Ninth in a series of “throwback” posts. After The Godfather, It’s a Wonderful Life might be my favorite movie. I never did have the party mentioned at the end of this piece; I still watch the film, in B&W, almost every year, almost always by myself. And I cry my eyes out every time.
I love this movie. My high school English teacher played it for us just before Christmas, over three classes. It was one of the most educational moments I remember from that class. It’s about a guy who always sacrifices for everyone else and never realizes how good he is, or how good he’s got it.
James Stewart played George Bailey after he returned from serving in World War II. Some thought he was too old for the part, which required him to play a young man shortly after high school. The movie concerns George’s entire life, and I would argue that Stewart grows into the older George, which is the most dramatic part of the film. Stewart recalled that he was very nervous about the scene when he first kissed Donna Reed, since he’d been away and hadn’t kissed anyone in a long time. I’d be nervous too!
The black and white cinematography is amazing. Frank Capra, the director, was known for his technical advances in filmmaking, which really shows. Capra developed a new type of snow for this film, because he wasn’t satisfied with how the old snow looked. You’ll believe it’s real (I did).
Of course, the heart of the movie is the moment when George wishes he’d never been born. That’s actually where I started watching from, because I’d skipped school when the earlier parts were shown. I can relate to George’s wish, and it’s fascinating to watch a world unfold that is completely different than the world he knows. In that sense, this movie might be an antidote to suicide – there’s always something we don’t know that might make us see things differently, if we only knew.
There’s a bit of George in all of us, I think. Yes, that’s cliché, but it works. This movie will make you feel good, and important, and happy. It’s got the sexiest courting seen ever filmed, which doesn’t even end with a kiss, and the ending keeps pushing the emotion amazingly higher and higher, with climax after climax. Yeah, you’re going to need tissues.
This movie is for everyone, and it should be required viewing. I’d like to throw a party and show this movie every Christmas, and you can all come, and we can eat chocolate chip cookies, drink egg nog and feel good together.
December 18, 1987