The holiday classic It’s A Wonderful Life was directed and produced by Frank Capra and released in 1946. Though the film is over seventy-years-old, its timeless tale has been enjoyed over multiple generations. Whether through the iconic line about angels and bells or the soft, snowy images projected throughout the film, It’s A Wonderful Life carries significant influence into the present.
James Stewart, one of the great actors of classic Hollywood, stars in the movie as George Bailey. Donna Reed co-stars as Mary, George’s love interest, and Lionel Barrymore plays the antagonist, Mr. Potter. The movie follows George as he struggles through the many ups and downs of his life. Gradually, George’s ambitions of travel and education are diminished as he is forced to take on the responsibilities of his father’s building and loan business. After he misplaces $8,000, George is in trouble and realizes his life insurance policy, worth $15,000, could cover the lost money. As he contemplates suicide to save his business and clients, George wishes he was never born. Responding to the prayers of George’s loved ones, an angel named Clarence, played by Henry Travers, confronts him and shows George what life would be like if he had indeed never been born, hoping to prove that life is truly wonderful.
In my home, like many others, this film is a statement of the Christmas season. Despite its age, It’s A Wonderful Life, entertains people of all ages and backgrounds as the film shows George faced with challenged relatable to any viewer, such as loss, regret, love, and loyalty. I personally think that each character in the story is perfectly portrayed, so much so that it is easy to forget these are actors. It feels much more like we are sitting beside Clarence, peering into George’s life instead of staring at a television screen. The storyline itself reminds the viewer of the love and happiness provided by family, friends, and the holiday season. It offers an ultimately optimistic form of entertainment for the entire family without the startling images skeletons kidnapping Santa Claus or Tim Allen in a fat suit.
That being said, the movie is not perfect. I have found that the quality of the movie and its story is often not what qualifies the film as a classic, but the environment in which it is watched. While watching It’s A Wonderful Life, the love and joy associated with the holiday season and the nostalgia generated by watching the movie tend to overpower the viewer’s judgment. This means a person’s opinion of the film is clouded. Perhaps if I watched this movie in July I would be able to better review the film. However, I choose to believe the movie is greater because of the holiday warmth and tradition that surrounds it, and if it interferes with my objectivablity, then so be it.
Additionally, I found the film to be too lengthy. The most memorable and parodied part of the movie is the section where George observes what life would have been like had he never been born. However, this only accounts for about 20% of the movie, which accounts for a mere 25 minutes. The backstory which dominates the remainder of the time is, of course, important to understand the plot but ultimately provides excessive detail which drags on for much too long. The movie could tell the same story without a repetitive, extensive explanation of George’s past which carried on for nearly two hours before reaching the climax of the film.
Ultimately, I find It’s A Wonderful Life a holiday necessity and still thoroughly enjoy it. While watching it may be an ordeal which takes a couple hours, it is not a movie I mind setting aside time to see nor one I am ready to be over when Auld Lang Syne comes to an end. I think it is a film that everyone should watch at least once and is best viewed with hot chocolate, a candy cane, and a group of fellow Christmas lovers. It is the perfect opportunity to enjoy some good old fashioned holiday cheer through a classic, unforgettable tale.