By Uma Ribeiro
With the start of December came my annual rewatch of Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, starring James Stewart and Donna Reed in what is considered one of their most famous and well-known roles. While many movies start to reveal their flaws after several viewings, this 1946 film only seems to get better with each rewatch. The movie, which takes place in the fictional town of Bedford Falls, still proves to be timeless with its themes of class, struggle, hope, and family, and, from what I have learned watching it a few times now, it is so much more than a film solely for the holiday season.
The movie follows George Bailey from a young boy of twelve years old to a thirty-eight year old man. As an older George Bailey considers ending his life after being faced with a plethora of problems, an angel, Clarence Odbody, is sent to change his mind and show him what the world would be like if he had not been in it in order to win his wings, but first, the “2nd class angel” must review Bailey’s life, from the first character-defining moment: when he saves his brother from drowning in frigid water at age twelve and loses hearing in one of his ears as a result. We see many more moments which prove just how empathetic and selfless Bailey is before adult George (James Stewart) is introduced.
George has dreams of travelling all over the world before going to college, but those plans soon become nothing more than a fantasy after disaster strikes and he is forced to take over the family business in order to prevent the villainous Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore) from taking away the only affordable banking system in the area. He joins the family’s Building and Loan company with his uncle and gives his college funds to his younger brother, Harry (Todd Karns). He sees his brother go on to get married and work for his father-in-law, remaining nothing but supportive all while his own plans continue to be derailed.
Eventually, Bailey marries Mary Hatch (Donna Reed), a local girl who has loved him since he was a boy and whom he had grown fond of after being reunited with her at his brother’s high school graduation. It seems that things are looking up for a while, as the two marry and start their life together, creating Bailey Park, an affordable housing development and moving into a house of their own.
We fast forward to some years later. World War II has ended and Harry has been rewarded with the Medal of Honor for his efforts in the war. George’s uncle, Billy, goes to the bank to make a Building and Loan deposit, but ends up losing the money. After finding out the money which would have kept the business alive is lost, George has no choice but to use his last resort. He begs Mr. Potter for a loan, but as expected, the greedy and selfish banker tells George that he will be arrested for misuse of the Building and Loan money. George rushes back home and we see that George and Mary now have four kids. Distraught, George takes out his grievances on his family before running to the nearby bridge. As he considers jumping, Clarence appears and that is when the main climax of the story begins.
Not yet convinced if its worth a watch? Hammond Junior Melody Freed, who continues to watch It’s a Wonderful Life every holiday season, commented on the film, “Besides the fact that it is one of the best movies ever made, I think it’s a very important movie to see. The moral is very significant, the cast is phenomenal, and it’s written in a way where you can really relate with the characters and sympathize and empathize with them. It’s just overall a really, really good movie.”
James Stewart and Donna Reed are outstanding in their performances as George and Mary Bailey, their on-screen chemistry bringing vibrant color to the black-and-white film. Stewart’s portrayal of a man slowly losing hope is nothing short of convincing while each side character, from Bailey’s friends to his kids, add something to this flawless and incredibly well-written film.
Lovers of all films will find something to enjoy about this movie which is full of romance, comedy, action, and hope. An added bonus– it’s a great movie for the holiday season to watch with the entire family.
Freed adds, “I love the message of it, which is that every life matters. It’s a tradition for me and my dad, so the holiday atmosphere is another factor. I think it’s a classic because in some ways it is still very relatable. This season can be hard for a lot of people and in my opinion it’s just a very reassuring movie…my favorite scene is the last one…it makes me cry every single time.”
It’s a Wonderful Life is certainly nothing less than a wonderful watch from start to finish. The film is available to those with an Amazon Prime subscription and is available for purchase on YouTube and Google Play from $2.99.