Movie review of Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed.
It’s a Wonderful Life is a wonderful film, and a perennial classic at Christmas time. It’s the story of a man named George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) at the end of his rope. He’s about to commit suicide. He feels that his life has been worthless. An angel named Clarence shows him what the world would have been like if he hadn’t been born. He inspires George to not give up, and George returns to his family – on Christmas Eve. Only to find out just how much he’s worth to his community.
It’s a Wonderful Life is an American movie classic that, like The Wizard of Oz, wasn’t a success when it was first released, and only became a classic after several years of television re-runs. It’s an extremely well-done movie, with wonderful performances by Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey and Donna Reed as his wife.
The brains of a rabbit …
The movie actually begins in Heaven, as prayers for George Bailey are being received. An angel named Clarence (who “has the brains of a rabbit” but “the faith of a little child”) is sent to help George. George’s life is told to Clarence, bringing him and the audience up-to-date on George’s life. It’s the life of a young man who’s driven to succeed. But he’s held back by obligation to help his friends and community from an evil, controlling millionaire. Eventually he falls into legal trouble due to the absent-minded actions of his uncle.
But the faith of a little child
Feeling himself to be a failure, George is on the verge of suicide …. Until Clarence intervenes, forcing George to forget about suicide long enough to rescue Clarence from drowning. The main thrust of the movie then appears. As Clarence shows George what the world would have been like if George had never been born. This drives the family man George Bailey to desperately want to be alive again. He races home to his family to an unexpected answer to the peoples’ prayers. And a reminder of where true wealth lies. A truly wonderful film, with excellent acting all around, well-deserving of its’ position as an American icon.
- James Stewart (Harvey) … George Bailey. Our hero, who’s driven to the edge of suicide, facing financial ruin. Despite the love of his wife, family, and community. Until an angel intervenes …
- Donna Reed (The Picture of Dorian Gray) … Mary Hatch
- Lionel Barrymore (On Borrowed Time) … Mr. Potter
- Thomas Mitchell (High Barbaree) … Uncle Billy
- Henry Travers (The Invisible Man) … Clarence
- Beulah Bondi (Penny Serenade) … Mrs. Bailey
- Frank Faylen (Dance Girl Dance) … Ernie
- Ward Bond (The Quiet Man) … Bert
- Gloria Grahame (In a Lonely Place) … Violet
- H.B. Warner (Five Star Final) … Mr. Gower
- Frank Albertson (Man Made Monster) … Sam Wainwright
- Todd Karns … Harry Bailey
- Samuel S. Hinds (The Raven 1935) … Pa Bailey
Trivia for It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
- Lionel Barrymore convinced James Stewart to take the role of George, despite his feeling that he was not up to it so soon after World War II.
- The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945) is showing at the movie house as George runs down the street in Bedford Falls. Henry Travers, who plays Clarence, the angel, starred in that film as Horace P. Bogardus.
- James Stewart was nervous about the phone scene kiss. It was his first screen kiss since his return to Hollywood after the war. Under Capra’s watchful eye, Stewart filmed the scene in only one unrehearsed take. It worked so well that part of the embrace was cut because it was too passionate to pass the censors.
- The movie drew fierce criticism for its political statements about post-WWII society when it was released in 1946. Even the FBI labeled it a “subversive” movie and charged that its use of a nasty, Scrooge-like businessman “was a common trick used by communists”.
- James Stewart cited George Bailey as being his favorite character.
- While filming the scene where George prays in the bar, James Stewart has said that he was so overcome that he began to sob right then and there. Later, Capra reframed the shot so it looked like a much closer shot than was actually filmed. Because he wanted to catch that expression on Stewart’s face.
- Actor and producer Sheldon Leonard said in an interview that the only reason he agreed to play Nick the bartender in this film was so that he would have money to buy Dodger baseball tickets.
- Frank Capra often said that this was his favorite of all his films.