It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)

A merry Christmas to anyone who reads this blog. Somehow, Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life had passed me by until my husband gave me the video last Christmas. I had seen the famous scene at the end where James Stewart runs down the street screaming “Merry Christmas!” – and the heart-stopping moment where he clears away the snow and sees his brother’s name on the tombstone – but that was about it.

James Stewart and Donna Reed

James Stewart and Donna Reed

Seeing the whole movie for the first time last year, I realised that this is indeed a great film and has far more to it than its sugary reputation – just as I think A Christmas Carol is far stranger and darker than people often realise.  As well as the similarity in terms of the supernatural framework, both of these works show a character hardening into despair as their life narrows down and all the possibilities they dreamed of are lost.
After just watching It’s A Wonderful Life for the second time, one year on, I’m all the more impressed.

John Greco posted a link on his blog, 24 Frames, to a very interesting article from the New York Times which recognises the darkness at the heart of this movie. I read this article both before and after my latest viewing of the movie and found it added a lot to the experience – so thank you, John. I won’t write a full review of the film as I don’t think there is much I can add to the comments in the article, and in any case there are so many great reviews of this film on the net – here’s a link to another review I liked, by Ron Reed from his Soul Food Movies blog, which gives a similar take to the New York Times article and adds in some background about the making of the film. I was especially interested to see that the screenplay includes uncredited contributions from Dorothy Parker and Dalton Trumbo.

Leaving aside the opening with the angels chatting amongst themselves, which I do find a bit hard to take, most of the rest of the film is a powerful depiction of small-town life. Anyone who is middle-aged and, especially, anyone who has stayed in their own home area, inevitably compromising and giving up on a few of their dreams over the years, is likely to identify with a lot of it. Both  the love for the community and the frustration at being closed in ring true in different moods – well, for me anyway, and probably for many people.

One great moment in It’s A Wonderful Life comes early on at the party, where the two other men open up the pool below the dance floor  – and James Stewart and Donna Reed carry on dancing in the water even after falling in. If I could just take one moment away to keep, so to speak, it would probably be this one. 

Looking up information about this movie, I was slightly startled to realise that 2008 was James Stewart’s centenary – yet, at any rate in the UK, there hasn’t been the sort of celebration of this that there was for Bette Davis, also born 100 years ago. I suppose it is probably difficult to mark more than one classic film star’s centenary properly in one year, but, given the number of great films he made, it seems a shame his movies haven’t returned to the big screen this year along with hers.

3 thoughts on “It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)

  1. Dear classics,

    Nice post! You make some interesting observations. My name is Peter Ricci, and I’m a college student and journalist who currently contributes to ‘Too Shy to Stop,’ an online magazine focused on culture and the arts.

    I came across your post, as it would turn out, while searching for different blogs on “It’s a Wonderful Life,” as I just finished an essay on the film.

    While a wonderful film, I take an alternate view, seeing it as a populist message in cue with Capra’s career and its current status as a holiday chestnut a misinterpretation.

    Check it out! I think you will like it, and I would love a comment:


    Peter Ricci


  2. Hi Peter, thank you for commenting – I visited the online magazine and found your article very interesting. I don’t know all that much of Capra’s work but hope to explore more of it.


  3. Pingback: Small Town Girl (1936) « Movie classics

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