Okay kids, if you don't have a TV, It's a Wonderful Life tells us about George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart), who lives and loves his small town of Bedford Falls so much he'd die for it. And sure enough, when his tiny Building & Loan (aka bank) starts to fail -- thanks to the malicious influence of the local tycoon (Lionel Barrymore) -- George heads for his local bridge to end it all.
A la The Christmas Carol, a helpful angel (Henry Travers) intervenes to show George what life would have been like had he never done his decades of good deeds in Bedford Falls. And it ain't pretty. And so George finally gets another chance to turn things around and, hopefully, sing another rendition of "Auld Lang Syne" before it's all over.
It's timeless and perfect in its own way, but people that say Life never wears thin must be in the triple digits... or the single digits. It's an extremely long film that drags terribly at parts, but which always redeems itself in the following scene -- usually thanks to Stewart or Thomas Mitchell as his bumbling uncle. Donna Reed is equally great as Mrs. Bailey, and Barrymore, as always, crafts the perfect villain which has become the archetype for moneybags bad guys throughout the history of film.
Under the helm of Frank Capra -- no stranger to sap -- It's a Wonderful Life emerges as undoubtedly his most gooey sweet movie ever. That is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes we need sweetness, like when we've just eaten a ration of bitter Neil LaBute or Ridley Scott movies.
Lifewas a bit of a flop on release but it earned five Oscar nominations and, of course, a lifetime of fans. The new DVD adds some tepid extras (on the back side of the disc, no less), but the remastered video -- pulled from the original negative -- is worth a long, hard look, preferably while recuperating from an eggnog hangover.
Errata: My favorite typo in recent memory is this tragic misquote on the Life DVD press release: "Teacher Says Every Time A Bill Rings An Angel Gets Their Wings." Artisan, I like your thinkin'.
Merry Christmas, Building & Loan!
Run time: 130 mins
In Theaters: Tuesday 7th January 1947
Box Office Worldwide: $6.6M
Distributed by: Liberty Films
Production compaines: Liberty Films (II)
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Fresh: 62 Rotten: 4
IMDB: 8.7 / 10
Director: Frank Capra
Producer: Frank Capra
Starring: James Stewart as George Bailey, Donna Reed as Mrs. Hatch, Lionel Barrymore as Henry F. Potter, Thomas Mitchell as Uncle Billy Bailey, Henry Travers as Clarence, Beulah Bondi as Ma Bailey, Frank Faylen as Ernie Bishop, Ward Bond as Bert, Gloria Grahame as Violet Bick, H.B. Warner as Mr. Gower, Todd Karns as Harry Bailey, Samuel S. Hinds as Peter Bailey, Mary Treen as Cousin Tilly, Frank Albertson as Sam Wainwright, Virginia Patton as Ruth Dakin Bailey, Charles Williams as Cousin Eustace, Sarah Edwards as Mrs. Hatch, William Edmunds as Giuseppe Martini, Lillian Randolph as Annie, Argentina Brunetti as Mrs. Martini, Robert J. Anderson as Little George, Ronnie Ralph as Little Sam, Jean Gale as Little Mary, Jeanine Ann Roose as Little Violet, Danny Mummert as Little Marty Hatch, Georgie Nokes as Little Harry Bailey, Sheldon Leonard as Nick, Frank Hagney as Potter's Bodyguard, Ray Walker as Joe - Luggage Shop, Charles Lane as Real Estate Salesman, Edward Keane as Tom - Bldg. & Loan, Carol Coombs as Bailey Child - Janie, Karolyn Grimes as Bailey Child - Zuzu, Larry Simms as Bailey Child - Pete, Jimmy Hawkins as Bailey Child - Tommy, Adriana Caselotti as Singer at Martini's (uncredited), Michael Chapin as Young George's Friend (uncredited), Ellen Corby as Ms. Davis (uncredited), Milton Kibbee as Building & Loan Board Member (uncredited), J. Farrell MacDonald as Man Whose Grandfather Planted Tree (uncredited), Bert Moorhouse as Man with Sheriff (uncredited), Carl 'Alfalfa' Switzer as Freddie Othello (uncredited)
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