#57. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Directed by: Frank Capra
Written by: Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Frank Capra (based on The Greatest Gift by Philip Van Doren Stern)
Starring: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell, Henry Travers
After re-watching It’s a Wonderful Life at Christmas time this past year, I immediately regretted not placing this film higher – it’s a masterpiece that never fails to bring a tear to my eye. Frank Capra has a way of putting an undying smile on your face like no others, his films usually feature a combination of broad humor, wholesome nature, and touching moments that make them infectiously wonderful. It’s a Wonderful Life is undoubtedly one of his best, and maybe one of the great American movies in general. The film chronicles the life of George Bailey (James Stewart) as he grows up in the town of Bedford Falls. George has aspirations to go to college and travel the world, but is forced to carry on the family business after his father dies of a stroke. George never ends up going to college or travelling the world, but marries the love of his life in Mary Hatch (Donna Reed). After a mounting series of unfortunate events, George’s guardian angel Clarence Odbody (Henry Travers) is sent to earth to prevent his suicide. It’s a Wonderful Life has an affect on me like few others I’ve seen – even writing about it now I’m feeling rather weepy. It’s just such a perfect example of everything I love in the movies – great performances, fantastic characters, quick witted writing, and wholesome to its core. Frank Capra and writers Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett do an admirable job of bringing the town of Bedford Falls to life, and even make the overarching subplot about George’s guardian angel believable and unsentimental. Watching George grow up before our eyes is incredible – we see him fall in love, develop far-reaching aspirations and subsequently abandon them, and act selflessly on countless occasions. Without the film’s brilliant screenplay, none of this would be nearly as effective as it is. James Stewart’s performance as George Bailey is very good as usual, playing up his “aw, shucks” nature throughout the film, but also believably (briefly) turning into a suicidal, selfish person who pushes Clarence to come save his life. Donna Reed’s Mary is equally as good as Stewart, acting as the counterweight to her idealistic, sometimes depressive husband. She’s charming and sweet throughout, always showing George how much she cares about him and their life together. It’s a Wonderful Life is an absolute classic for a reason – it’s endlessly charming, infectiously positive, and incredibly well written, structured, and acted. If it isn’t part of your yearly Christmas regiment, you should work it in.