the schmaltzy ones, but the REAL values, not perfect people in the perfect family, but family and friends sticking together for their collective betterment. The idea that two of life’s “Little people” standing shoulder to shoulder can hold their own against one “Fat cat”.
It’s A Wonderful Life is just one of Frank Capra’s brilliant movies. A man with a clear social message but in this case, using a man born into money to tell his story. This is Scrooge but in reverse. The happy ending comes not from learning from the error of his ways but the realisation that he was already a good man and that his deeds would pay divides when he truly needed them too.
A classic, well shot, acted and conceived. A worthy classic if ever there was one.