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 macro-cosmic way how economy and socialism can work hand in hand.
But enough politics. This is a deeply meaningful and yet whimsical take, which is heart-warming 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.
In 1985, this film was colourised, a process which I, as many, have a fundamental problem with. I feel that it is unnecessary and as wrong as CGI special editions or post conversions of old films into 3D.
But whilst I feel there is little need for any of these processes, I am guilty of enjoying the results. It can be nice to revisit classics such as Jurassic Park (1993) or The Wizard Of Oz (1939) after an IMAX 3D conversion, without detracting from the originals, it can offer a new viewing experience of a film which has been watched to death! At the very least, a novelty.
It’s A Wonderful Life? was converted back in the mid 80’s but the version which is available on Blu-ray now, is the 2007 Legend Films version and what a beautiful print it is!
The first thing I noticed about this version was that it did offer a different look at the film and one which added some visual flair to the narrative itself. For example; Violet Bick (Gloria Grahame) was seen as both a child in the pharmacy flirty with the young George Bailey whilst wearing a pink cardigan and then she is seen again as an adult, wearing a pink dress.
This detail is impossible to see in the black and white version and whilst it hardly makes of breaks the film, it does add a little character detail. But in the famous scene in which Jimmy Stewart’s Bailey is sat in Martini’s Bar contemplating his suicide, the bar actually looks to cosy, with the black and white version presenting a more gloomy and dour place for Bailey’s darkest moment.
N.B. Following reassessment, It’s A Wonderful life has been upgraded from the very respectable 9/10 to full marks, 10/10 or 10 Candles. In short, what was I thinking back in 2012!